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New radio chain is Catholic, conservative

A group of wealthy Roman Catholic entrepreneurs, concerned that the nation's religious radio programming is dominated by evangelical Protestants, has started a radio network intended to broadcast a conservative Catholic spin on politics, news, personal problems and spiritual questions.

The network, Catholic Family Radio, began broadcasting in January and has already bought stations in eight cities and expects to take over stations in six more next month. The format is all-talk, and the hosts include pundits, psychologists and politicians like Dan Lungren, a Republican who was California state attorney general and a gubernatorial candidate, and Raymond Flynn, a Democrat, formerly mayor of Boston and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Each has his own three-hour show.

The talk often sounds like the fare served up on secular conservative talk shows like Rush Limbaugh's: taxes, abortion and traditional family values, the Clintons, the Kennedys and the candidates for president. The network has hired as a consultant Bruce Marr, the programmer who helped make Limbaugh a household name.

"We are trying to stealth evangelize," said John Lynch, president and chief executive of Catholic Family Radio, "as opposed to the Christian evangelicals who do hitting-over-the-head evangelizing. There are probably too many people who had hit-over-the-head Catholicism imposed on them, and that's not the approach we want.

"There are a lot of nominal, fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics," Lynch said. "That group is who we want to reach."

Evangelical Christian programs are heard regularly on 1,616 radio stations in the United States, said Karl Stoll, a spokesman for National Religious Broadcasters. Only six radio stations are run by Catholic dioceses, said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Diocese of St. Petersburg has WLMS-FM 88.3 and WBVM-FM 90.5.

Catholic Family Radio is not run by the church itself, but by a board of investors who are among the nation's most successful Catholic businessmen, some billionaires. They include Thomas Monaghan, former chairman of Domino's Pizza; David Weyrich, former owner of Martin Media LP, a billboard advertising company; and John Saeman, founder of Medallion Enterprises. Peter Lynch, the former money manager of Fidelity Magellan Fund, is also an investor, but not a board member.

The investors' goal is to own stations in 40 of the 50 top radio markets and to take the company public next year. The stations that broadcast Catholic Family Radio programs are in Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Denver, Kansas City, Kan., Los Angeles and San Francisco.