WLRU, the FM station located at 106.9 on the dial and owned and operated by St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro, can now be accessed on the Internet.
Father Mike Paraniuk, pastor at both St. Mary and at St. Benignus Catholic Church of Greenfield, said Tuesday that adding online access for listeners is another step in the growth of the non-commercial radio station that began less than a year ago.
The station can now be listened to by visiting www.saintmaryhillsboro.org and clicking on the WLRU link. The streaming radio service began at 4:30 p.m. Friday, and the St. Mary Sunday Mass in Hillsboro was listened to by friends in Chicago, says Father Mike.
Father Mike, as he is affectionately known by his parishioners and other friends, said the station had its beginnings in October of 2013 when the Federal Communications Commission opened a two-week window to obtain a license for a low-power FM radio station, broadcasting at 100 watts with a tower no taller than 100 feet.
Father Mike said that parishioner Larue Turner, a radio engineer, suggested that the church seek the license.
“He said, ‘Let’s do this,’ so we decided to go on faith. I did the ‘why,’ and he did the ‘how,’” recalls Father Mike.
It was on the anniversary of his grandmother’s death that Father Mike received word that the church had been awarded the license. He said he had been sending prayers to his grandmother, and after they were answered, donations “poured in” from parishioners to purchase the equipment needed to operate the station.
The first broadcast was on Christmas Eve 2014, but 18 minutes into the broadcast Hillsboro suffered a power outage and the station went off the air.
“It was the devil attacking us,” says Father Mike with a smile.
But power was soon restored, and the broadcast – a 3:30 p.m. Mass – was completed.
WLRU depends on two primary services for much of its content, the Catholic TV Network, and southern gospel music from the Gospel Station Network, a Baptist-affiliated broadcaster located in Ada, Okla., a reflection of Father Mike’s goal to appeal beyond the boundaries of Catholicism.
“There is only one percent Catholic in Highland County, and 60 percent (of the population) are unchurched,” says Father Mike. Rather than focusing strictly on Catholic doctrine, he says, “Maybe they will find Christ in music.”
Mondays are when most local programming occurs, other than various church services throughout the week, including a 10 a.m. Sunday Mass.
As another sign of his desire to cross denominational lines, Father Mike hosts “The Church Among Us,” a weekly program on Mondays featuring interviews and discussions with local church leaders from all walks of faith.
“It’s a different church every week,” he says. “We are a Christian station, not a Catholic station.”
Father Mike intends to keep expanding local programming. “The Church Among Us” broadcasts Mondays at 10:30 a.m., followed at 11:30 by what he calls “The Abernathy Report,” where he and The Times-Gazette’s publisher/editor discuss recent local news events.
That’s followed at noon by the “Paxton Theatre Review,” featuring theater owner Tim Koehl along with live music from musicians with the Paint Valley Jamboree. At 12:30 p.m. is the “Puppy-Kitty Report,” featuring adoption appeals from the Highland County Humane Society.
And beginning this Monday at 3:30 p.m., local attorney and pianist Lynn Turner will join Father Mike for “Turner Music Classics,” which will harken back to old-time radio programs that featured a piano, a female singer and an announcer. He says Turner’s first song will be “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” a tune originally made popular by Kate Smith.
Father Mike’s living quarters at St. Mary are filled not just with the ornate and reverential religious artifacts one would expect from a Catholic priest, but also with vast collections of pop culture memorabilia, mostly from classic movies, television and radio programs.
They range from original NBC chimes, to vintage radios, to old collections of TV Guide, to rare videos and books, to handsomely-framed photos of Bela Lugosi, filmdom’s original “Dracula,” and a particular favorite of Father Mike’s.
When air time approaches, Father Mike and his guests squeeze past the memorabilia and into the small office that has been converted into a radio studio, settling in their simple chairs behind the microphones. More often than not they are accompanied by one or two of his four cats, Bobo, Frances, Honey and Mac, lurking in a corner or resting on top of the console. Father Mike personally fills all roles, from producer to on-air talent.
He says that the station’s call letters are another sign of God’s guiding hand. He recalls that he often joked with Larue Turner that he was going to name the station in his honor, WLRU. Turner resisted the idea, but then Father Mike said he had a dream in which the phrase “Where the Lord is Right for U” came to him.
When Father Mike told Turner of his dream, he said Turner replied, “Well, if God wants it, who am I to stop it?”
They were required to submit 10 potential call letters to the FCC, and the one that the federal agency approved was WLRU – which did not surprise Father Mike.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.