Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sauk Rapids-based 50,000 watt Catholic radio station to hit airwaves Aug 1

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David Rydberg of the new Catholic radio station 1180 KYES-AM doesn't know yet what he's going to say to St. Cloud-area listeners.

But when KYES goes on air for the first time — which could be as early as this week — he'll be excited.

"This has been something that has been in the works for years," he said. "And I feel very blessed to be part of such a monumental project."

Rydberg, founder Andy Hilger and almost 30 volunteers are making final preparations before KYES goes on air. This week they will do on-air tests for technical problems. If everything works, KYES will stay on the air. If any issues need to be resolved, it won't go live until they're fixed. Aug. 1 is the official launch date, Rydberg said.

The team seems to be used to hurdles. In the year since the government approved plans for KYES, the recession hurled challenges at Rydberg, Hilger and others. But it hasn't stopped them from climbing toward their larger mission of spreading Christian messages.

Despite the hurdles, they are focused and determined — and ready to speak to a potential audience of 868,000 people in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

A journey

It's been more than a year since Hilger announced he was going to start KYES, a 50,000-watt AM Catholic talk radio station. The idea started in early 2006.

"It's been a long project in my mind," he said.

The station has a budget of about $4 million, Hilger said, and it relies on donations, fundraising and volunteers.

Money has created challenges. KYES was intended to occupy its own facility, where programs could be hosted. But the recession pinched those plans. KYES will instead share space with Spirit 92.9, which Hilger donated in 2000 to the Diocese of St. Cloud.

"We'll stay in the building until ... we have the resources," he said.

Hilger made his career in Central Minnesota radio. He started in 1958 as a disc jockey for WJON. He later became station manager and owner of WJON and three other stations.

There's no such thing as retirement for Hilger. Even though he's no longer owner of WJON or the other stations, he and a group of local priests, businesspeople and others are still focused on bringing a meaningful service to the public.

"It's just amazing how it all works together," Hilger said.

Jerry McCarter worked with Hilger on KYES. He's known Hilger for 35 years.

He said Hilger has put a lot of his resources into making KYES happen. He's confident the station will be successful.

"It's fun to watch someone like Andy who is so passionate about something, and for a man in his 70s, he has got a tremendous amount of energy," McCarter said. "He'll make it work."

Larger goals

KYES will not just be a Catholic radio station.

The station is an arm of the Throw Fire Project, a Sauk Rapids-based nonprofit organization with a mission to help people love and follow Jesus.

"Throw Fire" refers to a biblical passage in which Jesus foresees his crucifixion, Hilger said: "I've come to throw fire on the Earth, and how I wish it were already blazing."

"We want to make sure it's the truth of Jesus and get it out to people in many different ways," Hilger said.

McCarter said "this is an opportunity for people of the Catholic faith." He grew up Catholic and joked he has a bias. Still, it could be an opportunity for people of other faiths to learn about Catholic theology, he said.

Hilger said he wants it to be respectful of all people. KYES's main goal is to highlight positive community news and values — not push an agenda.

"It's a gift and we should use it in a positive (manner)," Hilger said of radio. "Our mission is to provide programming for the Catholic audience and invite anybody from any faith dimension or faith background to listen in."

Listeners will get 168 hours per week of programming, Hilger said. They'll get local news, weather and sports.

Other programming will come from Relevant Radio, a syndicated Catholic talk radio network based in Green Bay, Wis., with affiliates all over the Midwest. That's for now, anyway.

The station has plans to add more local content in the future.

But what KYES offers will be "more than just the radio," Hilger said. St. Cloud Times
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