The Message

The Pope's DJ

He'll need just as much creativity to get Catholic-centric radio back on the Denver airwaves, because frequencies come at a premium price. Right now, he's looking into the viability of low-power signals, among other options, and is eager to brainstorm with pros who may have additional ideas. "I would like to start a group for Catholic broadcasters to get together and chat and get to know each other. A group like that could be helpful to each other, and to the church."

In the meantime, Sequeira is continuing with his studies at Regis and leaving the possibility of a Catholic radio comeback in other hands. "If it's God's will," he says, "we'll find the right way."

Half a mouse is better than none: Speaking of spots on the Denver radio dial, one is likely to open up within the next year, thanks to a cost-cutting move on the part of Radio Disney.

Father Eustace Sequeira is ready to heed the Lord's 
call-in about Catholic radio.
Brett Amole
Father Eustace Sequeira is ready to heed the Lord's call-in about Catholic radio.

The Disney format, aimed at tots and tweens, first came to Denver in May 1998, airing at 1550 AM on the standard band and 1690 AM in an extended portion of the spectrum. This dual frequency availability ended a few weeks back, when 1550 AM was abruptly muted, after some on-air promotion, for reasons that make plenty of cents to Radio Disney general manager Rhonda Sheya. "At a certain point, we had to make a decision about which one we would keep, and the signal is actually better on the upper band," she says. "Plus, we're moving our tower, and to move both signals when we're going to end up with just one is a waste of money" -- about $300,000 for less than a year, she estimates. Some home and car stereos ten years old or more can't pick up 1690 AM, but Sheya hasn't been inundated with grumbling about the shift: "Only three people called to complain, and when I told them to check their radios to see if they could get 1690, they called back to say they could."

Radio Disney's sudden wallet consciousness could be interpreted as a reaction to the recent downturn in teen pop -- a swing epitomized by the waning interest in maturing trollops like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera among the younger set (and their growing appeal to heavyset dudes who like to wear raincoats all year long). Not so, Sheya responds. She notes that Radio Disney continues to add outlets -- there are now 57 stations in the chain, whereas the total used to be in the forties -- and the Denver branch has increased its revenues each year. "I think the music is changing slightly, because some of the artists who've been in it, their music has taken a little more serious direction," she says. "But there's still a lot of interest in upbeat music, and since Disney cleans it up, it's something parents and kids can listen to together without worrying what someone's saying."

Concern about content is another reason Radio Disney pulled the plug on 1550 when it did. The company could have continued to broadcast on the frequency for as many as eight months more, but, Sheya says, "we wanted some time between when we were on the air and when someone else starts, because we don't know what the format would be. God forbid it would be something bad, some headbanging rock and roll, and people would think they were listening to Radio Disney. So we wanted some distance from something that might not be appropriate for kids."

The Federal Communications Commission is likely to choose who gets to do what on 1550. It's Sheya's understanding that Radio Disney can't sell the frequency but must simply turn it over to the FCC several months from now, thereby leaving the decision of which firm gets this potentially lucrative property up to the feds. Wannabe radio entrepreneurs of all stripes should start getting their applications ready now.

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