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'Relevant radio' finds local audience

March 15, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Have you noticed the black and white placards in some yards around town advertising a radio station?

"Relevant Radio" station WDTF (Defenders of the Faith) has been on the air since January 2004, and broadcasts from Berkeley Springs. Jim Fritz, one of the founders of the station, said WDTF (107.9 FM) is different from other Christian stations because it gives national news and sports and has many call-in shows as well as religious educational programming.

"Relevant Radio is meant to bridge the gap between faith and everyday life," Fritz said.

The radio station offers a variety of talk shows that are retransmitted free from Starboard Broadcasting's Relevant Radio in Minneapolis. One of the very popular ones is "The Doctor Is In." Fritz said two psychologists, Dr. Ray Guarendi or Dr. Colleen Kelly-Mast, answer call-in questions from a "Christian point of view."

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The "biggest hit," according to Fritz, is the 11 a.m. daily show by Father John Corapi. Fritz said Corapi became a Catholic priest at the age of 44 after making and losing a fortune.

"He was a multimillionaire and lived in Nevada and California and got involved with cocaine," Fritz said.

On Sundays at 1:30 p.m., WDTF has a musical show called "Praise the Lord" with Berkeley Springs musician and teacher Alan Jemison, Fritz said.

Other volunteers come to the station to read public service announcements. Fritz said the station has 10 community sponsors. Since the radio programming is free, the station's only expense after equipment is rent, insurance and licensing, he said.

"It is hard for us to get the word out because we're really new," Fritz said.

Defenders of the Faith started as a newsletter seven years ago, Fritz said, and many members attended St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church in Berkeley Springs. The newsletter "got bigger," he said, "and is available nationally and internationally probably due to the Web site which has been available since 1997."

Marion Thomas, a DTF member from Hancock who also edited the newsletter, heard about the availability of a "low power FM" license in West Virginia through the Federal Communications Commission and learned that Starboard Broadcasting helped other groups apply for a license to be used for broadcasting Christian radio. In October 2002, Defenders of the Faith was awarded the FCC permit to build a low power FM radio station in Berkeley Springs. According to FCC rules, the station had to be in operation by March 2004, Fritz said.

The organization received help in obtaining the permit from Starboard, which assists nonprofit, educational organizations. Fritz said Starboard transmits to 12 different stations and they own about six of them.

Fritz said he had some radio engineering experience from his electronic engineering days, and Thomas started fund-raising to purchase the equipment. A friend from Waldorf, Md., Dave Flynn, helped Fritz design and build the station to hold the equipment. Without a working studio, Flynn received the equipment for assembly and tested it in his living room.

John Burke and Fred Paschall helped secure a site. Berkeley Springs' existing radio station, WDHC, agreed to rent them space. With a few antenna changes and additions, WDTF secured a five-year lease from WDHC owner Emmitt Capper, he said.

Today, the station is fully automated and operates 24 hours a day. It can reach an audience in a 10-mile radius, including Hancock and Warfordsburg, Pa.

People tell Fritz how much they enjoy the programs, he said. The rebroadcast talk shows from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. "help those who can't sleep," Fritz said.

Fritz said he and WDTF members Burke and Paschall are looking for "new blood" to run the radio station.

"We've all been retired for some time, and it's become time-consuming," Fritz said.

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