December 26, 2014
From a tall tower, high atop a hill in the middle of nowhere on a small piece of pasture land northeast of Williston, the message of Jesus Christ is being broadcast to listeners in oil country.
On Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Real Presence Radio went live on FM 104.1 KZTW Tioga/Williston broadcasting the holy Mass at 100,000-watts across the oil patch of North Dakota. This signal will be used to replace the translator FM 89.1 that offered a very poor signal to the area.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the original founding day of Real Presence Radio in 1999 and has been a special day of blessing for the apostolate on many occasions. It’s certainly a special day for this launch, which was no easy feat. But, thanks to a group of faithful stewards, it is now a reality.
"This was a group effort by all the priests in the deanery," said Fr. Russell Kovash, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Williston. "They all had a part in the fundraising that made this a success."
Kovash explained that it began over two years ago when he arrived at St. Joseph's and recalled the beautiful results that Catholic radio had been producing in his hometown of Dickinson. He knew the message was reaching this area, but the signal was very weak and most people couldn't find it. This prompted him to contact Real Presence executive director Steve Splonskowski and board member Ed Schmitz to find out the options available.
“We explored the idea, but didn’t find the population base to support and sustain both the construction and maintenance of a station in this area,” Splonskowski said. “But when we talked to Father Kovash, he told us that he was up to the challenge of ‘doing something crazy for the Lord’.”
The somewhat crazy options were to either apply to the FCC for a new license or to buy the signal from an existing station. Both were huge hurdles, but they decided to pursue the latter. So, Real Presence personnel contacted every radio station in the northwest part of the state to see if any would sell their signal. At the time, nothing was available. Then, in June of 2013, an FM signal became available for purchase.
"That's when the priests met and I told them that we have an opportunity like never before, but we have some work to do," Kovash said. "We were told that we'd have to raise about $700,000 for the signal, equipment and tower."
What may sound like a crazy amount of money to most people was simply a matter of faith for this group. “Every milestone we put in front of Father Kovash and the other priests was met,” Splonskowski said. “By the end, our board was so impressed by how this group had proven themselves time and again that they told us to do anything they asked of us.”
The next challenge was to find land to erect the 455 ft. tower to broadcast KZTW, in a place where available land is rare. To say land is at a premium in this area of rapid oil development is a gross understatement.
"There were a lot of people really excited about having a Catholic radio presence in this area so we went to work contacting everyone we could think of who owned land, especially among our parishioners," explained Kovash.
It took some time and effort, but finally someone came forward. "He's a practicing Catholic," Kovash noted. "He told us that he felt the Lord was calling him to evangelize in this way."
Kovash said that even though it was a great deal of effort by a great number of people; the ultimate catalyst in this mission was divine in nature. "The Lord's hand in all of this has been quite extraordinary," he said. "The way all the pieces fell into place, every hurdle just melted away."
The next hurdle will be to find a sustainable supply of funds to support the station each month and to spread the word. Once again, the priests in this area have instilled faith in the staff and board of directors at Real Presence that the money will be there. They’ve also launched a billboard campaign that will last three years in order to advertise the new stronger signal spreading the word of God to listeners in oil country.