January 5, 2018, was the twentieth anniversary of Catholic Answers Live, and much has changed since the switch was first flipped and our show went out over the airwaves.
Today, the Gilbert Keith Chesterton Studio at Catholic Answers is a professional facility comprising a studio with multiple microphone stations at an L-shaped desk. A separate control room is arrayed with all the equipment necessary to screen calls, record and broadcast audio, and live-stream the video from three stationary cameras. The host and in-studio guests have laptops for monitoring the proceedings and accessing the Internet.
I wasn’t on staff when the show premiered in 1998, but as a journalist writing for another Catholic publication, I visited Catholic Answers a couple of months later to write an article about the new show.
I picked a good day: ten minutes before the show went live, the equipment went dead. With host Jerry Usher and engineer Joe Dahlin frantically troubleshooting, Karl Keating sat at the microphone preparing some notes. In the next room, Jimmy Akin (James, as he was known then) lined up callers. With a couple of minutes to spare, the trouble was shot, and the show went live on schedule.
At the time, U.S. Catholic radio was in its infancy. A donor had given the apostolate $20,000 to start a radio show, and to launch the show, Karl recruited Jerry, fresh from helping establish a Catholic radio station in Reno, Nevada. Jerry tracked down used equipment and oversaw the months-long process of setting things up in a single office room.
When we moved to our current location in 2000, radio took up two small offices, with a window installed between them, so that those on air were separated from the sound engineer. It wasn’t until 2016, thanks to a hugely generous donation from a top supporter, that our current studio became a reality.
Catholic Answers Live started out as an hour-long program on four AM stations in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Nevada and on the EWTN global network via shortwave. At the start, we had to pay for airtime—an average of $2,000 per week per station. But that was twenty years, or about 5,200 episodes, ago. The show’s steady growth coincided with—one might even say helped spark—a nationwide surge in Catholic radio programming. The show expanded to two hours and to ten stations. Then eighteen, then twenty-seven, then fifty.
Today, thanks to your generosity and faithfulness in listening, we are carried on more than 360 AM and FM stations in the U.S. and on Sirius Satellite Radio channel 130. The show airs weekdays 6-8 p.m. Eastern Time and 3-4 p.m. Pacific Time. (Those in the West and Midwest who can’t hear our show over the airwaves can listen live at Catholic.com or on our phone app or watch it live-streamed on Facebook or Periscope.)
We could fill a book with the testimonials we’ve received over the years as to how Catholic Answers Live has touched people’s lives and led them to a closer relationship with Christ. Thank you for continuing to be an integral part of this vital outreach. And keep tuning in—if you’re a regular listener, it’s kind of like a big family, isn’t it?
Editor, Catholic Answers Magazine