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A Study in Bittersweet Good-byes

The day I auditioned for the job of hosting Catholic Answers Live, Murphy’s Law kicked in. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.

First, it was raining that December day in 2008, which meant the drive from Los Angeles to San Diego was maddeningly slow all the way down. Not good, when I was already roiled by “studio fright” in anticipation of trying out for a live radio show that I had never heard all the way through.

Second, per my ADHD traits, I got lost and was almost late. Behind the wheel, listening to the soft thump-thump of the wiper blades, I was thinking about Murphy and his law and was therefore extra distractable. Fun!

Third, the first guest was unavailable at the last minute. Jarring, to say the least. Luckily, Steve Ray manfully stepped in as a replacement. Steve speaks well and is never at a loss for words—a boon to me that day, let me tell you.

Fourth, the very first caller (a prankster) dropped an Anglo-Saxon profanity that begins with “f.” Being brand-new to the role of live radio host, I somehow, by the grace of God, managed to indicate to the sound engineer to dump the call. 

Phew. First hour behind me. Nerves finally under control. Mostly.

The second-hour guest was the late, great Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. A full fifteen minutes before the show ended, he announced that he was needed at a priest’s retreat upstairs and—had to go!

This was the fifth manifestation of the law of my old aquaintance Murphy. Even though Fr. Benedict was nice about it—insofar as his signature Bronx sarcasm could be called “nice”—he hung up.

Fifteen seconds of dead air is a nightmare on live radio. Try fifteen minutes on for size.

I credit my guardian angel for preventing me from being rattled. I calmly asked the audience to call in with their Fr. Benedict stories—say, something he wrote or said that helped them. That did the trick. The phone lines lit up, and the show sailed smoothly to the end of the hour.

I owe my first boss, Jan Wakelin, a debt of gratitude. She was then director of Catholic Answers radio and TV. I was a complete unknown, at least to the EWTN radio audience. I did have a master’s degree in theology, four years of urban high school teaching experience (theology and English lit), and I had a ton of experience as an executive recruiter interviewing people about their career paths and choices. I also had, and still have, a love for talk radio.

And so I was hired—probably over the objections of some. Call it a poker player’s instinct—or poor taste—but Jan rolled the dice on a candidate who had no prior hosting experience and no degree in broadcasting. Thank you again, Janis!

Catholic Answers Live was created in the late ’90s by its founding host, Jerry Usher, beginning on only four stations. When I came onboard in 2009, there were more than seventy stations, and it was a bit intimidating to take over a success story. 

Today, by God’s grace and a learning curve for the host, it’s heard on more than 370 stations, Sirius 130, shortwave, via podcast, and online streaming.

I have come to love our cast of characters otherwise known as regular callers. If you’re a regular or a longtime listener, you know their names. May we all meet in glory and have a laugh together, especially about the ones who hate what they think the Catholic Church is.

If I begin listing the magnificent guests, from prelates to policemen, whom I’ve been privileged to interview and get to know, I’d leave out more than can be included in a blog post. I know who they are, and so do you.

To the call screeners, who we affectionately call “screamers”—you are the unseen, unheralded co-hosts of Catholic Answers Live. To our sterling stable of guest hosts; to the Nick Chamberlain, our unmatched sound engineer; and, before Nick, the ineluctable Matthew Tuszynski; THANK YOU for your professionalism under pressure and your at times heroic tolerance of a self-evidently imperfect show host.

Particular thanks goes to the intrepid program director of our “S.E.A.L. Team” radio department, Darin DeLozier. One can only admire, inter alia, his patience in the face of so many people, for some strange reason, getting his first name wrong!

Thursday, September 29, is my last day on the air as the host of the flagship broadcast of the finest apostolate in the world devoted to Catholic evangelization and apologetics. Historical fact: I was helped mightily by Catholic Answers through its pre-This Rock newsletter, which founder Karl Keating cranked out from his living room table. 

It has therefore been an extra-special honor to host Catholic Answers Live and to be part of life-changing exchanges about the things that matter most in life. If the right superlative existed, I would use it.

Finally, I thank my Jewish mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gave the Word flesh and who keeps pointing me toward her Son, the true Catholic Answer.

Interested parties can stay in touch with me and my new show at patrickcoffin.media.

Be a saint; what else is there?

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