by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In the film “Bruce Almighty,” a desperate Bruce Nolan (comedian Jim Carrey) calls out to God as he drives through the night.
“OK, God, you want me to talk to you? Talk back,” he says. “Tell me what’s going on. What should I do? Give me a signal. Send me a sign.”
A lighted construction traffic message board flashes “CAUTION AHEAD.”
A truck, full of road signs saying “STOP” and “WRONG WAY,” pulls in front of him. Bruce only grows more frustrated until . . . well, you’ll have to watch the movie for the rest of the story.
The point being made to Bruce (and us) was this: God does send us messages and signs, but we can be too preoccupied to notice them.
For Lent this year, Catholics all over the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are literally getting a message from God over their radios.
On more than eight commercial radio stations in the Greater Kansas City area and nine Catholic Radio Network stations, listeners will hear 30-second radio commercials in English and Spanish at various times inviting them to receive the sacrament of reconciliation (also known as confession and penance) at any archdiocesan parish 6-7 p.m. on Wednesdays during Lent.
The radio campaign began on Feb. 25 and will end on April 5.
Just a small clarification. The voice in the commercial is not God’s — it’s that of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. He’s relaying to us God’s message about the healing power of Jesus through the sacrament.
The archdiocese began its Lenten penance initiative in 2011. Although the campaign utilized a variety of means to communicate its message during the first few years, the initiative now relies exclusively on terrestrial (AM and FM non-satellite) radio.
“Archbishop Naumann and the [priests] council asked themselves how they could make the sacrament more available to people,” said Deacon Bill Scholl. “[The ad campaign] was a way of inviting Catholics to go to confession in an intentional way. We wanted to reach out to people who weren’t necessarily in the habit of going. Archbishop Naumann is a big believer in welcoming people home.”
The commercials will be heard on eight stations but aired on three or four stations a week on a rotating basis, said Mike Parsons, owner of Dash Media of Lenexa, who handled the commercial purchases and scheduling for the archdiocese.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the commercials run from 9 or 10 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. On Mondays through Tuesdays, they run from 6 a.m. through 7 p.m., and on Wednesdays, they run from 6 a.m. through 7 p.m. They do not air on Thursdays and Fridays.
The commercial stations cover a large part of the archdiocese.
“The signals will go out about 75 miles from the tower downtown, almost to Atchison and Topeka, and south almost to Fort Scott,” said Parsons. “It covers a lot of the populated areas: Lawrence, Leavenworth, Wyandotte and Johnson counties. It leaves some holes in northeast Kansas that are hard to reach, but we can’t reach everything.”
On the Catholic Radio Network, the commercials are aired free as a service to the archdiocese by the network’s three AM and six smaller FM translator stations.
Local AM and FM radio stations are effective means of getting the message out, according to Parsons.
“With local radio, you can listen in your car, but you can also get it digitally,” he said. “People can also listen to radio on their desktop or mobile phone with an app, which is kind of nice. The impression levels (the number of people reached with a single message) you’d get on local radio are higher than on Pandora or Spotify.”
The stations that run the commercials have a mix of formats: classic rock, country, news talk, top 40 or adult contemporary, and Spanish language. They reach a lot of different listener demographics, although the mix skews slightly to a male audience, said Parsons.