Over the last 50 years tremendous strides have been made in many areas of life. I can remember being glued to the radio for the first ever moon landing. It was quite incredible. And since then there has been an explosion of scientific advances never dreamt of before. The simple calculator is one such instance.But even more astounding has been the advancement in the area of telecommunications. I can recall using a wind-up telephone and calling the operator who would answer: number please. Young people today would have no idea of what I am talking about.
In 1895 Marconi invented radio and Vatican Radio became the first ever radio station. Ever since then the Church has encouraged the use of modern communication and in many parts of the world Catholic radio came into being. Many inspiring documents have emerged from the Vatican with lots of encouragement from popes and especially from the documents of Vatican II. Unfortunately the Catholic Church in South Africa had little or no presence on the airwaves until 1999 when Radio Veritas came into being. This was after a long struggle and one can recall the great contribution made by people like Fr Bonaventure Hinwood .OFM.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference established the Radio Veritas Trust in 1998 when the Bishops asked Fr Emil Blaser to investigate setting up a Catholic radio station. This was his life’s dream and he immediately started consulting people and putting together initial structures which were presented to the bishops. The Radio Veritas Trust came into being with seven trustees. Radio Veritas applied to ICASA in 1998 for an FM community radio licence. In 1999 the Bishops’ Conference decided to hand the project over to the Dominican Order, which felt only a production house would be feasible at that stage. Office space and a studio were hired while applying to funding agencies for assistance.
After 6 months the operation was moved to the Dominican property in Troyeville and Fr Emil’s old bedroom became our first radio studio.
Programmes were produced and sent to Christian community radio stations around the country and were also made available to Catholics through bookshops and parishes. We encountered reservations from non-Catholic radio stations in broadcasting material that came from a Catholic production house. Not wanting to compromise the purity of our Catholic faith and voice we decided not to supply these stations with programmes.
Early in 2000 we started broadcasting for two hours each evening on a medium wave frequency, Radio Cidade, a Portuguese community station on a frequency based in Swaziland. Unfortunately, towards the end of that year he sold the station and we no longer had access to the frequency.
In 2001 we started broadcasting very successfully three to four times a year on 92.7 fm in Johannesburg, on one month special events licences. These were very popular with Catholics and we broadcast our final one over the Easter period in 2006, after which 92.7fm was awarded to Radio 702. This left no fm frequencies available for special events licences.
In the meantime, while waiting for a reply to our application from ICASA, we decided to go the shortwave route and on May 1 2002 we took to the air as Radio Veritas on SHORTWAVE. We also started broadcasting on the SABC Vivid satellite service. Both of these broadcasts ended in 2004, when the reception on shortwave was not good due to acute sunflares and we realized the subscriber base to Vivid did not warrant the expense.
We didn’t give up, however, and in a big breakthrough, started broadcasting on DSTV, on the Audio Bouquet, 24 hours a day. In May 2005 we began live streaming Radio Veritas on our Website and received NPO status in June 2005.
In May 2006 we had our very popular Sunday broadcasts on the SABC’s Radio 2000 from 11h00 to 13h00.These broadcasts were ended abruptly in April 2008, as a result of a change of emphasis at Radio 2000.
In 2005 a generous donor had given us R700 000 to buy our own premises. It’s so happened that at the time the Knights of the Gama were also looking for premises and so together we obtained a loan and bought the building we are now in. This is a tremendous asset. We have also equipped the building with an appropriate generator.
We celebrated the opening of our new studios live on air on the 11 July 2006, with Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and the Apostolic Nuncio participating in the candle lighting ceremony and the blessing of the building.
Exploration of alternative opportunities to broadcast regionally and nationally began.
Fr Emil and the Board of Trustees, together with our media lawyer, Mrs Justine Limpitlaw and in collaboration with Radio Pulpit and Sentech, lobbied and continued to lobby vigorously with ICASA for the 540 and old 702 frequencies to be declared open rather than commercial, as no commercial stations wanted them. Finally, after years of meetings, hearings, applications and more applications – in a dream finally come true – we received the letter from ICASA granting us the medium wave licence on the frequency 576.
Now we could move into top gear. We needed a transmitter, so Fr Emil contacted the Italian Bishops’ Conference which gave us €250,000. Without this generous donation we could not have started Radio Veritas on medium wave. Vaughan Taylor, one of our trustees, was instrumental in investigating and acquiring the transmitter.
During this time Fr Emil was greatly assisted by Pat ROGERS and staff members Olinda Orlando, Khanya Litabe, Genni Rogers, Sheila Pires and Mike Carroll, not forgetting Stephen Paradza who now holds a senior position at the SABC. Over the years several staff migrated to radio stations like the SABC, radio 702 and Kaya fm. Perhaps if we’d had greater financial resources this would not have happened.
We opened our broadcasts on Radio Veritas 576 AM officially and with great joy with Mass on Easter Sunday 8 April 2012
Throughout the 20 years of the station’s existence, Fr Emil was very anxious to secure sustainability and almost every Sunday would go to a different Parish to inform people about Radio Veritas and to ask them to make a pledge. There are now about 2000 donors who support radio Veritas on the monthly basis. The cost of running the radio station amounts to R500,000 per month and much of this is covered by our monthly donors. But we still need to find the balance of approximately R200,000 per month. Throughout these 20 years we have literally lived from hand to mouth and on many occasions we were close to the rocks and had to make special appeals to some of our donors. We are very grateful to them. Apart from these contributions we have made annual fundraising efforts and have not received any funds from overseas. Each year the bishop’s Lenten appeal donates approximately R500 000. We are very grateful for this annual injection of funds, but it is a drop in the ocean of our annual budget. We need much greater resources if we are to produce the excellent and professional programming we aspire to.
The economic climate is a great challenge to us. Every month there are a few donors who drop out. People continue to be good to us but we do not have a sufficient number of donors to cover all our costs. This is not unique to us but to many businesses today, and is a big concern.
We wish to thank all those who have contributed to the success of Radio Veritas over the past 20 years. You are too many to mention individually, but you know who you are. We also thank all our loyal listeners and donors – without you we would not exist. May God bless you all for your commitment and generosity.
With the goodwill of our fellow Catholics throughout the country we hope to continue for many more years and thank God especially for these 20 fruitful and inspiring years of broadcasting “The Good News for a Change!”
For our 20th birthday celebration we have received a special blessing from the Holy Father and this will be officially given to us by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells, on the 26th of October at a special mass which will be broadcast on Radio Veritas at 10:30.am Straight after that the guests will proceed to St Benedict’s college for the celebration which will take the form of a braai. The meat will be provided by Mr Cecilio Camacho of MultiMeat, The drinks will be supplied by Manny de Atouguia of Liquor City. The fruit and vegetables will be donated by Olivio Cruz of Fruitspot. We thank them all for their generous support of Radio Veritas.
Emil Blaser OP and Olinda Orlando