Fr. Augusto Menichelli is looking to remake Radio Maria Canada into a national radio and Internet network beyond its current scope of serving mainly the Italian community. Photo by Jean Ko Din

At 20, Radio Maria undergoes a facelift

  • August 1, 2015

TORONTO - Fr. Augusto Menichelli was saying Mass at Toronto’s St. Charles Church last year when he noticed two new faces in the pews. Later, the two men introduced themselves and set Menichelli’s life on a new course.

The visitors were Vittorio Viccardi, the general secretary of the Italian-based World Family of Radio Maria, and John Romanelli, president of Radio Maria Canada. A search for a priest to manage their Toronto operation had led them that day to Mass at St. Charles and to introductions with an unsuspecting Menichelli.

“They came to my Mass and after the Mass they proposed me to become director,” said Menichelli.

Radio Maria is a Catholic radio network that broadcasts in 40 languages on more than 60 stations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North and South America. Its Toronto operation turned 20 earlier this year. The time seemed right to take the station in a new direction.

Menichelli was officially installed as the full-time director last month (after being appointed last November) and given a mandate to transform Radio Maria from being primarily a small, Italian-language radio service into a national radio and Internet network that will appeal nationwide to Canada’s English-speaking majority.

It is a tall order for a priest with no radio background who barely spoke English when he was assigned from Rome to Canada four years ago. But what Menichelli does bring, besides ideas and enthusiasm, is a Master’s degree in theology and communication from the Pontifical Universities of Rome. His thesis was on the modern priest and the Internet.

“We’re trying to change the mentality,” said Menichelli. “We’re trying to go into the Canadian mentality because, even if we are an Italian radio station, Radio Maria Canada is in Canada. It is to grow in English. We’re going to combine together English and Italian.”

Menichelli succeeds Luigi Pautasso, who was inspired 20 years ago to create a Canadian radio service based on Radio Maria Italia in Rome. Its first broadcast, as an Italian-language service, was on April 5, 1995 under CHIN radio’s subfrequency 100.7 FM in Toronto.

“(Pautasso) did a lot with Radio Maria in 20 years, but when he died (in 2013), nobody really knew what to do,” Menichelli said. “That’s why Radio Maria World Family called me to come here.”

Ordained in 2005 as a priest of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Menichelli has been overseeing the construction of a new studio, planning a new fall schedule and revamping Radio Maria’s web operations. He intends to expand Radio Maria’s audience beyond the GTA and into the rest of Canada by combining Italian and English programming into one service.

“Because we receive programming from Italy, we are so comfortable with that,” said Menichelli. “I would like to do a live program where the people can call in. Just making people listen to the program is kind of boring. I want the people to participate in the life of the radio.”

Radio Maria will launch a new lineup in September that will include bilingual programming. Menichelli wants to create a radio show about immigration that allows people to call in with their stories of moving to Canada.

“It would be interesting to know about these people and how they started their life here... about the spirituality that they brought here to Canada,” he said.

Menichelli also wants to revamp Radio Maria’s Youth Forum. In collaboration with parishes across Toronto, he will encourage youth groups to host their own show from their parish. He would also like to see parishes host daily Mass broadcasts.

For now, though, many of these program changes remain as plans.

“Of course, you need a good channel to broadcast before you can do a good program. That’s the first step,” he said. “We’re trying to improve the channel, trying to improve the sound of our subfrequency, and even online... We have to find many ways to make our listeners comfortable with Radio Maria.”

The 20th anniversary of Radio Maria Canada was celebrated on April 19 with a thanksgiving Mass and a dinner reception at St. Charles Church.  The event was broadcast from a makeshift studio in a trailer in the parking lot because the offices and studios were being renovated.  
“It was not easy, not easy at all,” said Menichelli.

“I’m glad we’re back. We’re still trying to organize things... we will have a new desk, new mixer. We’ll have soundproofing sponge on the walls. It’s going to look like a real radio studio.”

The new premises are sectioned into three main areas: a studio, an office and a chapel. The layout now represents the three main areas being served by Radio Maria staff and volunteers.

“We’re trying to renew everything,” Menichelli said. “After 20 years, it’s not easy to change everything at once. It has to be slowly.”

The web site is also facing a renovation. With a new partnership with Vatican TV and World Family of Radio Maria, the relaunched web site will have access to Vatican TV’s daily broadcast footage.

Menichelli said he plans to expand Radio Maria’s outreach by forming a committee to grow Radio Maria’s presence across Canada. For that, he needs more volunteers.

“What we need now is human resources,” said Menichelli. “Radio Maria is like a parish. You have volunteers coming in and so, as a director and a priest, I have to have this attention for the people. They’re trying to grow in their spirituality and that’s what Radio Maria wants to do even around the world.”

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