The Radio Priest

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That’s right. By this time I’d become the assistant secretary to the bishop, that is, his personal secretary. I handled Michael Gallagher’s correspondence, not Bishop GaIlagher’s. Well, in 1925 he gave me the Royal Oak appointment. There was no church or anything, just a common agreement that the growth prospect of this area north of the city looked promising. He suggested I go buy some land. With what? I asked. Oh, he said, I’ll cosign a note at the bank for you. That was the way parishes were established in those days. The bishop had complete confidence in his selectee. So I found a nice site out on Woodward Avenue and bought it. Then I needed about fifty thousand dollars to build a church, and I started looking around, backward instead of forward, as I should have done, and I discovered I had only twenty-eight families, thirteen of which were mixed marriages. It wasn’t too bad when the husband was Catholic, but when the wife was the Catholic I couldn’t expect much money. To make matters worse, soon after we started building I learned that the Ku Klux Klan was about to get a court injunction to stop the construction, something about a flaw in the deed. Well, Michigan had one of those odd laws to the effect that no injunction could be issued once the roof was on. It was the start of a three-day holiday, so I rounded up a good bunch of carpenters, and we worked around the clock, by torchlight at night, and when the court opened Tuesday morning the church was topped off, and the Klan couldn’t do anything about it legally. But the money was running out, and I seemed to be losing ground every Sunday. I didn’t know what to do.

So you went on the radio?

I went to my friends for help. There were four of us who spent a lot of time together. Dick Richards, who owned WJR, Lawrence Fisher, the general manager for many years of General Motors’ Cadillac Division, and Eddie Rickenbacker. They used to call us the Evil Four.

Why?

It was just a nickname. Well, anyway, I was telling them about my troubles one night, and they suggested I try broadcasting. You go on the air, they insisted, and just tell some of the stories you’re always telling us, and you’ll be a big hit and get all the help you need. Well, I couldn’t tell those stories on the air, you know. They weren’t offcolor stories or anything. They were the kind of stories that men tell when they’re together. But they kept insisting that I try broadcasting, and that’s how it started, almost accidentally.

Your first broadcast, a program for children entitled “The Golden Hour,” was on October 5, /926. The show gradually increased in popularity and was eventually earned over the Columbia Broadcasting System network. Then, on January 12, 1930, you abruptly changed the format and attacked Bolshevism. Why?

I had been doing this in the church prior to that date. I was concerned about the tendency on the part of some Democrats at that time to send aid to Russia. I didn’t want the recognition of Russia until Russia recognized God. A government based on the quicksands of atheism can’t be successful, because atheism saps authority. That was my contention then, and I still think I was right. You know, I don’t know one people in all of history that have suffered as much as the Russians. The Irish, the Poles, the Jews, you name them. No one has ever suffered like the Russians, first under the czars, with the silent acquiescence of their bishops, and then under the Bolsheviks. Let us never forget that between 1917, when the revolution started, and 1923 about twenty-one million Russians were slaughtered, according to the estimates of our own State Department.

Why did CBS force you off the network in April, ig’ji?

I was stepping on the toes of money, money, money, and I was getting too close. … I’ve had a wonderful course in finance, which isn’t the same as banking. I don’t like talking about it, because the minute you do, you’re anti this and that and the other thing, you know. At any rate, there was a tremendous amount of pressure being put on my friend Bill Paley [chairman of the board of CBS] to get rid of me. He had graciously arranged for me to go on CBS, and I owed him a debt of gratitude, and I couldn’t see why he should be made to suffer because of the controversy around me. So when the network began demanding changes in my scripts, I was glad to get out. Besides, Bill taught me how to organize my own network, which I did.

Your broadcasts were soon being earned over a “network” of twenty-six independent stations from Maine to Colorado, at a cost of fourteen thousand dollars a week. Was this paid for through contributions to the Radio League of the Little Flower?

The Radio League grew out of the letters I received in the early days, and I said, well, these people want to support me, and it costs a lot of money. Hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars eventually. As the program expanded to other stations, they began charging me regular commercial rates, which was right.