KKNG of kings

Larru Sousa at KKNG radio
Credit: Mark Hancock

It’s not to be confused with the KKNG that became the current KJKE radio, 93.3. KJKE is the station with the big stick (industry jargon for a powerful signal); KKNG is so low-power, in fact, it has trouble covering the entire metro.

Sousa, who spent 38 years with General Motors before retiring, has embarked on a second career at Oklahoma Catholic Broadcasting Network. Along the way, he was instrumental in converting KKNG — the metro’s onetime top-rated radio station that featured country music — to one of 24-hour Catholic broadcasting.

“It was a stunner. We are as stunned as anybody else,” said Sousa.

Genesis of a network
He’s been especially surprised by how Catholics around the state contributed money to get the operation off the ground six years ago. And they are still giving, as Oklahoma Catholic Broadcasting pays $16,000 a month to lease the station.

The development came last summer when KKNG’s then-owner, Tyler Media, bought Renda Broadcasting’s property in OKC. In order to stay under the Federal Communications Commission’s limit of locally owned stations in a market, Tyler sold KKNG and KTLR-AM 89 to WPA Radio. Catholic radio had been broadcast on KTLR, but for only a few hours a week beginning in 2006.

Sousa and Jeff Finnell, a former petroleum company worker, started the Catholic radio network without any financial support from the Oklahoma City Archdiocese.

“It was a really crazy idea,” Sousa said, recalling that whenever airtime became available on KTLR, he and his supporters would buy it.

The subsequent sale of KKNG opened a wider door for Sousa and Finnell.

“I cannot believe we’ve come this far,” Sousa said. “The support was overwhelming. People just opened their pocketbooks.”

A growing network
KKNG is only one of several stations operated by the pair. In 2011, Oklahoma Catholic Broadcasting Network took out a lease on KOEG 88.3 FM; the call letters stand for King of Eternal Glory. That was followed by 88.3 FM in Prague and 105.7 FM in Bristow. Another station is under development in Antlers.

Then there’s Tulsa, where Sousa said Bishop Edward J. Slattery is interested in supporting a radio station for the network. And from there: Western Oklahoma with the literal creation of a statewide Catholic radio network.

“God has sent us people with the expertise we never had, and every door we open, it leads to something new,” Sousa said. “It’s like a traffic light: If God gives us a green light, it’s a go. And we’ve had so many green lights, our jaws drop every time.”

Programming on KKNG and other stations is largely talk radio, but with a Catholic viewpoint.

“We’re totally nonprofit. Every dollar goes into the budget of the radio stations,” Sousa said. “It’s more of an evangelistic effort, but now we’re going to be hands-on.”

As for Sousa being that radio newsman, he is — of a sort. He is on KKNG with Good News Sunday, a 30-minute news program that airs live at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays and is rebroadcast at 3:30 p.m Fridays.

Catholic mass is also broadcast on Sundays. The Saturday evening mass at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Norman is recorded and replayed on KKNG at 11 a.m. Sunday.

As for reaction from the radio community, Vance Harrison, president of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, said it’s no different than any other block programming that runs on other stations.

“If they have enough of a niche out there, even with religious programming, it’s not surprising and, in fact, can be very common,” he said. “Radio’s always been a good megaphone for a special message.”