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Vatican Radio Goes Commercial

Did you know about Vatican Radio?

Around since 1931, it’s the official voice of the Pope and the Catholic Church. All these years it’s been broadcasting the Pope’s musings commercial free. Starting on July 6th, the station began airing ads in order to help defray some of the mounting costs associated with their global broadcasts (in multiple languages) via FM, satellite, the web, short wave and medium wave. According to an article in the LA Times:

“The radio service, which broadcasts around the world and on the Web in more than 40 languages, costs the Vatican about $31 million a year, and until now brought in zero revenue.

‘It’s like having an 80-year-old child living at home all this time, and you say, “Darling, we still love you, you can go on living here, we’re not going to kick you out, but it would be nice if you would contribute to paying the phone bill, the gas bill or something,”‘ said Sean-Patrick Lovett, director of Vatican Radio’s English and Italian sections.”

Not only does Vatican Radio broadcast directly, but its programming is also syndicated on individual stations all over the world. I was quite interested to read about its history on the official Vatican Radio website. Vatican Radio aired its first inter-continental broadcast on February 12, 1931:

“At 3:30 p.m. the Marquis Marconi arrives; the illustrious inventor goes  directly to the Amplification Studio, places the earphones on his head,  and begins the transcontinental conversations. The voice arrives clearly  in New York, Melbourne, and Quebec. Fr. Gianfranceschi works with his  usual conentration [sic] in preparing the final arrangements for the broadcast  of the Pope…

Now,  the Station is immersed in a profound silence: the powerful machinery  awaits in silence; the lamps on the control panel are switched off;  the entire world nervously waits. In just a few moments the spark will  be struck which will send out the signal to the entire world. This will  be the miraculous moment that will give glory to God and to His Church.

It’s  now 4:20 p.m. The trumpets sound the arrival of the Holy Father. He  arrives in the automobile, and makes his way to the Radio Transmission  Station…

The Pope is then accompanied  to the Generator Room where, with a steady and definite manner, he moves  the controls which activate the power. First a whirring is heard, then  the sound of the powerful vibration of the motors takes over the room.  His Holiness accomplishes several other maneuvers which will complete  the opening of the circuits necessary to initate the transmission.

Now  everything is ready; the Pope has completed the operations necessary  for the first transmission of Vatican Radio.

The  first signal to be sent out is in Morse code. The technician types the  words, In nomine Domini, Amen, that is In the Name of the Lord, amen!  At this very instant radio stations, ships, and anyone who has the equipment  to receive the signal hears this benediction and invitation. After a  brief introduction of the Pope by Marconi, Pius XI takes the microphone  and inaugurates the first world-wide radio message ever given by a Pope.”

It’s an amazingly poetic description of radio and a reminder of just how magical it must have seemed in the early days of broadcasting.


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