Merrimack Valley Catholic radio goes on air

byMark Labbe Pilot Staff

Father Paul B. O'Brien and Benny Espaillat, station manager, cut the ribbon on the new Merrimack Valley Catholic radio station WGUA 98.1 FM May 14. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

METHUEN -- Spanish-language Catholic radio station WGUA 98.1 FM kicked off its inaugural broadcast from its Methuen studio, May 14, with visits from city officials, public tours of the studio, and a blessing and ribbon cutting ceremony by Father Paul B. O'Brien.

"This is genuinely a historic moment -- there has not been a 24-hour Catholic radio station in Spanish in the archdiocese," Father O'Brien, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence and president of the new radio station, told The Pilot.

The station will provide both Catholic news, such as prayers and spiritual advice, and local news to listeners throughout the Merrimack Valley and beyond 24-hours a day.

"Not only will we serve the Lawrence area and Methuen, but also we will serve Lowell, Haverhill, Andover, North Andover, Chelmsford, Dracut, Billerica, and other towns in the valley, even Nashua and Derry (N.H.)," said Jose Rodriguez, a volunteer for the station.

The radio station will have a nearly all-volunteer staff, with the exception of one employee who will who will work there full-time.

On May 14, a full-time employee still had not been found, but over 20 volunteers worked to keep it running under the direction of Father O'Brien and Benny Espaillat, station manager, who was instrumental in the founding of the station and is a volunteer himself.

Espaillat, who also founded La Voz Catolica, an AM Spanish Catholic radio station in Lawrence that has been on the air for about 25 years, noted that besides the Spanish programs, there will also be some English-language programming, and "there's a dialogue about Portuguese" programs as well.

"We want to make sure that the radio station represents the face of the Merrimack Valley. (There is) not only just one group, one ethnicity. No, together we've got to come and celebrate the Eucharist, together we've got to celebrate the sacraments, together we've got to celebrate Pope Francis," Espaillat said.

A number of local public figures participated in the inaugural broadcast, including Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and Lawrence city council members. Local media personalities and businessmen also stopped by the studio to offer their congratulations, and numerous community members went on tours of the facility.

Outside the studio, which is based in Espaillat Mills, families were able to enjoy hotdogs and hamburgers, live music, and face painting.

Pura Saint Hilaire attended the inaugural broadcast, and said she was in part doing it for her 88-year-old mother who lives in Florida.

Her mother, Saint Hilaire said, has been supporting Espaillat's work for years, and has been sending donations to keep his stations going "since forever."

"I was going to bring her today," but she is feeling ill, Saint Hilaire said.

"I might bring her sometime when it's more warm," she continued, saying that in the meantime, she will send her mother pictures of the studio.