If Tom Vetter, a retired Navy officer with no previous
connection to Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School,
had thrown away a piece of mail instead of reading it, the
Dumfries school would not be about to launch its own radio
station this fall.
Vetter, who attends the Catholic community chapel at Marine
Corps Base Quantico, hadn't listened to Catholic radio for
years, but was intrigued by the letter, an appeal from the
Catholic Radio Association to help establish low-power FM
broadcast radio stations across the country.
"I never had any dealings or even heard of the Catholic Radio
Association prior to its arrival but it seemed like a really
good idea," Vetter said. "I thought it sounded like a perfect
opportunity for evangelization."
Fast-forward three years, and the school is ready to open its
own student-run radio station, 106.3 FM, WJPN ("JP Nation")
this fall. Anyone within about 6-9 miles of the school will
be able to tune in to Catholic programming from EWTN and,
eventually, original student-produced content.
Vetter, a longtime member of the Knights of Columbus Fr.
Cappodanno Council at Quantico, initially thought about
approaching his own alma mater in Minnesota with the idea,
but realized it would be difficult for him to help with a
long-distance project. He had met Saint John Paul's
principal, Dominican Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, at an open
house hosted by the Knights and decided to ask her if she was
"It was as good a place as I could find to toss an idea,"
Vetter said. "Clearly it was an idea that was meant to be
passed their way."
The school has a unique bioethics curriculum, and the
administration had been considering ways, such as social
media, to help students articulate their views to a wider
audience. Vetter's idea seemed to dovetail nicely with that
need. As it turned out, in the age of Podcasts and iPhones, a
radio station still has a lot to offer.
"All the media surveys over the last five, 10 years, have
shown radio consumption on the increase. More people listen
to the radio than they did five years ago," said Stephen
Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association.
According to Gajdosik, a 2010 survey of Catholic radio
listeners showed positive spiritual benefits. "Ninety-four
percent of listeners said they are more spiritually engaged,"
he said. "Half said they are more generous with their parish.
Sixty-eight percent said they are more able to pass on the
faith to their children."
The radio station will not launch until around October, but
has already brought out a generous response. A low-power FM
station is not regulated as much as a full-power station, so
the costs were comparatively low: a total of about $25,000.
After donating an initial $2,500, Vetter recruited the
Quantico Catholic community and his Knights council to help
with additional expenses. Separately, another family had just
donated money for John Paul to have lights on its sports
field; a pole was able to serve double-duty by placing an
antenna on top.
Still facing a deadline after the school obtained its Federal
Communications Commission license, Vetter eventually decided
to pay for most of the project out of his own pocket.
"This is the Holy Spirit's project. I'm just doing what He
wants," Vetter said. "I'm just hoping that when the station
comes on the air the kids will get better and better with
what they broadcast. Over time what I hope is that drivers
traveling on I-95 and the commuters that pass through there
will benefit from what I hope to be a spiritual inspiration.
That can take many forms from high school football games to a
Mass. I'm not even capable of envisioning what God has in
mind, but I'll do my bit."
Stachyra Lopez can be reached at