"The Bishop's Hour" provokes discussion on range of Catholic issues
By Denise MacLachlan
Some listeners call Bob Dunning a “bleeding heart liberal” while others swear he’s a right-wing conservative.
Dunning is the host of two Catholic radio talk shows: the Diocese of Sacramento’s program called “The Bishop’s Hour,” which airs each weekday from 9 to 10 a.m. on Immaculate Heart Radio radio stations (Sacramento station is KSMH-AM 1620), and “Across the Nation with Bob Dunning,” a Sirius Satellite Radio program on the Catholic Channel, transmitted weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Pacific time.
Dunning believes the contradictory assessments of his opinions reflect people’s perceptions of Catholicism itself. “The church’s teachings spread across the political spectrum,” he said in a recent interview with The Herald. “Who decided that being pro-life was a conservative position?” “I’m also against the death penalty,” he added, “which seems to mark me as a liberal.”
The church teaches respect for human life and the dignity of the human person, Dunning observed, yet Catholics can be divided on specific applications church teaching. “To me, being against capital punishment and against abortion under any circumstances is a consistent ethical position, but not all Catholics agree,” he said. “Even listeners who agree on a topic will have different takes on it, and that provokes interesting discussion.”
Dunning provokes those discussions in a way that is unusual amid the declining standards of the talk radio format, according to Gabe Sorenson, producer of “The Bishop’s Hour.” “Bob is someone living his faith,” Sorenson observed, “and it shows in the way he treats people. “The Bishop’s Hour” is “not like a lot of secular talk radio, like Bill O’Reilly or Howard Stern — that stuff is sensationalism rather than intelligence,” he added. “Bob respects people, even if he disagrees with them.” By treating his guests with courtesy and intelligence, Sorenson explained, Dunning keeps the talk show focused on ideas.
Dunning has been hosting “The Bishop’s Hour” from the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Sacramento for nearly 10 years. Its availability to “anyone with a working radio” is one of its best attributes, he said.
“We’re in the same medium as other talk shows, right next door on the dial to heavily-listened-to channels. Anyone can tune in and they do.”
Non-Catholics call in to “The Bishop’s Hour” to argue about Catholic issues, Dunning noted. He also gets the word out about Catholicism to Catholics and says “preaching to the choir is not a bad thing, either — we’re training leaders for tomorrow.” He particularly champions the way the talk show “reflects and represents” the local community. “We follow local issues, announce diocesan events and parish events, give away books, and introduce the members of the community to one another,” he said. “It is very much a community radio show.”