Adventures in Imperfect Living Catholic Podcast with Rosary Army founders Greg and Jennifer Willits

Hate Mail from the Past

So someone posted this earlier today on the Facebook page for The Catholics Next Door, which is a show I co-host with my wife that we rebooted as a podcast when our satellite radio show ended in October 2012:

“I am personally glad your show is off the air. The way you talked and treated alot of people was just down right rude and arrogant. When you started getting rid of people off your FB because you only wanted people on there that were only friends or ones you met was the last straw for most. You don’t make friends that way or keep a show but then I don’t think you are trying to make friends or be friendly which is probably why your show was not so popular and thus ended up off the channel. Your wife on the other hand every one found kind and enjoyable to listen to. She we miss.”

My initial response was, “Wow. Considering our show went off the air two years ago, I’m not sure what compelled you to write this now. I’m sorry if I (Greg) offended you so deeply.”

And that’s true. I am truly sorry for all the times I offended people.

But the rest of my response to this is varied and conflicted. I’m conflicted because I’ve tried hard over the last couple years to keep my mouth shut about the way our show ended on satellite radio, as well as our overall experience on satellite radio and how we were expected to act. I try to keep my mouth shut mostly because it’s the right thing to do, but other times I feel the need to set the record straight as there are still many misconceptions people have about how and why our radio show ended. I recently listened to a recording of our very last broadcast and couldn’t make it all the way through. A lot of listeners called in on that program, upset that our show was being cancelled, and we told them, “No, it’s okay, don’t blame anyone.” I can’t speak for Jennifer, but that’s not how I actually felt.

Now two years later, this person’s Facebook comment also comes at a time when lately, multiple things have come up in my life that make me think that maybe I should have been more honest not only about how things ended, but how things were when we were on the air.

One thing is the fact that this month does mark two years since our show ended, but also just yesterday I listened to Phil Vischer’s podcast about how he got outed from Big Idea Productions and had to give up control of the Veggietales characters he created in 1990, and I could relate to so much of the pain and anguish he described. Giving up our radio show was not necessarily something we wanted, but we’re glad it happened because God had other things in store for us.

But getting back to the Facebook comment, I don’t begrudge this listener for thinking of me this way, but I would like to clarify a few things. First off, I’m surprised she brought up how we “got rid of people” off of Facebook since we literally did that about five years ago. But in our defense, and to explain what she’s talking about, shortly after our show launched Jennifer and I each suddenly had over 4,000 “friends” on Facebook. Because of this, the statuses in our newsfeed drowned out all news from our actual real-life friends and family. The final straw for me was when a longtime friend not only announced he and his wife were expecting, but were expecting twins. I missed his announcement and subsequent updates for months. Because I don’t like being a slave to Facebook, and because we already had a TCND Facebook page, we removed over 4,000 “friends” from our personal feeds. To this day, I have kept my FB friend count to under 400, and FB is actually interesting and useful again.

Also, I sincerely doubt that us doing that was “the final straw for most.” What we did on FB had nothing to do with why our show was cancelled.

And honestly, to this day, I don’t even know exactly why our show was cancelled, and I’m not even sure what we’re legally allowed to say about the whole thing, which is a major reason why I’ve kept my mouth shut.

I can tell you my suspicion, though, of when it all headed downhill.

It started for me on June 28, 2012 when the Supreme Court came back in favor of Obamacare, which provided no conscience protection for medical care providers. Therefore medical care providers who were against abortion, contraception, and the like could all theoretically be forced to provide these services. This decision was announced within a couple hours of us going on the air, and rather than fake it, we shared our honest disappointment.  To us, this decision equated to thousands of more lives that would be destroyed by abortion.  That day, several supporters of Obamacare called in and we did indeed get into heated debates on the air.

A couple calls, in particular, did not go well.

That was a Friday, if I recall correctly. That night, Jennifer and I were still stinging from having to talk about that subject on the air. Keep in mind, this was radio and this was breaking news and the expectation given to us was that we would talk about breaking news. That was the job. If we had our druthers, we wouldn’t have talked about it. In fact, when we took the job, we had no idea we’d be expected to talk politics and be responsible for breaking news.  Before that we were just goofballs who did song parodies on a podcast.  But from day one we were told that that was expected of us, that we would talk about what was current and happening in the world as part of our job, so we did it. “Say what you think, be opinionated.” That was the job.

At this point I’d say, go back and listen to the podcasts we did before radio, then go back and listen to the podcasts after radio. Our podcasts are more who we are. Radio was not. We tried to be real on the radio, but it’s just not possible because every three minutes we’d have to remind you of our names, and the channel, and what we were talking about, and we couldn’t really just be us. On the podcast, we’re as goofy or serious or stupid as we want to be. That’s Greg and Jennifer.

One time our good friend Jeff told us he didn’t listen to our radio show, though he’d listened to all of our podcasts prior.  “It’s just not the same,” he said, and I’ve always respected and appreciated his honesty.

50% of the things we talked about on radio? It was radio. We couldn’t have cared less, but we were paid to have an opinion and to publicly share it, so we did.

On faith issues, it was easy to be passionate, but on politics, not so much.   In fact, since our show ended, I can’t think of a single political conversation in which I’ve engaged for two years now.  I just don’t enjoy it, which is why I was always so annoyed when someone accused me of wanting to be another Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh.  I just wanted to be Greg Willits from the Rosary Army podcast.

Going back to that Friday, we’d had a new boss for about three months. That night, just as Jennifer and I were heading out to dinner with our kids, he forwarded to us some scathing emails he’d received about us that day, with a note that just said, “FYI.”  And this was some absolutely hateful stuff.

Prior to that, with our original boss, we never once ever received a forwarded piece of hate mail. We got enough sent directly to us. Our original boss knew we didn’t need to receive more. He knew that in radio, especially Catholic radio, you were either too Catholic or not Catholic enough, and people feel like they need to tell you that, but that it wasn’t necessary to read every piece of negative email.

Again, this was a Friday night around 5:30PM, the beginning of the weekend. We started asking questions.  Why in the world would our boss feel the need to send that email to us then? Was he trying to ruin our weekend? Was this a message with an agenda?

We were completely perplexed. Around the same timeframe, our friend who watched our daughter told us she wouldn’t be able to anymore.

So now we were getting hate mail forwarded from our boss, the new timeslot we were in was terrible for our children as they didn’t get their mom right away when they got home from school, and now we were going to have to put our daughter in a childcare center for the first time in our parenting lives.

That night, Jennifer started crying.  Our family was open for public scrutiny (and still is, based on this Facebook comment).

I asked Jennifer, “Right now, if you could have whatever you want, what would it be?”

She answered right away: “I just want to be with the kids.”

No more deadlines, no more controversial topics, no more expectation to publicly live out our marriage.

A week later we told our new boss, who knew we were struggling mostly with our new timeslot, that if we couldn’t move back to our original 10AM-1PM EST time, that Jennifer would have to leave the show.  We’d been asking our employers for six months to make that happen, and we simply were up against a wall. It was terrifying to bring this forward.

We fully expected to be told, “Fine.  Your show is over.  You’re both fired.”

Instead, blessedly, we were told that the show couldn’t be moved right away, but for me to host solo until the fall, when maybe a change could be made.

So for three months, I flew solo, sitting in a room in our house and talking to myself for three hours a day. When a show was over, I was pretty much useless. Being introverted, and having to expend every ounce of energy sounding upbeat and talking to myself nonstop for three hours a day, took a tremendous toll on me. Again, imagine going into a room with literally no one else there, no producer on the other side of a window, no soundboard operator, no co-host with whom you’d been hosting everything you’d ever hosted for seven years. I was literally sitting in a room above our garage and talking into a microphone for three hours a day.

I don’t blame people for not liking me when I was on the radio, because let me let you in on a secret: I didn’t much like Radio Greg, either. Because Radio Greg felt fake. Radio Greg had to keep the show moving. Radio Greg had to come up with 15 hours of topics every week and felt very, very alone in doing so. Radio Greg did 100% of the show prep, and was responsible for the direction of every show, and if someone didn’t like something Radio Greg did or said, Radio Greg was told what a jerk and how “rude and arrogant” he was. And yes, sometimes Radio Greg lost his patience.

Often, Radio Greg had to pretend to be someone who he is not. I feel like the rebooted TCND podcast is much more honest of who Real Greg is. Real Greg doesn’t have a lot of friends in real life, and never has. That’s not bad, but just how he’s wired. In fact, too many people trying to communicate with Real Greg sends Real Greg into a hole. Real Greg is terrible at answering voicemail messages. Real Greg usually keeps his opinions to himself and likes to sit silently staring out a window.  Real Greg likes to read and drink coffee and hang out with cats and sit in the basement painting.  He likes public speaking and producing media, too, but not in a way that requires 15 hours of talking and 40 hours of show prep every week.

The Facebook commenter is correct. I didn’t do radio to make friends or be friendly. I did it to share the faith with others, and to provide for my family. Having said that, I did make friends, despite myself.

Do we miss radio? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. Our show was unique in that we truly were a Catholic reality show, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. We opened up the doors to our home to all of North America every day. Because we had to talk nonstop for 15 hours a week, a lot of the content came from us sharing our family lives. Most people don’t realize the arrangement Jennifer and I had while doing radio. Her focus was caring for the family and she counted on me to do all the prep for the show. A majority of days, she came into the studio about five to ten minutes before we went on the air, I handed her a stack of notes, and she counted on me to lead and she jumped in whenever she was ready. That worked well, but it was also very stressful for me. She made it clear right away that she had no intention or desire to ever host solo, and she never did, despite protests from our employers. I could not make the same declaration.

But the thing we miss the least about radio is the expectation that we’d live out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in an extremely public way. We don’t miss having conversations at night after the kids go to bed and saying, “Oh wait, let’s save this for the show.” Now we just live our marriage privately, and we have conversations the way couples are supposed to. And I like that. Because I’m selfish about sharing my wife and I did that for enough years.

I also don’t miss the negativity that was often directed our way from listeners, and a few times even from co-workers. We endured a lot of pain while on radio. There’s one person in particular that I’ve had to go to confession about several times because of the way that person hurt our family in very public ways and never apologized. I don’t miss stuff like that.  And I don’t miss daily comments like the one that popped up today on Facebook, daily being told I’m rude and arrogant.  I did develop a thicker skin, but you can only take so much of that from fellow Catholics.

I do miss the positive influence we sometimes had on people, though. I miss hearing from people who went to confession or got involved in their parish or with their family because of something we said or did. I miss giving unknown authors and people behind apostolates a way of sharing their work with the world. I miss praying with people on the air (this is one of the things we were told to stop doing, by the way). There are also some co-workers I miss. But, because of the constant painful reminders of what happened to us, I let those co-worker relationships drift away, too, as every time I heard from one of them, I was reminded of the way I was sent to the unemployment line after pouring out my heart, my life, and my very family for over four years, only to lose a job for it.

In September 2012, after hosting the show solo for three months, I wasn’t surprised when we got a call saying our show wouldn’t be moved back to our original time slot, thus Jennifer wouldn’t be coming back on the air, and thus our show was over. I was surprised, however, when I was told that I’d have to continue hosting for the next month solo without telling anyone that the show was ending. That was pretty much one of the top ten worst months of my entire life. I remember getting emails that month from people angry at repeats of the show on days I took a vacation day to go look for new employment.  But I couldn’t say anything.  The next month, I was hurt again when I learned that reruns of a different show were now airing in the original time-slot we were told was unavailable. So that wasn’t fun.

But, oh well.

This month now marks two years since we went off the show, and as evidenced by this Facebook comment, our time on satellite still haunts us from time to time. People still sometimes feel the need to tell me what a jerk I am, even if it was Radio Greg, a memory growing distant with every day. I can’t say I disagree. I am often a jerk. But I honestly try not to be. I try to honestly care about people. To the friends I have, I try to be a genuinely good friend.  I spend my days trying to find ways of improving the lives of others, of bringing them closer to God.

But I’m still sometimes a jerk, despite myself. So let me say again, if you were hurt because you were once on my Facebook “friends” list, and I removed you, I’m truly sorry. If I ever said something on the radio that offended you, I’m truly sorry. If I ever hurt you because I never got around to answering your email, or for any other reason, I’m truly sorry.  But if you just don’t like me because you don’t like me, I don’t know what to do with that.

Sometimes people ask me if we’d do radio again. I think Jennifer would automatically say no. I’d say I’d be open to it if I could actually be more like the real me, and if it wasn’t for 15 hours a week. I’d take a weekly show in a heartbeat, and a 1-hour daily would actually be really easy to do.

But Jennifer and I enjoy doing a podcast and the flexibility it offers. We’ve had a lot of family stuff going on recently so we just haven’t recorded anything lately, and we’re fine with that.

We don’t have as many listeners as we used to, but that’s not why we do it. We now have a few thousand listeners that genuinely consider us friends. They listen to every episode. And I daresay we now have very few listeners now that would consider me rude and arrogant. But if they do, perhaps we can grab a beer or cup of coffee together someday and you’d give me the opportunity to change your mind.

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