For $80, local faith groups can broadcast their message on TV for half an hour. Many Christian groups do. Now, because of the troubled economy, station officials are scrambling to fill air time and are reaching out to other religions.
It is Sunday afternoon and many believers have headed to their local houses of worship. But other Sacramento-area residents can't get out or prefer watching religious services at home. St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in the Oak Park area is on the air. The congregation buys two hours of air time a week.
"You can't beat the price," said Amos Holts, director of media services for the church. "The response we get from viewers is excellent."
The Sacramento congregation is one of several that airs programming on a local TV station called the Religious Coalition for Cable Television, or RCCTV. The station broadcasts on Comcast Channel 20, or on SureWest Channel 19.
RCCTV is one of only two in the United States licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to operate as a nonprofit religious TV station, said Ron Hermann II, station manager.
"Our purpose is to give all faiths in the community an opportunity to present their message," Hermann said. "Not everyone can get out to worship on the Sabbath."
RCCTV has been around for about 25 years and is overseen by the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento. In recent months, many religious groups, facing falling donations, have stopped buying air time on the station.
RCCTV officials are trying to raise funds a crab feed fundraiser for the station will be held Feb. 18 and are struggling to fill air time with a broad spectrum of religious groups.
"A lot of our air time is Christian-based," said Herman. "We need to get word out among the Sikhs, Buddhist, Muslims and Jews."
Hermann said the TV station fills a need in the community. Viewers include the housebound, those who prefer to worship at home and those who are interested in learning about other faiths.
"It helps those who want to stay connected to a faith or a particular church," Hermann said.
"It's a good way to reach people."
It reached Hermann nearly five years ago. A drug user, Hermann was flipping through the channels when he stopped to hear the Rev. Doug Batchelor from the Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church.
"He was speaking about second chances and it just spoke to me," Hermann said.
He turned his life around. Two years later he got the job at the TV station.
"It was as if everything came full circle," he said.
RCCTV is funded by donations, air time and the use of its production facilities. For a small fee, local religious groups can broadcast their services, hold discussions about faith that are taped talk show-style in the downtown Sacramento studio, or have a DVD of their services shown on the air.
"My goal is to give equal billing to every faith group," Hermann said.
Baptists, Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists and independent evangelical churches currently make up most of the RCCTV schedule.
Beatrice Coney Bailey hosts "A to Z with Bea," a community talk show. She is very satisfied with the RCCTV production staff.
"It's amazing what they do for a small operation," she said.
Bailey said she regularly hears from viewers. "People do watch and pay attention," she said.
Hermann said the station reaches 250,000 households between Elk Grove and Roseville. It cannot afford the Nielsen ratings service.
Bailey and Holts said the station is in dire need of new equipment.
"That's my one complaint," said Holts. "Otherwise, it's a good way of reaching people."