Here in Lake Charles, American Family Radio has silenced what its boss detests.
It knocked two NPR affiliate stations off the local airwaves last year, transforming this southwest Louisiana community of 95,000 people into the most populous place in the country where ''All Things Considered'' cannot be heard.
In place of that program -- and ''Morning Edition,'' ''Car Talk'' and a local Cajun program called ''Bonjour Louisiana'' -- listeners now find ''Home School Heartbeat,'' ''The Phyllis Schlafly Report'' and the conservative evangelical musings of Mr. Wildmon, whose network broadcasts from Tupelo, Miss.
The Christian stations routed NPR in Lake Charles under a federal law that allows noncommercial broadcasters with licenses for full-power stations to push out those with weaker signals -- the equivalent of the varsity team kicking the freshmen out of the gym.
This is happening all over the country. The losers are so-called translator stations, low-budget operations that retransmit the signals of bigger, distant stations. The Federal Communications Commission considers them squatters on the far left side of the FM dial, and anyone who is granted a full-power license can legally run them out of town.
Religious broadcasters have done this to public radio stations in Oregon and Indiana, too, and many large-market public radio stations, like WBEZ in Chicago, complain that new noncommercial stations, most of them religious, are stepping on the signal at the edge of their transmission areas.
Stations are scrambling for these frequencies at a time of rapid growth in the national NPR audience and even faster growth in religious networks like American Family Radio. It owns 194 stations, has 18 affiliates and has applications for hundreds more pending with the F.C.C.
''The noncommercial band is getting very, very crowded, and there just is not a lot of room for new stations in desirable areas,'' said Robert Unmacht, a Nashville-based radio consultant. ''The competition is fierce, and the Reverend Wildmon is especially hard-nosed. His people are very good at what they do.''
Public radio is belatedly fighting back. Last year, a national nonprofit organization was set up to fend off the new hardball competition. Called Public Radio Capital, it raises money through tax-exempt bonds to help local public stations end their reliance on translators and buy full-power stations.
Public Radio Capital, created with seed money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a federally financed agency, has since helped public radio stations in Chicago, Denver, Nashville and Tacoma, Wash., to outbid their competition.
In Tacoma, the organization bought a noncommercial FM station from a local technical college for $5 million. Money to operate the station will come from major public stations in the area.
''Until recently, public radio had been completely dependent on local initiative to protect its signal and acquire new stations,'' said Marc Hand, the managing director of Public Radio Capital, which is based in Denver. ''A lot of times, local radio is not aware of how to compete. We are stepping in when we can to help.''
For many of NPR's 273 member organizations, the legal and administrative costs of competing against religious broadcasters are sponging up millions of dollars that they might otherwise spend on news and other local programming.
''It is, like, nuts,'' said Torey Malatia, general manager of WBEZ, which has the country's third-largest public-radio audience. ''Starting about four years ago we realized that if we didn't learn how to fight back, our coverage area would effectively shrink by a million people.''
As NPR itself acknowledges, religious broadcasters are often far better prepared for the radio wars. ''They have employed a long-term strategy, where we have failed to do that,'' said Dana Davis Rehm, vice president for member and program services at NPR in Washington.
The two public radio stations heard in Lake Charles, for example, were caught napping as American Family Radio maneuvered over several years to bump them off the air.
Those college-based public stations, one in nearby Lafayette, La., and the other just across the Louisiana border in Beaumont, Tex., could have applied for F.C.C. licenses granting them the right to build and operate full-power stations in Lake Charles. Instead, like many public radio stations, they chose to operate on the cheap, using translators.
Translator-based stations have given American Family Radio the opening it needs to grab space on the noncommercial FM dial between 88.1 and 91.9 megahertz.
As early as 1997, the network filed applications with the F.C.C., declaring its intention to build two full-powered stations that would step on the two translator-based public radio signals in Lake Charles. But KRVS in Lafayette and KVLU in Beaumont did not react and apply for full-power stations of their own.
''NPR people should really be embarrassed,'' said Mr. Vaughn, the lawyer for American Family Radio. ''They knew for years that we had applied, and they didn't do anything about it. NPR people were drawing money out of the community in the form of pledge support, but they didn't bother to apply for a full-power station. It is not our fault.''
Religious broadcasters are snapping up most noncommercial stations when they come on the market. In the first two quarters of 2002, there were 14 sales of noncommercial stations. Of those, public radio groups bought only two.
Competition between religious and public radio stations is not always acrimonious. Competitors have amicably divided a contested frequency in some cases by agreeing to use directional antennas that limit interference. Here in Lake Charles, local rage at the loss of all access to NPR has fueled a yearlong effort to bring back public radio.
''What Wildmon has done to the public broadcasting band is try to eat it all,'' said Robert W. McGill, 74, an NPR devotee and a retired chemist.
Mr. Wildmon, who became well known in the 1970's when he led national campaigns against sex and violence on television, declined to be interviewed.
Mr. Vaughn, the general counsel for American Family Radio, acknowledged that the network was aware that its two new stations would be ''blocking out'' public radio in Lake Charles. But, he added, ''We were in no way targeting it.''
Like many religious networks, American Family Radio has little local content; its stations rely instead on satellite feeds from the home office in Tupelo. Radio industry analysts agree that public stations usually carry more local news and offer programs more closely tied to the communities they serve.
More than a year after American Family Radio went on the air here, its two stations (one carries what it calls Christian contemporary programming, the other what it calls traditional gospel) have just one local employee. Elizabeth Arrington, 21, the station manager, works in a remodeled house on the edge of town. Its broadcast studio is an empty room, although Mrs. Arrington said radio equipment would arrive soon.
In all likelihood, before American Family Radio gets around to local broadcasts in Lake Charles, public radio will be back on the air here.
A $309,000 antenna, nearing completion about 30 miles west of town, will let people here pick up KRVS, the NPR affiliate in Lafayette.
Sixty percent of the money for the antenna came from a Commerce Department grant. The rest came from the city and parish governments, as well as from private local contributions. The primary local mover in raising money was Carolyn Woosley, a financial planner and playwright.
''We lost access to a treasure that we all pay for with our tax dollars, and we got mad,'' Ms. Woosley said. ''We decided you don't have to like NPR in this town, but you are going to have to make room for it.''