He spent nine years in a radio career that did one thing – it paid his bills. If mortgages and bills didn’t exist, then how would he spend his time? That question was life-changing for Mike Hayes, who gave up his radio career for a smaller paycheck and the happiness he discovered as cofounder and former associate editor of BustedHalo.com, an online magazine for young adults.
After graduating from Fordham University, Hayes worked on New York-based sports radio WFAN, doing mostly behind-the-scenes work, immediately. “It was a dream job,” Hayes said of the occasional assignments he’d receive to cover ball games, phone in reports and interview team members in the locker room. “It was, ‘Wow, it doesn’t get any better than this.’”
But Hayes found out that it would get better when he helped create BustedHalo.com, a trademarked site where young adults ages 20 to 30 explore their faith as it applies to real-world experiences and come to know Catholicism at their own rate. He is now happily working as a campus minister at St. Joseph University in Buffalo, N.Y., is senior editor of his blog, “Googling God” at BustedHalo.com and author of the book “Googling God” published by Paulist Press.
Radio gig loses luster
Without his experiences at WFAN and then as producer of WOR Radio’s “Food Talk,” Hayes said he wouldn’t be who he is today. During his Dec. 10, 2009 talk, “Does God Have a Plan for Me?”, at Cardinal Stritch University, he told a group of about 75 people that his heart raced when he was assigned to cover a game between the New Jersey Nets and the Chicago Bulls.
Hayes was excited, but when he literally ran into Michael Jordan in the locker room after the game and talked to him for a few minutes, the excitement didn’t last.
“It almost seemed like it was drudgery in a way, to go out and actually do this. So, I just kind of noticed that maybe for the first time after that game that what I thought was going to be great and wonderful was not really great and wonderful in my own eyes,” Hayes said.
When he switched radio stations, continuing to be what he described as the “sports guy,” but doing talk shows during the day, Hayes met Arthur Schwartz, former host of “Food Talk with Arthur Schwartz” on WOR. One day Schwartz asked Hayes, his producer, for the name of the girl he must have met over the weekend responsible for his upbeat mood. But Hayes said he instead explained it was a retreat he had run for his parish that left him so upbeat.
“Finally, when I took a breath, (Schwartz) just looked at me. He said ‘That is the most excited I have ever seen you about anything…. I think you need to be more excited about everything you’re doing each day – maybe this retreat thing has something to do with it, maybe you could do that for a living.’”
Hayes thanks Schwartz for teaching him about his faith, because he made him analyze his job, life and passions.
“I always say it took a Jewish man to help me figure out how to be Catholic and tell me what I needed to do with my life and I love him for that,” Hayes said.
Path to discovery
The process included answering Schwartz’s question, “If you would just have to wake up tomorrow, what would you do, how would you spend your time?” Hayes thought about the question and when he couldn’t come up with a one-word response, Schwartz had him list the things that he was proud of, that made Hayes feel like he made a difference, more alive or the most energetic.
“Surprisingly, most of those things had to do with work I had done at my parish or work I had done in service organizations or all these kinds of things; not one of them was anything I had done in radio, not one,” Hayes said during his presentation.
As he sought out people who do retreats or inspirational sessions for a living, Hayes said fears of not making enough money or having enough training or skills broke down his confidence. Hayes’ associate pastor, Fr. Frank DeSiano, former president of the Paulist Fathers, knew Hayes was on a “discovery to find out how he could do retreats more often” and invited him to a focus group coordinated by his religious community.
The community, Hayes said, was thinking of starting a national effort for mission for young adults and wanted to use the media in some way, specifically in audio or Internet, but they wanted to hire someone who had retreat experience.
“As soon as they said media and retreats, the entire room just sort of looked at me and I just looked at them and said, ‘Oh, good Lord, it’s me that they want. I’m the candidate,” Hayes said of the Paulist Fathers’ yearning to reach out to young people and offer parish retreat programs similar to what they found in college.
Hayes was asked to write a job description for the position, which he did that night. He was hired, and from 2000-09 worked as associate director of what came to be Bustedhalo.com.
“We wanted to be an Internet magazine for spiritual seekers and said that we want a place where it’s a safe place for people to land and sort of explore Catholicism at their own pace and give them examples of things that are going on that we think are interesting, that we like reading about in everyday life and have (a) faith connection in some way and I think that we get a lot of props for touching on some of the issues that other people won’t,” Hayes said in an interview with your Catholic Herald. “We talk about some things that are a little more controversial, and because of that I think that we have some legitimacy in the eyes of young adults that are outside the church, those who would never darken the door.”
‘Labor of love’
Because they have hired a full-time editor, Hayes has relinquished some of his Busted Halo responsibilities so he can move on to the more ministerial elements, his true passion.
Hayes said BustedHalo.com, with 2,000 unique visitors each day and more during Lent and Advent, was “a labor of love.”
“And people who minister to young adults really are using these things as tools now, to engage the people who are in marriage prep,” Hayes said. “I think the idea now is that we’re trying to think of how can we minister to the ministers in some way, minister to the gatekeepers of young adults as well as to the magazine.”
Hayes attributes the success of the Internet magazine and Busted Halo ministry to its uniqueness.
“It’s the only game in town,” he said. “I would say that most places give people a rather staid and static view of the Catholic Church and in some ways that’s great; in some ways it’s they give them a very direct answer to their question, but I think what we do is flesh that out. Is that we say, ‘Here’s what our tradition is all about and here’s a place where we’re clearly working or we’re clearly showing people how that works in a very tangible way.”