INCOMING NAFB PRESIDENT PROVIDES INSIGHTS
Debby Hartke, Contributing Editor
Mike Hergert will serve as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) for 2001. Hergert, a 20-year NAFB member, is farm broadcaster and vice president for Red River Farm Network, Grand Forks, N.D. The network consists of 14 stations in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, all carrying farm programming.
What are the top issues facing you as president of NAFB in 2001?
Corporate consolidation is a top issue. My heart is concerned about the fact that there are fewer and fewer farmers. But as farm broadcasters, we also are concerned about fewer agribusinesses, which are operating at thin margins. With these thin margins, sometimes advertising budgets get thin as well. Competition is intense.
We are faced with an explosion of information. It's a challenge for us to stay up to speed. The theme of our convention this year is "Enduring change. Embracing opportunity." One of the items addressed in our resolutions process is whether to allow Internet-only broadcasters as members in our association. According to our constitution, members have to be full-time radio or television broadcasters at commercial stations.
On the "pro" side of this debate is the thought that an Internet provider may be my next job opportunity. We need to keep in mind that one of NAFB's guiding principles is to look out for its members.
Our broadcast industry is going through consolidation as well. A few major players have bought large numbers of radio stations. Companies consolidate to cut expenses and that means fewer people. When that happens, I wonder if the radio listener in rural America is getting the short end.
What will be your biggest challenge personally?
I am about as technically challenged as anybody. We need to evolve as farm broadcasters and stay up with the technology. We like to say, "This is not your father's agriculture, so we can't be your father's broadcaster."
There are countless places for farmers to get information. The only way we are going to survive and be a viable medium is to give these farmers something they can't get elsewhere.
How does farmers' growing use of the Internet affect farm broadcasting?
As agribusinesses get bigger and more farmers rely on e-commerce to buy products, there will be a niche for service. I think eventually price-only shoppers will find a need for service. Farm broadcasting is a service, one that I hope will always be in demand. What draws farmers to us is that they know us. They have probably seen us at a show, at their Farm Service Agency office or at their association board meetings.
There are several reasons we go to as many meetings and events as we do. One is public relations; we see industry there. We also go for story ideas. And it means something to farmers if they see us at their meetings. We have a much better chance of getting and keeping listeners if they know us and trust us.
Listeners tend to rely on what we say as gospel. Maybe it's because it's the spoken word. Another factor is time, or lack of it. Farmers don't have time even to get through all the bookmarked sites on their computer. They look to us as their information editors.
How can agri-marketers help you do your job better?
We do have a lot of friends in agribusiness, but much of the time the relationships are still too formal. If we had more constant communications, and not always done so formally, it would be better.
Agri-marketers could help me keep up with technology and the industry. We appreciate anything they can do to keep us educated. The information should be in layman's terms, somewhere between the third- and seventh-grade level.
Many broadcasters don't have time to do investigative reports. When I call someone for information at 8:30 a.m., we need something at noon. The next day it's old. Be aware of the deadlines, the time factor. AM
Debby Hartke is a writer and communications consultant based in St. Louis, Mo.