FARM BROADCAST'S BEST FRIEND
'NFBS LIVE' EXPANDS REACH, ENHANCES PROGRAMMING
Barb Baylor Anderson, Contributing Editor
The first thing KFEQ farm broadcaster Tom Brand does at work in the morning - perhaps short of pouring a cup of coffee - is check the "NFBS Live Web site (National Farm Broadcast Service). The St. Joseph, Mo., broadcaster says the site provides not only a look at local market and weather information and news from across the country, but also an opportunity to assess whether reports filed by other farm broadcasters or news posted by agri-marketers, agencies and associations can figure into that dayís programming.
"NFBS Live is the first thing I look at in the morning," Brand confirms. "NFBS is one of five pages on the Internet I check to determine what information is timely, newsworthy and fresh and can be used that day."
NFBS Live, a member service provided by the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB), has evolved dramatically during its decade of existence. Considered state-of-the-art during the early 1990s, farm broadcasters retrieved farm news from monochrome DTN monitors for use in their farm programming. NFBS Live is still available through DTN, and now also through the Internet. Brand and other farm broadcasters say just the click of a mouse provides top-quality audio ready to air.
"The progression of NFBS is nothing short of amazing," says Stewart Doan, Delta regional farm director for Yancey Ag Network, Little Rock, Ark. "NFBS is an important part of news gathering. I check the Web site several times a day."
Doan prefers the Internet version where stories are posted continuously. Previously, updates on the NFBS site were before the markets open and after the markets close.
"With the Internet system, stories are updated any time of the day, and the audio quality is the best you can get," Doan says. "We have three audio options on the Internet: Real Audio, broadcast quality Real Audio and MP3 Audio, which provides high-quality CD cuts. I generally access the MP3 Audio option from our system."
Mike Hergert, NAFB president and farm director for Red River Farm Network, Grand Forks, N.D., served on the original NAFB task force to establish NFBS and has closely followed the serviceís evolution. "When we began NFBS, DTN was the best way to share stories on a nationwide network," he says. "DTN is still a valuable service for us, but Internet technology allows us to move light-years ahead and enhance NFBS capabilities even more."
NFBS coordinator Theresa Orecchia, who is based in St. Paul, Minn., agrees. While farm broadcasters now use both the DTN and Internet options, she says she believes most will eventually transition to using the Internet exclusively.
"The advantage farm broadcasters have with using the Web site is the customization feature," Orecchia explains. "On the front page, farm broadcasters can set up their local weather, LDPs (loan deficiency payments) and local market prices and really make the site their own."
In addition, the site still plans to carry DTN news and a log of stories currently available for broadcasters to download.
"Not only has audio quality improved, but the Internet is quicker," Brand says. "I use high-speed Internet access in our studio to download MP3 files and edit the sound bites quickly and easily. When a script is provided, I can read it from my computer and just punch up the actualities."
oarm broadcasters also appreciate the opportunity to share with other farm broadcasters the packages they have put together for their local farm shows, as well as download stories other NAFB members have contributed.
"I like to see what other broadcasters are following," Doan says. "Itís like having 200 reporters nationwide."
Kevin Morse, farm director with WOWO in Fort Wayne, Ind., has relied on NFBS since 1993 for that very reason. "I am a one-man broadcasting operation, so accessing NFBS gives me information that I canít always get first hand, and it is good quality information coming from experienced broadcasters," he says. "Many times I have used stories from other farm broadcasters and put a local twist on them - stories that I might not otherwise have known about."
Greater access to state and federal public officials or other difficult-to-reach sources is another plus for the system, Hergert says. "I may not be able to easily call a legislator from another state for comment, but a farm broadcaster in that state may be able to call and get the information quickly," he explains. "My first shot at audio from events that I cannot attend is when an NAFB member is there. Some of those stories may have a geographic slant to them, but often there is some national appeal."
In addition to using reports posted by other farm broadcasters, NAFB members often broadcast information or actualities submitted by agencies and associations when these stories fall within certain parameters.
"When I scan company and association information, I look for stories that are market or farm policy related," Doan says. "My time constraints do not allow me to use features. I need bottom-line stuff. We are in the audio business, so I need sound bites rather than releases."
Morse agrees that he generally pulls sound bites rather than use releases. "I like 20- to 30-second sound bites that are about farm news," he says. "If the sound bites are about a new product, I need to know what is different about it, not receive a commercial. No topic is off limits, but the best topics are the ones that are different and present well-rounded information."
Brand uses the information in his question-and-answer farm programming format. He judges information on news value and whether stories fit his program for that day so he can give listeners an idea about what is happening with agribusiness companies. "I appreciate sound bites that help tell a news story in a short amount of time," he says. "I only use two or three clips, so length of the cuts and their timeliness is important, along with a script."
Hergert stresses that useful stories in broadcast format is a must for his programming as well. "It is our job to tell agri-marketers what they can do to make stories most useful for us," he says. "PR is part of the business, I appreciate new-product information, and NFBS is the quickest way to my desk. But a three-page news release is not helpful. A few sentences written in broadcast style with good actualities are useful. One size does not fit all in radio because we all have different programming."
Hergert encourages agri-marketers to list a contact name and phone number that broadcasters can reach for comment. "If I have to go through an agency or company legal contact first to get to the person who can comment, I probably wonít use the story," he says. "I have to be able to get an interview done right away with one call."
Feedback about the NFBS service is similar from other farm broadcasters. Orecchia says NAFB members report the best results come when agri-marketers include audio, not just a press release or advertising. "Concise, newsworthy information is the best way to share the story," she says.
Doan sums, "This is the most cost-efficient way for agri-marketers to reach me, and agencies can do a better job for their clients to track use if they post stories on NFBS. I get very few cassettes in the mail now, which is good. NFBS is the tool for reaching farm broadcasters."
As such, NAFB Executive Director Steve Pearson says NFBS has become one of farm broadcastís best friends. He says flexibility, speed, improved audio quality and enhanced programming possibilities promise to make NFBS a valuable membership tool for years to come, especially as NAFB takes advantage of the Internetís potential and evaluates other new technology options down
"The feedback is positive," Pearson says. "Farm broadcasters have more to do and less time to do it, and NFBS is one of the tools that helps them save time."
Farm broadcasters have not had much of a learning curve with transitioning to the Internet because it is so similar to the product theyíve been using, Pearson adds. "Within a year, hopefully everyone will have Internet access and use the DTN service as a backup," he says. "The Internet enhances programming capabilities, especially when you consider that all broadcasters really need is a laptop computer to do remote broadcasts now."
Farmers are the ultimate audience, and they are hungry for information. "NFBS improves broadcasting and makes farm broadcasters even more valued information sources," Pearson concludes. "We intend to stay ahead of the technology curve to make sure that role doesnít change." AM
Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.