ROLLING PAST 60 — NAFB CONTINUES TO ACCELERATE
by Jeremy Povenmire
This past year NAFB celebrated 60 years of farm broadcasting. After all the hoopla died down the pending question was, what will the next 60 years bring? Several NAFB members had some interesting takes on what has farm broadcasting "positioned for the future."
The vast majority of farm broadcasters come into the business by working from a young age in "the business" and paying their dues both on air and off air. Like many aspects of agribusiness, this was once dominated almost entirely by men.
"When I joined NAFB in 1973, I was the only woman active in farm broadcasting," says Colleen Callahan with WMBD Radio in Illinois. "I wasn't the first one, but the only one doing it in the early 1970s. But this was reflective of the entire agriculture community at the time. Farm broadcasting mirrored the make-up of the business it reported on.
"It used to be that everyone I talked to was a man. It is hard to believe that in todays' world women are just as likely to be the researcher, media buyer and client. It is a reflection of the make-up of the agribusiness world in general," Callahan says.
Callahan later became the first female president of NAFB.
Pam Fretwell, with WTAD and WKAN Radio in Illinois, began her career growing up on her family farm and worked in the jewelry store her father owned.
"My Dad taught me how to have a customer service-oriented attitude. He was very determined to make doing business with him a positive experience. This helped me when I worked as a sales rep with Pioneer Hi-Bred. In fact, I give him credit for how well I did with their Pro Rep program," Fretwell says.
Pioneer launched the initiative in the 1990s to transition its farmer/dealer sales force into full-time sales representatives with more comprehensive agronomy knowledge and service. Fretwell was one of the first in this elite group.
"In addition to my training with Pioneer, I also took several classes through the state of Missouri for leadership. When the opportunity to be a farm broadcaster for WTAD and WKAN materialized, it was a natural transition for me. I was good at talking to rural America because I was already a part of it. I was doing much of the same type of learning and sharing as before, just through a microphone instead of in person or over the phone."
It may come as a surprise to many that farm broadcasters are interested in what programs like "The Rush Limbaugh Show" are doing. While their entertainment and format may not match up to agribusiness news and programming, their business models have more in common than you might think. Justin Mills with the Northern Ag Network is one who is always paying attention to change in the industry.
"I am watching very closely what happens in all segments of radio. I have been keeping a close eye on Limbaugh's extra hour he broadcasts on the Internet," says Mills. He is also blazing the trail in podcasting. I could see a younger farmer someday coming in over the noon hour and synching up his podcaster for agribusiness programming he can listen to when he chooses on his combine. There are lessons to be learned from anyone in radio trying new avenues. Just because we always did it a certain way doesn't mean it will be that way forever."
Regardless of changes in technology, the service of delivering information to farmers and ranchers will continue. However, due to the average age of farmers being 55 to 65, some technology that is gaining ground in the urban markets will be slower to be adopted in rural America. If it fits the need for information it will happen.
Once upon a time, older generations of farmers turned their noses up at cell phones (and the sketchy coverage they provided). Now it is rare to see a working producer without a phone attached to a belt or shirt pocket.
Other aspects of technology have allowed farm broadcasters to expand the places they can work from. In some cases this can result in being able to work at home part time.
"I am able to broadcast from my home two days a week now," says Suzanne Hubbard, KKOW Radio in Pittsburg, Kan. "We have high-speed Internet, and the equipment is not too expensive. I do closing markets and ag news from here and send the whole package to my station. It really helps me to balance some aspects of my life between family and work. I have three children and my husband farms, so we are always looking for opportunities to interact together."
YOUTH IN ACTION
23-year-old Andy Vance started his own network this fall in Ohio. Andy was with WRFD Radio until a programming change replaced his noon show with religious programming.
"The management at WRFD decided to put different programming on during the day," Vance says. "It was their decision to expand that demographic on their station. Some people fade away from the profession when these things happen. My wife and I decided to do what Ed Johnson did once upon a time, we started our own network to keep providing the news and information our area needs."
"Lindsay and I are working as a team on the Buckeye Ag Radio Network (BARN). We have worked in sales, production and on air, but being responsible for the whole process will be different. We studied the Ohio market and decided to market our network in 15-minute increments. This will allow our affiliates to use as much (or as little) ag news and programming as they choose. Some stations with certain formats want more and others less. We believe this will make us more versatile and attractive to potential stations for more coverage."
CONTINUING THE RELATIONSHIP
When asked what has made them successful and advanced them up the broadcasting ladder in their respective markets, most farm broadcasters responded that the relationship they have with their listeners weighs in at the top.
"I was always into radio," says Janelle Brose with the Michigan Farm Radio Network. "When I was in college at Michigan State University I got an internship at the Michigan Farm Radio Network. It gave me a lot of good on air experience and also got me out in front of my audience at various grower meetings. I thought people might be skeptical of my youth when I started, but that was not the case. The time I have spent with our listeners off air is nearly just as important as time on air. I make it a point to be very visible in the area."
Most farm broadcasters found it easy to relate to their audiences because they come from the same environment. The language spoken to rural America is already a natural.
"After finishing college I returned to the same region I was from," Northern Ag Network's Mills says. "I grew up with an agricultural heritage and wanted to be involved in the industry. Providing news to the area was a natural fit for me. It also helps to build trust in an area if you are from that environment and people trust you to tell the truth. Truth is something that can often be distorted in mainstream consumer media outlets. I believe people in our area see the Northern Ag Network as a source of facts on agriculture-related news. We are proud of that."
THE NEW AUDIENCE SEGMENT
Another reality in the changing world of farm broadcasting is the evolving listener segments. Many are now part of the "rural lifestyle" audience who live on smaller acreages and often earn far more income off the farm than on. Will farm broadcasting continue to be an effective tool to reach this audience?
"Recent research we completed shows that an overwhelming ma-jority of the rural lifestyle audience are tuning into weather forecasts and agricultural markets from their local farm broadcaster," says Gene Millard with the NAFB. "In fact, programs with specific topics of animal health/vet programs and companion-animal care scored much lower. Despite high percentages of horse ownership in this group, they still prefer knowledge of weather and ag markets as their primary radio listening."
THE NEXT 60 YEARS AND BEYOND
"I tell all the young people I meet to get as much experience as possible," says Michigan's Brose. Of course, there are limited opportunities in the internship arena, but it is still important to gain experience. If you have a strong interest in broadcasting, you can volunteer to help at a station or seek out someone that is a willing mentor. Even if you are offered an opportunity outside of agriculture, you should take it. All broadcasting experience is valuable. Many of us have done other types of work from sports to consumer news. Radio is still a great world for those of us in it."
Will farm broadcasting be here in 60 years? We think it will, but the tools of broadcasting will certainly evolve. Just as the early forms of sound recording would never be used in today's digital age, chances are there could be drastic changes in how rural America gets its information. Will there be podcasting that offers packaged programming for downloading? Will farm broadcasters be broadcast in three-dimensional holograms to their audience? Only time will tell.
As change progresses, we all marvel at how quickly our tools for our profession get better — faster computers, better data transfer and remote technology to broadcast from just about anywhere. Farm broadcasting is positioned for the future — wherever it takes us.
Jeremy Povenmire is the president of Povenmire Agri-Marketing, Independence, Mo., which does marketing/promotional work and convention management for NAFB. For more information, go to