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When you get past 50, and oftentimes before, it's easy to fall into the old "I remember when I was a kid, we (fill in the blank and tell how it was so much better than it is now)."

I grew up listening (or I should say my parents had the kitchen radio tuned in) every morning to WCCO-AM radio, the good neighbor, 830 on your dial, from Minneapolis. Each morning Maynard Speece, then later Chuck Lillegren, would present the farm report, providing market information and a few homespun tales to make grandpa and grandma, plus mom and dad, chuckle at the breakfast table as they sipped their coffee and downed a hearty meal.

Pam Jahnke, right, has been with Midwest Family Broadcasting in Madison, Wis., for five years. With the changing nature of farming, she finds herself spending more time on promotional and PR events.
Farm radio today isn't much like the old days. In fact, if it were like the old days, there probably wouldn't be much farm radio today. Farming has changed drastically in the past 50 years and so has farm broadcasting. Pam Jahnke, farm director for Wisconsin Farm Report Radio, serving six stations in Wisconsin and Minnesota and based in Madison, Wis., epitomizes what farm directors must do today to survive and thrive in the competitive world of ag communications.


"Our greatest challenge is finding, informing and entertaining a targeted audience about what agriculture is today," Jahnke says. "It's more than traditional servicing on air, providing farm markets, agribusiness news and making all those live appearances at county fairs and farm conventions. It's trying to do programs and promotions that work for today's agriculture."

Jahnke, a member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters since 1989, has been with Midwest Family Broadcasting in Madison for five years, after seven years at WTSO-AM in the same city. She also does a morning market recap and farm news each weekday on WISC-TV, the CBS network affiliate in Madison.

"Farm broadcasters have to think outside the box," Jahnke says. "What farm broadcasting can offer to clients and our listening audience is not just contained in 30 to 60 seconds. It's way more than that!"

For Jahnke, that means creating events that pull in listeners - a specific niche segment for example - and create opportunities for sponsors to soft-sell products and services and listeners to learn better ways to do the business of farming. One prime promotional example is Ag Women's Expo. Held for the first time in 2002, plans are in place for the second event in March 2003. A second example is using the Wisconsin Farm Report Radio's Internet site to provide listeners and advertisers with instant information. Both are the types of public relations programs the station offers that provide value-added information to its listeners.


"I wanted to target a program to women," Jahnke says. "They are part of the decision-making process but are sometimes overlooked by straight advertising. So, we decided to teach women the Internet, how to get and use e-mail, how to help their husbands and farm partners do their jobs better."

Jahnke's goal with the expo is to help women too shy to ask go through the motions of learning farm computerization (hardware and software for computers, PDAs, and various other technological advances) in the friendly confines of a day-long session with the help of experts in the field. The first year drew about 12 exhibitors and 50 farm women.

"In the morning, we let the vendors and neutral people like technical college instructors serve as teachers to the women," Jahnke says. "Then, once the women get around and visit the exhibitors, the hardcore selling can begin. For these sales guys working on commission, that was a little tough. But we first wanted to let the women learn about the technology without getting a sales pitch."

The event was not developed necessarily as a money-maker for the station, Jahnke says, but more as a promotion and public relations tool to get listeners the information they need to know. "It's a work in progress," she says. "Women need to be informed so when pa comes in the house and says Joe downtown told him this is the way it is, she can get on the computer and say, 'This is how it really is.' That makes the whole decision-making process on the farm better."


Through the Wisconsin Farm Report's Web site and Jahnke's innovativeness, Rock River Laboratory Inc., a soil and plant tissue testing company in Watertown, Wis., found a unique way to get its message to listeners and readers. In a dairy state like Wisconsin, first cutting of alfalfa is a big deal - don't remind me of my years in neighboring Minnesota baling and hauling hay at all hours of the night. Well, Jahnke developed a way to help Rock River Laboratory get information on to assist dairy farmers in knowing when their alfalfa was mature and ready to cut.

For a live broadcast with the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, Pam Jahnke visits a Madison day care to show how it incorporates soybeans into lesson plans.
"Samples were collected every Tuesday and Thursday from the end of April through the first few weeks of May," Jahnke says. "The results from the lab were put on the Web site on a regular basis. The lab would e-mail me the sample results, and I'd put them on the Web. We were the only source that had all the sample information from the area in one place.

"For a farm broadcaster it was a bunch of work. But people really liked it. The individual growers got their individual field test results back. I was able to show the whole area," Jahnke says.

Twilah Kulow, lab manager at Rock River Laboratory, agrees. "Pam's promotion worked very well," she says. "It allowed the farmer a chance to know when the best time was to cut alfalfa to make good quality hay and haylage. We thought it worked very well. She did a good job of getting information to farmers through the radio and Internet."

And will Kulow do the same promotion next year? "Absolutely," she says. "It was very beneficial to us. In fact, we were going to do a corn silage burndown report this fall, but the warm, dry weather didn't cooperate, and we never got it done. But that will probably be in the works for next year as well."


Jahnke isn't about to sit still in her promotional efforts. Next up is a potential Ag Olympics where farmers at various farm shows in the winter would putt golf balls, shoot hoops and do other sports-related events at sponsors' booths. Then, combined with the radio station and sponsors, farmers will be informed about who's leading the pack throughout the winter.

At the end of the farm show season, winners will be chosen by tallying the points collected at the various sporting events at the numerous farm shows across her listening area. "A lot of farmers go to the different farm shows," Jahnke says. "I can see rotating sponsors, booths with sports-related stuff and a whole lot of fun. Ag isn't always a lot of fun. So we like to come up with ways to give farmers a break and do something that is easy and fun for them.

"Radio is the companion in this case. If I'm a companion of someone, I want to be entertained. I want my friends to make me happy. Radio can allow us to do that. Guys love to guffaw each other. This gives clients a chance to interact with farmers while their buddies are shooting baskets. It's a break from the other stuff they do."

Jahnke says it's all about getting the audience interested. "If I'm having fun and making noise that draws people in. That's all I can do - create the audience. We do it on the air. But we need more opportunities to do that at the different venues. These kinds of ideas help us grow our audience and the sponsors." AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.

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