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Many in agriculture have experienced the emotion and excitement of the National FFA Convention firsthand, whether as a youth or as an ag professional. You may never forget the first time you saw the national FFA president appear on stage, the performances by the FFA chorus or band and, for younger generations, the amazing laser light shows.

Today, millions of viewers can enjoy these emotional thrills with FFA Live! - a live broadcast featured on RFD-TV with hosts Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson of WGN Radio, Chicago. RFD-TV broadcasted the 77th National FFA Convention live to more than 25 million homes across the country on Oct. 27-30.

FFA members, parents and the general public were able to watch each of the 10 general sessions of the convention, as well as interviews with national and state FFA officers, corporate sponsors such as John Deere, tours of the FFA Career Show, various events being judged and general footage of activities outside of the arena.

Samuelson, a former FFA member from Ontario High School in Ontario, Wis., and a National Public Speaking finalist his senior year, knows the convention very well. He says his role and that of his co-anchor Armstrong was to walk viewers through the highlights of the convention week. "We set out with the hope of showing as many faces as we could while explaining the importance of such events as the awards ceremonies and the national officers' retiring addresses; those were memorable highlights," he says.

Orion Samuelson interviews FFA officers and guests on the set of FFA Live!, a broadcast partnership between the National FFA and RFD-TV.
Patrick Gottsch, president of RFD-TV, says the live convention coverage gave those at home a sample of exactly what goes on at the National FFA Convention. Gottsch says when the idea was first proposed there was concern that live coverage might deter attendance at the convention, but that opinion has changed. "I believe carrying the convention will enhance the great things FFA is doing and increase membership and convention attendance. Actually seeing the convention will only make students want to go there more and see the event firsthand," Gottsch reasons.

Bill Stagg, information services, division director, for the National FFA agrees. He explains that broadcast works best to tell the emotional side of the FFA story. "The broadcast medium really communicates personality. There's no better way to show and tell the emotion that is experienced in FFA," Stagg says. "While print is more detailed, it's hard to show the enthusiasm and spirit of our members. Seeing it and hearing it are second best to being there."

Samuelson concurs with Stagg. He says of television: "It's a different medium that attracts a lot of people. It shows true emotion, such as during the Stars Over America Pageant held on Thursday of the convention - there is so much emotion. We were also able to show the excitement, for instance, during the election of the 2005 national FFA officers. You think those kids are going to hurt one another jumping around on stage, and it's great to be able to show that enthusiasm and excitement to America."


The FFA Live! Program evolved from weekly airings of past FFA Convention general sessions on RFD-TV that began in December 2000. According to Gottsch, the response from FFA members, alumni and the general public was overwhelming. "Those who had never seen the convention were blown away by the speeches, band and chorus performances, and, most of all, the positive image that FFA provides for American youth," he says.

Stagg says RFD-TV came to FFA with the idea of the live convention coverage as well as monthly promotional programs that aired six months prior to convention. He says the great response from airings of past FFA Conventions and the involvement of two outstanding broadcasters, Armstrong and Samuelson, promised a great opportunity for both partners.

Beginning with the first of six live pre-convention shows, both partners could see a successful venture. Broadcasting from RFD-TV's studio in Nashville, Tenn., the FFA Live! programs included interviews with national officers, reports from Armstrong and Samuelson, and various features to promote FFA products and programs, such as an FFA apparel fashion show. Invariably, though, the part of the show that generated the most audience interest and response was a call-in portion allowing RFD-TV watchers to get involved.

RFD-TV's mobile satellite truck allowed for live broadcasting of the 77th National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky.
Stagg says the response from viewers calling in with questions, comments or testimonials has been overwhelming. "There are six phone lines into the studio, and all of them are busy all the time. There's no lull in the call-in activity," Stagg says. "Callers like to identify themselves and tell their personal FFA story. The show invites family and friends to call in and participate, which gives a voice to people who can really tell the message. After all, our best spokesperson is the member."

Samuelson, a farm broadcaster of 44 years who credits his career to his experience with the FFA National Public Speaking competition, says, "It is so interesting and gratifying to see the number of adults who express what an impact FFA has had on their lives and careers."


Another reason this project has worked so well for the National FFA Organization is that it has been free. That's right, free. RFD-TV has underwritten virtually the entire cost of the monthly broadcasts and the 2004 convention coverage as an act of service to the organization and its current and former members.

"Our hope is to get sound commercial advertising or corporate sponsorship to underwrite the broadcasts in the future," Stagg explains. But until FFA Live! becomes a commercial success, RFD-TV has committed itself fully to supporting the cause.

Gottsch says this partnership is not "an experiment." He explains that it will be an ongoing project with plans for expansion beyond the monthly broadcasts and the convention coverage. "Our long-term goal is to have a weekly show with new material each week," Gottsch adds.

"We really believe in the youth of rural America and are proud to be able to do this," Gottsch explains. "We're doing this to give back to the community. There's nothing better than showing America what our rural youth are doing. Of course, we do want to attract sponsors down the road, but RFD-TV feels strongly enough about FFA that we are committed to do this with or without sponsorships."

Much more important than commercial success is the fulfillment of a founding purpose of FFA. In the opening ceremonies for an FFA meeting, the officer serving as the FFA reporter explains his purpose with these words: "As the flag covers the United States of America, so I strive to inform the people in order that every man, woman and child may know that the FFA is a national organization that reaches from the state of Alaska to Puerto Rico and from the state of Maine to Hawaii."

Samuelson adds that his involvement in bringing the FFA message to homes across the nation is thrilling. "I have attended almost every National Convention, and I always come away with my battery charged. Now to share this event 'gavel to gavel' on RFD is exciting!" he says. "Most headlines that tell about young people doing the wrong things are the minority. Viewers come away from this programming feeling better about the people who are guiding the future of this country." AM

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