by Jeremy Povenmire
Last November the National Association of Farm Broadcasting unveiled the results of their rural lifestyle research project that was commissioned with Ag Media Research. Since then, the Association has began focusing on how members are developing programming for this segment and what NAFB can do to support this and add value for its membership.
A recent survey of users of the NAFB News Service indicates that three of four farm broadcasters are currently airing at least some programming aimed at the rural lifestyle audience. The survey represented close to 30 percent of the total NAFB Broadcast Council membership.
Several subject areas are being covered by NAFB member programming. A strong topic is the equine segment. One example of targeting the equine market is the Red River Farm Network's initiative called HorseSense.
"The Red River Farm Network has built a strong identity for super-serving our audience with news and information relevant to them. We started seeing more and more interest in the equine programming and also began hearing more discussions within the NAFB community. As the interest has increased, there have also been more companies willing to invest in the programming. Our 'HorseSense' initiative is a separate venture for us and has done very well providing the information content our listeners want," says Don Wick, with the Red River Farm Network, Grand Forks, ND.
In addition to the equine segment, NAFB members are also providing programming in other areas of interest to the rural lifestyle audience. These include food/consumer issues, auto racing, and outdoors activities such as hunting and fishing. One of the groundbreakers in this area continues to be Brownfield, a network based in Jefferson City, MO.
"When I came on board," says Brownfield's Cyndi Young, "one of my first key objectives was to revamp our program offering. The goal, of course, was to update the product to fit the wants and needs of the traditional farm listener, but add an element that would wet the radio appetite of non-farm rural residents. It took over a year because we wanted to make sure that when we did it, we did it right. With 275 radio stations, you can't be changing things up every few months! In December 2002, we rolled out our new program lineup, which featured some new programs including a daily program called 'Rural Issues' that I host. It covers issues like rural education, infrastructure, neighbor relations, and property rights."
Who is this new audience? Are they new or just "newly recognized?" Understanding this dynamic is essential for NAFB members developing programming to the segment.
"A lot of people moving back to the country grew up on a farm, moved away, and are now heading back to rural communities," says Young. "They want their high-speed Internet access and all of the luxuries associated with urban life, in a rural setting. Our programming 'bridges a gap' between those whose roots are planted firmly in a rural area, following generations of their families before them, and those who are transplants from other areas."
One area of the country that has seen urban settings increasingly encroach on rural areas is the northwestern United States It has also been called the "hotbed of the environmental movement." This is a very diverse area of agriculture and urban culture that sometimes combines through such products as fine wine.
"Our network covers a lot of urban and rural areas," says Susan Allen with the Northwest Ag Information Network, Cashmere, WA, "so our programming has to appeal to both audiences. We see it as 'CNN Style coverage.' It is brief and informative and educates, entertains and enlightens the audience. Our program
'Vine to Wine' has been very successful."
The Vine to Wine program is a once a day, 1.5 minute program, aired in the afternoon drive time that is geared to the consumer audience. It started out in the luxury tourist areas of the northwestern United States, but has now branched out nationally. Coverage is also very strong in Florida.
AN AFFLUENT AUDIENCE
"Our stations really like the program. It is popular with an affluent audience, and it also gives them a new strategy to approach grocery stores and restaurants for advertising dollars," says Allen. "They might not have considered contacting these kinds of businesses for income opportunities in the past. It opens new doors for program content, and it also opens alternative areas for revenue. It can be the best of both worlds in the right area."
The host of Vine to Wine, Linda Moran, shares as much passion for the program as she does for fine wine. Her biography describes her as "aged with perfection in the wine industry for 25 years. Full bodied and rich with extensive knowledge." She and Allen met at a wine grower's event in the area. They instantly knew the idea would work.
"We have had great success with Vine to Wine and have taken this same philosophy into other areas of programming including American Rancher and Food Forethought," Allen says. "Both these programs are geared to specific audiences in both the rural and urban segment. We don't do straight market reports here on the air; we do 'environmental reports.' New opportunities are occurring here everyday. It is a great chance to air good programming and make a difference."
One challenge to NAFB members who are working to develop this new market is to do this while recognizing that traditional agriculture is still the backbone (from content to revenue) audience to be served.
"We are seeing more and more potential for the rural lifestyle audience," Wick says, "but we believe strongly in 'dancing with the one that brought you' and also recognize the growing needs of our traditional ag audience for news and programming geared towards them. We still work everyday to serve our core audience of producers in our area. Rural lifestyle programming continues to add to the mix, but we are still driven by the need to super serve our main audience."
For more information on the rural lifestyle audience and what NAFB members are doing to reach them, visit www.nafb.com or call 816/431-4032.
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 www.povenmireag.com.