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Broadcasting farm news is focus of Illinois station
Illinois Correspondent

PEORIA, Ill. — In its heyday in the 1950s, the National Assoc. of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) boasted more than 500 member stations, dispatching weather and crop reports over the nation’s radio airwaves to millions of farm families. Since those salad days of agriculture-themed radio programming, the number of radio stations featuring farm shows has dwindled to a rate exponential to the demise of the family farm.

The Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) showed their commitment to preserving agriculture programming vital to farm families by investing $32,000 on advertising on 19 Illinois radio stations featuring ag programming and on the statewide RFD Illinois Radio Network.

“Money matters,” said Steve Simms, IFB promotions director. “The business of radio is advertising. Many county Farm Bureaus sponsor farm reports, but we find there is still a need for the power of the almighty advertising dollar.”

While many station’s owners have downsized or eliminated farm programming from their schedules, Peoria’s Classic Country 1290 WIRL-AM shifted its Noon Show to an ag radio format in March 2005. WIRL Agribusiness Director Tricia Braid-Terry said the format switch has been well received by rural residents within the station’s range.

Braid-Terry, who also serves as the hour-long show’s on-air personality, came to the station after a career in agriculture print media and a stint with the Macon County Farm Bureau in Decatur.

She said WIRL’s switch to a country music/ag news format from an all-sports talk station has been both beneficial and challenging.

“We thought the ‘Classic Country’ format would be a great fit with a noon ag show, which is when people expect to hear their ag programming,” Braid-Terry said. “But for the few hour-long ag programs that are still around, it is difficult for stations to devote that much airtime to them.”

As with all radio programming, advertising revenue is the lifeblood of farm broadcasting. The media conglomerate that owns WIRL has a sales staff which is specifically trained to sell ag-related advertising to local, national and worldwide businesses, yet Braid-Terry augments those sales by recruiting advertising for the show herself in some instances. According to the NAFB, around 70 percent of rural residents prefer their farm news to be broadcast on a country music station.

In order of importance, they listen to hear weather reports, market updates, and ag-related news. Braid-Terry said her show’s listeners mirror those findings.

“Weather is always at the top, and we do an interview with our Mobile Weather Team every show and try to get them to project out as far as they feel comfortable,” she said. “After last year’s drought, weather is very much in the minds of producers.”

Another hot topic on the Noon Show is crop health management.

“Last year we were really talking a lot about soybean rust. This year looking out to the summer, more of what I’m hearing from people is how to handle their plant health initially to help them move through dry conditions so if we do have another drought plants will be healthy to begin with,” said Braid-Terry.

Other topics important to central Illinois growers recently addressed on the Noon Show include legislative issues related to the Farm Bill and WTO negotiations, WRDA passage, animal health topics and the shifting landscape of rural society.

“More and more of the time our listeners include people that aren’t actively involved in agriculture production,” Braid-Terry said of the latter topic.

“We as farm broadcasters need to be mindful of that. The USDA says 65 million people in this country are considered to be rural residents; and if only 2 percent of our population is farmers, there is a big gap. From my perspective it’s important for a farm broadcaster to educate both sides of that equation.”

Braid-Terry, a Funk’s Grove, Ill. resident who grew up and resides on her family’s farm, is eagerly awaiting ag-radio specific ratings numbers for WIRL that will be announced this summer. “All indications, so far, are that the Noon Show is going to continue strong on Classic Country 1290 WIRL,” said Braid-Terry.

In light of recent commitments from the IFB, NAFB and rural-based radio stations like Peoria’s WIRL, perhaps the same can be hoped for concerning farm broadcasting in all agriculture-based states.

This farm news was published in the May 31, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.