Commentary: What You Didn’t Hear Over the Past 40 Years

As of September 1, 2021, I have been a farm broadcaster for 40 years. Not sure when this happened, since it feels like last month I was playing rock and roll on a small town radio station that had lower wattage than a microwave. Yet there is no denying it, I have been doing this a lot longer than I ever dreamed.  As I have been thinking back over all these years, a number of things have occurred to me that never made the airwaves.  While far from a “tell all,” I would like to share a few things that have never before been in print.

I began my career as the junior member of a three man broadcast team. The other broadcasters were far more knowledgeable and experienced than I; and, thus, I seldom got to host a broadcast. I mostly did recorded interviews that they had to approve before airing. That is, until the first day of deer hunting season. This is tantamount to a national holiday in Central Missouri.  Needless to say, I was left to host all the shows that day while the others headed to the woods.  The studio was in a rural area with a large pasture behind it.  Most of that day, several large bucks spent time in that field. My colleagues came back emptyhanded. I enjoyed telling them that, if they had come to work, they would have had some nice racks for their walls.

One of my first milestones was the opportunity to travel with then Ag Secretary John Block to South America. I made several mistakes on that trip. The first was deciding to carry two large cassette recorders with me that I then had to lug through five countries. I still have shoulder pain from that.  Then there was the incident at the reception. It was a State Dinner for the Secretary hosted by a high ranking Brazilian official at his palatial estate.  After consuming free adult beverages, the call of nature arrived. Not knowing how to ask for a restroom in Portuguese, I found a discrete place in the garden to solve my problem. Ten minutes later we were all called to the garden for the ceremonial planting of a special tree. Yes, in that very spot.

Subsequent foreign trips provided many other memorable incidents including the time we trashed a U.S. ambassador’s living room.  We were in Algeria which had very few phone lines back to the States. We in the press corps were desperate to get our stories back home. The Ambassador’s wife said the phone in the living room worked back to the U.S. and offered to let us use it.  What she did not know that that, in order for us to send our stories (well before the internet), we had to dismantle the phone and connect our equipment. When she came in later, she found wires, recorders, typewriters, and cameras covering her furniture and tables along with about 3 miles of cable. She was not thrilled.

Other memorable foreign experiences include sightseeing in Rome at 4am, buying pirated Microsoft software from a kid on a bicycle in an alley in Beijing, watching the press aide for a congressman get drunk and fall into the swimming pool of a high ranking official from the Dominican Republic, and buying Cuban cigars for my boss in Hong Kong and bringing them back into the U.S. in the battery compartment of my recorder.

Then there are the things I would have done differently. Agreeing to broadcast from the State Fair Swine Barn when the temperature was over 100 degrees was one. Interviewing Senator Lugar at an Ethanol fuel station opening in Boone County at 5am with temps below freezing was another. Finally, emceeing the Sale of Champions at the State Fair, I was a nervous wreck and did a terrible job.

The things I did right include moving to Indiana to start a farm radio network and many years later starting to write columns for Farm World newspaper.  This sounds like a bit of pandering, but it is really not.  These two things have led to experiences and relationships that have helped make a 40 year career possible.  Thank you!

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