Carey Martin: My Farm Broadcasting Journey
Agriculture is all I've ever known...
Agriculture is all I have ever known. I grew up on a dairy and beef cattle farm in northwest Louisiana and started driving a tractor when I was 8 years old. The two highlights of my adolescent years were when I was named the Louisiana State Champion 4-H Livestock Judge and when I was elected State Vice-President of the Louisiana FFA. Both of those experiences required years of preparation in public speaking. I didn’t realize it then, but all of that public speaking experience was preparing me for a career on the radio.
The first farm broadcaster that I ever heard on the radio was Jack Dillard on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. When I was a young bo, I met Jack at the Louisiana State Fair. He gave me a free ticket to the Louisiana State Fair Rodeo. For some reason that memory is burned into my mind, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Little did I know that I would eventually follow in his footsteps and become a farm broadcaster myself.
Agriculture may have been my first love as a teenager, but the radio was a close second. I had one of those little transistor radios that I would keep by my bed. We had a 9 p.m. bedtime in our house, but I would stay up late into the night with that little radio by my ear, listening to the night-time disc jockey do the nightly countdown and the teenage dedication songs. I thought that had to be the coolest job in the world. It was my dream job. I had no idea how to get into radio, but fate intervened.
I attended the 1987 National FFA Convention in Kansas City representing Louisiana as a State FFA officer. The National Association of Farm Broadcasters convention was held at the same time, and a farm broadcaster from Baton Rouge named Doug Thomas approached me for an interview. I don’t remember the details of that interview, but I must have said something about my plans to attend LSU the following year. After the interview, Doug told me that if I was interested in working an internship with him, to give him a call when I got to Baton Rouge. It was the “foot-in-the-door” that launched my career.
Doug worked for the Southern States Network, a statewide radio network that was housed alongside an AM/FM station combo in Baton Rouge. It just so happened that the AM station was the big news/talk station in the market, and the FM Top-40 was the highest rated station in Baton Rouge. As a new intern, I found myself working alongside the legendary radio personalities of south Louisiana. I couldn’t believe that a small-town country boy had gotten so lucky. A year earlier I had been dreaming of being on the radio, and now I had stumbled into heart of a radio broadcasting superpower.
I worked the internship with Doug that fall and learned a lot about radio. I wish I could say that I performed well, but the truth is that I didn’t. My redneck accent was horrible, my work ethic left much to be desired and I didn’t even dress properly, showing up in shorts and a t-shirt much of the time. I’m sure I tried Doug’s patience, but he put up with me and taught me many of the farm broadcasting skills that I still use today. I’ll always be in Doug’s debt for giving me my first break into the radio business.
An interesting side note is that Doug was from Kentucky and was a graduate of the University of Kentucky. He was the first of several Kentucky guys who helped me in my life's journey. Many years in the future, one of my sons would earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of Kentucky.
Near the end of the semester, word started circulating that the owner was going to sell the radio stations and shut down the network. Doug was an excellent farm broadcaster, so within a few weeks he had found another job with Jim Yancey at the Progressive Farmer Network in Starkville, Mississippi.
It was true that the network was shutting down, but the sale still had a few months before it closed, and they needed someone to continue the farm broadcasts. So, at the clueless age of 19, I was offered a job as a full-time farm broadcaster for the Southern States Network. I knew it was only temporary, but nonetheless, my dream of a career in broadcasting had become a reality. I still have some of those old airchecks, and they are unbelievably awful. But it was great experience that I still use today.
During those short few months, I met my cross-town competition. He was a goofy guy named Don Molino who worked for the Louisiana Agri-News Network. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just met the man who would have a huge influence over my life. He would eventually become a very close friend and a valued mentor.
A few months later the sale went through, and the Southern States Network faded into radio history. But my farm experience saved the day once more. The FM station, WFMF-FM, had a gigantic radio on a 24-foot trailer that they pulled around town to remote broadcasts and other events. The program director knew that I was a farm boy and asked me if I had any experience pulling a trailer. I told him I could back up a 36-foot gooseneck with my eyes closed (which wasn't exactly true.) From that moment on, I was the official driver of what they called “The World’s Largest Jam Box.” He also gave me a job as a board operator on the AM station, WJBO, working the weekend overnight shift. All I did was push buttons while fighting the urge to doze off, but it was start.
As the next couple of years passed, I worked on an agriculture degree at LSU during the day, and worked at the radio station on nights and weekends. In my off time, I would sneak into a production room and produce fake airchecks, with the hope of landing an on-air shift on WFMF. I turned several of those in to the program director, and he was always encouraging, but he said I just wasn’t ready yet.
After three years of pushing buttons on WJBO-AM and driving “The World’s Largest Jam Box” all over south Louisiana, I finally got my big break. I had turned in yet another fake aircheck, but this time, the program director said I was ready. I could never figure out exactly what “ready” meant, so I finally had the courage to ask. He told me that it had taken me three years to get rid of that awful redneck accent!
Now that I had a smooth set of pipes, I started working the weekend overnight shifts on WFMF-FM, playing the coolest music the 80s had to offer. In a few short months, I was working 7 p.m. to midnight shifts on the weekends, and one day I got the offer for my dream job. The full-time 7 p.m. to midnight guy was fired, and I was offered the job. I had finally become that guy on the radio that I listened to as a teenager.
It was indeed the coolest job on the planet. Those were the pre-internet days, and every high school kid and college student in Baton Rouge listened to me every night. I got my first small taste of fame and joined the ranks of a “local celebrity” in Baton Rouge. I was invited to host local telethons, speak to school classes and broadcast from night clubs all over town. I was the envy of everyone in my classes at LSU. For a 21-year-old country boy, this was life in the fast lane. There was only one problem. I was broke and hungry!
The one thing I didn’t realize about being as disc jockey was that they barely make enough money to feed themselves. I may have been a local celebrity, but fame doesn’t fill the stomach or pay the rent. Up until this point, being a disc jockey was just a cool job. But I was nearing graduation, and I needed to consider my future. I had recently married CJ, my college sweetheart, and I was going to have to figure out a way to make more money if I was going to have a career in radio.
That’s when I remembered a conversation I had with Doug Thomas during my internship with him. When he was looking for a new job, he told me how much money he had been offered from the positions he was considering. It was substantially more than I was making as a disc jockey. If I was going to make a decent living in radio, I needed to get back into farm broadcasting.
I got in touch with Don Molino and asked if I could work an internship with him. He graciously agreed, and I dusted off my market reporting skills. In addition to his radio broadcasts, Don also co-hosted a weekly 30-minute farm television show called “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture.” It was produced by the Louisiana Farm Bureau, and Don took me with him one afternoon to watch the show taping. While at the Farm Bureau office, Don introduced me to another man who would play a pivotal role in my life. His name was Mike Danna, and he would eventually become yet another close friend and mentor.
After I finished my internship with Don Molino, I secured another one with Mike Danna at the Louisiana Farm Bureau. Mike and I developed a close friendship during that semester, and for the rest of my college career, I was hanging out at the Farm Bureau office once or twice a week.
During my college years I was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, an agricultural fraternity. One day the quarterly AGR magazine came in the mail, and they had published profiles of the winners of the AGR President’s Award. One of the winners was a farm broadcaster named Taylor Brown with the Northern Ag Network in Montana. I found Taylor’s address and wrote him a letter asking for his help in getting into the farm broadcasting business. I included my phone number, and a few days later, Taylor gave me a call. He told me I was in luck, because he was the National Association of Farm Broadcasters Convention Chairman that year. He said that if I could get to Kansas City, he would give me a free convention registration. Everyone in the industry would be there, and it would be a great opportunity to find a job.
Since I was a broke disc jockey, I had to figure out how to get to Kansas City and find a place to sleep. Lady luck once again smiled on me. I caught a ride with a friend of mine who was attending the FFA convention trade show to set up an LSU College of Agriculture booth. He also shared his room with me, so I was set up to attend my first NAFB convention.
Once in Kansas City, I shook hands with every person who would talk to me. I met a lot of great people, and am still friends with some of them today. As I mentioned earlier, Don Molino would have a big impact on my life. At the convention, Don introduced me to a farm broadcaster named Kim Dlouhy with WOW AM/FM in Omaha. The company that owned WOW, Great Empire Broadcasting, had recently purchased an AM/FM combo in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they would be looking for a farm broadcaster in the near future.
I kept in touch with Kim as the last few months of my senior year quickly passed, and after a series of successful interviews with the general manager of KVOO AM/FM, I was packing everything we owned into a U-Haul truck headed for Tulsa. I was finally back in the farm broadcasting business.
Before I left Baton Rouge, Mike Danna at the Louisiana Farm Bureau told me to be sure to keep in touch with him. He knew there would be an opening for a radio broadcaster at Farm Bureau in the next few years, and he wanted me to be the guy to fill it.
KVOO had a long history of farm broadcasting in Oklahoma, including farm broadcasters Sam Schnieder, 1952 NAFB President, and Carl Myerdirk, 1962 NAFB President. There were others as well, but in recent years the station had strayed away from farm programming. Restarting the farm department was an exciting challenge that I tackled with all the enthusiasm of a naïve young college graduate. I spent two years in Tulsa, and grew to love the state of Oklahoma and its farmers and ranchers.
Great Empire Broadcasting was a great company to work for. In addition to KVOO in Tulsa, they owned AM/FM combos in Wichita, Omaha, Springfield, and my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Part of their programming philosophy was to have a local farm broadcaster in each market. I had grown up listening to Great Empire’s KWKH in Shreveport, admiring farm broadcasters like Jack Dillard, James Duncan and Ray Forcier.
I also jumped head first into the NAFB, chairing the new member committee, attending the regional meetings and annual convention, and making a lot of new friends in the business. Once again, my buddy Don Molino introduced me to another amazing farm broadcaster who I quickly grew to admire.
Stuart Doan at the Arkansas Radio Network was someone I immediately looked up to. His knowledge of farm policy and his ability to tell a story in 60 seconds was amazing. One great memory of Stuart was when he offered to share a room with me to help cut costs attending a regional NAFB meeting. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. But to a young kid who was brand-new to the business, it seemed like one.
Stuart was another Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Kentucky. He and Doug Thomas were good friends and fraternity brothers. Kentucky roots once again crossed my path.
One day the phone rang and my neighbor down the road in Oklahoma City was on the other end of the line. Ron Hays was calling to offer me a position as Associate Farm Director of the Oklahoma Agrinet. Ron and I had run into each other a lot over my two years in Tulsa. I didn’t really know him that well, but I knew of his reputation in the NAFB. I felt like this was a great opportunity to work with one of the industry’s finest farm broadcasters, so I accepted his offer. Once again, we loaded the U-Haul and headed down the road to Oklahoma City.
Working with Ron was an amazing experience. It was also the hardest job I’ve ever had. We produced over 50 different programs a day. If I wasn’t on the air, I was on the phone doing interviews and cutting up soundbites. We also ran the newly-started NAFB News Service out of our office. I took on the responsibility of uploading the audio to the News Service each afternoon and evening. We used a dial-up modem to upload, and it was painfully slow. I remember one night there was a lot of audio to get uploaded, and I was there all night. When Ron showed up the next morning at 5 a.m., I was still there staring at the monochrome monitor! I think Ron gave me the rest of the morning off to get some sleep.
Ron was yet another native of the state of Kentucky and University of Kentucky graduate. Although I'm a proud LSU Tiger, I guess I have to admit that UK has been the second most important school in my life.
The Oklahoma Agrinet was owned by Clear Channel Communications. At the time, Clear Channel owned about 30 radio stations and a handful of networks. I had no idea that it would continue to grow into the largest radio broadcasting company in the world. While I was there, Clear Channel bought WKY-AM and moved it into our offices. Ron and I began airing farm programming on WKY every hour, all day long. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve been a farm broadcaster on the two most legendary stations in the state of Oklahoma – WKY and KVOO.
One of the highlights of my career came while I was at the Oklahoma Agrinet. The NAFB launched a new award designed to recognize new, up-and-coming farm broadcasters who showed promise to contribute to the industry. At the 1995 NAFB convention, I was honored to be named the first recipient of the NAFB Horizon Award. I’m pretty sure that Ron Hays deserved the credit for me getting that award, but he never owned up to it.
Those were exciting times in farm broadcasting. Corporate radio was just beginning, but hadn’t really impacted local station ownership yet. There were still a lot of farm broadcasting jobs out there, and I received a lot of calls about job openings. I was very happy working with Ron, so I politely turned them down. But I finally received a call that got my attention. My friend Kim Dlouhy was leaving WOW AM/FM in Omaha, and she said I would be the perfect person to take her place. I had already worked for Great Empire Broadcasting and knew their commitment to farm programming. I had been in Oklahoma for four years at this point, but I was interested in becoming a farm director at a big station in the Midwest.
Unfortunately, I did something that I still regret to this day. I didn’t tell Ron about the job offer and tried to conduct the interview without him knowing. Of course, he found out about it and wasn’t very happy with me. I don’t blame him. He had invested a lot of time and effort into me, and it was very unprofessional of me to try to hide it from him. He deserved to know that I was looking at another job. I still don’t know why I handled it that way. Looking back on it, I can see that Ron would have understood that I had a great opportunity to advance my career. I left the Oklahoma Agrinet with a cloud of regret hanging over my head about that whole situation. A few months later at the next NAFB convention, I apologized to Ron for how I had treated him. He forgave me, but it still remains one of the biggest regrets I have of my career.
Moving to Omaha was an exciting experience. Running the WOW farm department was quite an undertaking. Omaha sits on the border of Nebraska and Iowa, so there was a lot of agriculture to cover. I was responsible for all farm programming and all farm sales. I did a lot of traveling to farm meetings, and I continued my involvement in the NAFB. I also froze my butt off! This Louisiana boy just couldn’t get used to the cold and snow.
One of my favorite life memories happened during my time at WOW. My LSU Tigers were dominating the college baseball scene in the 1990s. They won five national championships in 10 years. I was in Omaha in 1996 and the Tigers were in the College World Series held there each year at Rosenblatt Stadium. As the series got underway, I would constantly root for the Tigers during my broadcasts each day, even going as far as playing the LSU fight song during my farm reports. The morning show host and I got into a discussion on the air about it one morning, and I asked him what I had to do to get him to root for my Tigers.
He came up with a solution. If the Tigers won the College World Series, I would agree to shave my head while sitting on home plate at Rosenblatt Stadium. The shaving would be broadcast live on WOW. I agreed, and from that point on, the entire WOW staff was cheering on the LSU Tigers.
What happened next is pure LSU legend. The Tigers made it to the final championship game against the University of Miami. They were down by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning, two outs and one man on base. Warren Morris stepped up to the plate and hit the first pitch over the right field wall to win the National Championship. It is the single greatest play in all of LSU sports history.
A few days later before an Omaha Royals baseball game, a WOW listener shaved my head on the very spot where Warren Morris hit the now infamous home run. Our morning show host was there to broadcast the shaving live on the air. What a memory!
WOW was a great radio station in the heart of farm country, and I felt very fortunate to be the farm director there. But I could see that corporate ownership was growing, and I didn’t know if I had a long-term future there. A lot of farm broadcasters were getting nervous about their jobs. I felt that WOW would have a farm department for the next few years, but there was still a lot of uncertainty in the industry. It turned out that my worries were legitimate. The WOW farm department is gone today, and that’s a real shame.
When I had left Louisiana five years earlier, Mike Danna at the Louisiana Farm Bureau had told me that they would have an opening for a farm broadcaster one day. I had kept in contact with Mike, and one day my phone rang with the news. Their current radio guy was retiring, and if I was ever going to get back home, it was now or never. I had only been at WOW for one year, but this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. The U-Haul was loaded once more, and we were headed home to Louisiana.
The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation had an interesting setup. They produced a weekly 30-minute television show called “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture.” It was aired in six markets and had been on the air for over 15 years. I had done some television work when I interned there several years earlier, and I was looking forward to the new challenge of being on TV each week.
For over 20 years, Farm Bureau had partnered with the Louisiana Radio Network to provide programming for the Louisiana Agri-News Network. It was an arrangement that I looked forward to continuing. Don Molino had helped me so much as I was getting my career started, so I was excited about being on the air with him each day. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.
I’ll spare the boring details, but in a nutshell, the management at the Louisiana Radio Network decided that this would be a good time to strong-arm the Farm Bureau for some advertising dollars. I was told that if I wanted to be on the air with Don each day, Farm Bureau would have to spend $50,000 a year in advertising on the network. I was both disappointed and angry.
I knew Don had nothing at all to do with this. It was simply a greedy manager who didn’t care about the two-decade relationship our companies had shared. I told him that not only would we not be placing $50,000 worth of advertising with him, but I would be starting a competing farm network in Louisiana and would take well over $50,000 in advertising away from him each year. He didn’t believe me. But he had just made a huge mistake, and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Radio Network was born.
To be honest, I didn’t quite know how I was going to pull it off. We didn’t have a satellite uplink, and there was no way I was going to get the money for one. So, I did it the old-fashioned way and fed programming over the phone to my first five stations.
This was in 1997, and the internet was just getting off the ground with the public. I was fascinated with the internet, and I started experimenting with e-mailing audio files to radio stations. I thought that this would be the way to get around having a satellite uplink. The problem was that the WAV files were just too big. It would take an hour to download one minute of low quality audio over a dial-up connection. Then quite by accident, I stumbled upon a solution.
There had been a lot of audio streaming on the internet using RealAudio. But the quality was very low, and there were constant buffering problems, so RealAudio wasn’t a reliable option. Being an 80s music nut, I found that you could download music files from certain websites. They had solved the file size problem by using a compression algorithm called MP3. You could get high quality audio in a very small file. Instead of taking an hour to download a minute of WAV audio, you could download an MP3 file in just a few minutes. If it would work for music, it would definitely work for voice-only farm programs. I had found my way around a satellite uplink, and started e-mailing all of my farm programs as MP3 files to all of my stations.
I had started the very first internet-based farm radio network on planet Earth. I have no way to prove this, but I’m am convinced that it’s true, and it’s something I’m very proud of to this day.
I shared my discovery with my NAFB colleagues. The interest was so great that I built a web page that showed everyone how to encode an MP3 file and which settings to use. I also helped to transition the new NAFB News Service website from RealAudio streaming to MP3 downloads. I’m proud to see that my discovery has stood the test of time. We’re still using MP3 files for farm programming today.
Once I had found a way to distribute my programming, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Radio Network grew quickly. Within two years we topped out at 23 radio stations, our FMR numbers were number one in Louisiana and our billing was well into six figures.
The next few years with the Louisiana Farm Bureau were great ones. Mike Danna was a great guy to work for. I continued to grow into my role on television and the radio network got stronger each year. I learned to build and run a website, and we explored new ways of telling our story online. But I was 11 years into my farm broadcasting career, and things were starting to get stale. I had a very stable job with a good income for my growing family, but I was looking for a new challenge.
An unexpected retirement opened the door to the next step in my life. The Farm Bureau field representative from northwest Louisiana was retiring, and the job interested me. I had grown up in that part of the state, and this job would allow me to work with many of the farmers that I had known since I was a child. It would also allow me to live and work in my old stomping grounds and see people that I had lost touch with over the years. It had the added bonus of allowing me to live out in the country and work out of my home. Although I would have to end my farm broadcasting career, I would be able to continue working for Farm Bureau. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
We bought 120 acres in a rural area of northwest Louisiana and moved to the country. I grazed 180 yearlings and baled hay during the day, then attended Farm Bureau meetings at night. Working with farmers at the grassroots level of the organization was something that I loved doing. It was a great job working with the greatest people on Earth.
Twelve years as a Farm Bureau field representative passed quickly. I never planned on going back to farm broadcasting, but a tragic event changed everything. In 2012, my former boss and Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Director of Public Relations Mike Danna was diagnosed with cancer. He fought the good fight for three years, but in March of 2015, Mike passed away at the age of 53.
The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is a very stable place of employment. Job openings are few and far between. Mike’s unfortunate death had created an opening that would allow me to move into a management role with the organization. It would also get me back on the radio. I interviewed for the position and got the job. We sold our farm and moved back to Baton Rouge for the third time.
During my time as a field representative, the Louisiana Radio Network was sold to a new owner and the old general manager was fired. It was an opportunity to repair the broken relationship between our companies and work together once again. After several months of negotiation, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Radio Network and the Louisiana Agri-News Networks were merged to form the Louisiana Farm Bureau Agri-News Network.
When I took my new position as Director of Public Relations, everything had finally come around full-circle. Twenty-five years after first meeting my friend and mentor Don Molino, I finally had the opportunity to join him on the airwaves of Louisiana. For the past two years, Don and I have split the daily broadcasting duties on what is now known as The Voice of Louisiana Agriculture Radio Network.
We’re a multi-media operation now. I run the VoiceofLouisianaAgriculture.com website and the @VoiceofLaAg Facebook page and Twitter account. Don and I produce a daily e-newsletter titled “The Daily Voice.” In 2018, we will launch The Voice of Louisiana Agriculture weekly podcast. We continue to produce the weekly television show “This Week in Louisiana Agriculture,” now in its 37th year on the air in Louisiana.
In November of 2017, I attended my first NAFB convention in 15 years. It was great to renew some old friendships and make some new ones. I felt like I was back at home.
I have been a very blessed man over the last 30 years. All of my hopes and dreams have come true, thanks to God and many very special people who have helped me every step along my journey.
I’ve never accomplished anything on my own. There is a long list of friends and mentors who have helped me at every turn. Jack Dillard, Doug Thomas, Don Molino, Mike Danna, Taylor Brown, Stuart Doan, Kim Dlouhy and Ron Hays are a few of those special people who have made me what I am today. I will never be able to repay them, but I hope they will always know that they made a difference in my life. I will always be thankful to them.