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Agriculture On The Airwaves | Fall 2006 Out Here Magazine

Agricultural broadcaster Max Armstrong’s face is getting as familiar as his voice, thanks to television network RFD-TV, where he hosts several shows.

Radio journalist Max Armstrong now cultivates RFD-TV viewers

By Carol Davis

Photography by Bob Siddens

Blend a love for agriculture with a passion for broadcasting and you've got the recipe for Max Armstrong's dream job.

Armstrong is known by scores of listeners for his daily agriculture and business news broadcasts on wide-reaching Chicago radio station WGN and for his program Farming America on Tribune Radio Network, which reaches the far ends of the country.

Now, Armstrong's face is becoming as familiar as his voice with the growing popularity of RFD-TV, the nation's first 24-hour television network dedicated to the interests of rural America and agriculture. Launched in December 2000, RFD-TV is available in more than 30 million U.S. homes.

Armstrong co-hosts, with fellow broadcaster Orion Samuelson, the one-hour show The Week in Agribusiness, which recaps the week's top agricultural news, markets, and weather each weekend. He also hosts several call-in shows for organizations such as FFA, and advertisers such as Tractor Supply Company.

Armstrong's interest in all things agricultural is authentic; he grew up the son of a farmer. "We had corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle, hogs. It was a typical southern Indiana farm," he says.

But as a young man, Armstrong loved radio and dreamed of being one of those voices he listened to nightly, beaming across the airwaves from Detroit, New York, and Chicago. "I always wanted to be on the radio," he says.

Indeed, Armstrong got both his driver's license and his Federal Communications Commission license the very week he turned 16. He soon joined the broadcasting brotherhood at a local radio station. "I was hired to work weekends in the winter when my dad didn't need me on the farm," Armstrong recalls.

Radio continued to be part of his life through college at Purdue University, as it has for 31 years now.

In those three decades, Armstrong has seen agriculture's ebbs and flows.

"When I think back, I would not have expected to see farm prices in 2006 just about where they were in 1975. Commodities prices are just where they were back then," he says. That's not only required farmers to be extremely efficient, but compelled them to support their farm income with off-farm income by taking other jobs, Armstrong says.

He's seen the United States become more reliant on exports and agriculture become global. "A decision in Brazil affects currency here, which affects how much (farmers) plant, which affects our prices here," he says.

Middle East oil also directly affects U.S. farmers, but now in a positive way, with the strong domestic demand for ethanol. "This year, we'll use 1.6 billion bushels of corn to produce ethanol alone, and that's growing at a rate of 13 percent a year," Armstrong says. "The market is taking off."

Whether he's discussing global agriculture, the realities of life on the rural route — "When you call for an ambulance, it may take a while" — featuring farming success stories, or extolling the virtues of a zero-turn mower, Armstrong is right at home with his radio and, now, his television audience.

"This feeling that people get watching RFD-TV is that it's their channel … and there never has been one for folks out in rural areas," Armstrong says. "They think, 'How many more home fix-up shows or sports shows can I watch?' Those shows are great, but this is about where we live."

Carol Davis is editor of Out Here magazine.