By DAVE PAXTON
Editor and Publisher
Believe it or not, Russ Parker and his Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network were pretty much prepared when the owner of the building in Des Moines where their main studio is located said they were locking the doors because of the Coronavirus.
Parker, 64, who lives near Lake Miami with a Lovilia address, has a business manager who works out of his home in Connecticut, has a remote farm broadcaster who works in his home in Minnesota and has two Des Moines area broadcasters who work out of the main studio, but who are also set up for remote work.
Parker, who does sales and management for the network, works out of his home for both the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network and Farmakis, a nationwide media representative.
The New Jersey native joined the Connecticut-based Farmikis right out of Iowa State University as a sales rep. Farmakis is a media rep for print, radio and digital advertising. That was 43 years ago. Thirty of those years Parker worked from his family’s home in Mount Vernon, then the lure of trophy whitetail, quail and turkey attracted the avid sportsman and he and his family moved to a farm on the north side of Lake Miami, 13 years ago.
Ten years ago, seeing that smaller market radio stations in Iowa needed content and shared advertising revenue in agriculture, Parker and long-time friend, Ken Root, (a nationally renowned farm broadcaster who is probably best known for his years with WHO radio and Mark Pearson) created the new network with Root doing the content and Parker doing the sales. “We knew there was a need for localized farm content to radio stations that was efficient for them,” he said. “The network would also bring them some revenue.”
Root has retired in the last year.
The content the network produces includes farm features, news and markets that are programmed for normal radio farm slots (morning, noon and drive time). The network also produces a 30-minute weekend feature called “Weekend Ag Matters.”
There are 60 stations in the network, all but one in Iowa and the other in Memphis, Mo. Most are smaller market stations with KMA in Shenandoah and KXEL in Waterloo the largest.
Locally, the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network is heard on KIIC in Albia, KMZN in Oskaloosa and KCOG in Centerville.
As for radio life with the Coronavirus, there hasn’t been any interruption in business and so far advertising has been good with the nation’s farmers gearing up for spring without any sort of restrictions.
Parker doesn’t do programming, although he will occasionally do an interview and get it to the studio. His farm broadcasters all travel and each have a mixing board, a microphone and a fairly sophisticated phone system allowing them to retrieve high quality audio from phone interviews. They also have laptops and computers with mixing software so they can put everything together and load it to the hosting website which is picked up by the local stations.
“We are practicing social distancing,” said Parker. “If they have to get within six feet, then they do their interviews on the phone, which really isn’t a problem.”
Monroe County Cattlemen got to know one of Parker’s farm broadcasters when Dustin Hoffman delivered a short, motivational and humorous talk at the March banquet. Parker and his wife, Vicki, (a now retired teacher and AEA consultant) have become staples in Monroe County life. Parker was honored by the Cedar Creek Pheasants Forever last fall for his work with the group in establishing habitat. The Parkers are active members of Trinity United Methodist Church and he uses his considerable vocal talents at church, in the Albia Community Choir and in the Restoration Days Follies.
He is also a gear head and a founding member of the not-so-well publicized Monroe County Motor Heads car club, showing every year at the Rodders Show in June and in the Restoration Days parade.