Reconnecting Rural & Urban America
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Nov. 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Not to brag, but one media outlet DID get it right.
RFD-TV, Rural America's most important network, had it right all along. Launched 16 years ago with two charters – serving the needs and interests of rural America, while reconnecting rural and urban America - put this national cable network in a unique position to feel the pulse of a major demographic largely ignored by urban media and pollsters. In addition, while more and more channels and advertising agencies seem to only be valuing a younger audience, RFD-TV embraces and proudly has the oldest average age viewer of any Nielsen-rated cable network.
RFD-TV's news department and Washington DC bureau took a different approach in covering this election cycle. We had no agenda. Viewers had no idea if we were Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. Not one negative news story ran in our RURAL EVENING NEWS about any candidate. Instead, RFD-TV and RURAL RADIO's focus was solely on trying to address the real issues of most concern to the average American and the senior citizens that make up this great country. Our ground-breaking RURAL TOWN HALL, a one-hour primetime program produced throughout the Iowa primary season in conjunction with Mediacom Communications, invited each candidate to appear with only two ground rules: questions would only be asked about rural, agricultural, and senior topics, and they could not bad-mouth another candidate. RURAL TOWN HALL was a tremendous success, and recently won the 2016 CableFax award for Public Affairs programming.
RURAL TOWN HALL's approach also gave us unfiltered insight into the mood in the Heartland. Questions were solicited, and asked, at each taping by representatives of livestock and grain associations, American Farm Bureau, the National FFA & 4-H Organizations, AARP, and others that use this network everyday not only to serve their members, but also to attempt to connect with urban viewers/listeners on the issues that should be important to us all: rural healthcare, rural development, rural education, the estate tax, and how we, as a civilization, are going to meet the challenge of feeding the projected nine billion people on this planet by the year 2050 with less land, less water, and more regulations.
As we've seen long before the election, there is a clear, and growing, wall being built between urban and rural America as a result of the recent and ongoing media consolidation that RFD-TV has been witnessing now for the past several years. If it's not a drought, a disaster, or something bad happening in rural America, there is no longer national news coverage of any kind. There is also a total disconnect by many executives in major cities who now really do view this as flyover country. In May 2014, after RFD-TV was dropped by Comcast Cable in Colorado and New Mexico, I was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Sub-Committee regarding the proposed Comcast/Time Warner merger and the possible impact of continued urban-media consolidation to the public interest. On January 28, 2016, as a last resort, RFD-TV took out full page ads in both the Washington Post and New York Times newspapers against an unresponsive Verizon FiOS TV after they removed only rural themed programming – Outdoor Channel, Sportsman's Channel, The Weather Channel, and RFD-TV – from their channel lineups despite the strongest possible protests from Verizon's own customer base.
Shortly thereafter, the FCC opened a Notice of Inquiry proceeding into the challenges currently being faced by independent programmers in which RFD-TV, and its viewers, have been very active. Over 97% of the public comments filed to date with the FCC in this matter have been personal pleas asking the Commissioners stop this purge of rural content and to protect the interests of rural America through this wave of consolidation. Unrest would be an understatement.
Not surprisingly, these same trends appeared in the recent election. Media and polls skewed from the urban perspective did give a wrong read, but it was more than that. In all the post-election analysis, I have yet to see a single pundit give a mention to rural economic conditions as a key motivating factor in uniting this year's rural vote. While Wall Street enjoyed a record level for stocks leading up to Election Day, prices for nearly all commodities have plummeted over the past two years and are at 10+ year lows. Conversely, when President Obama was elected in 2008 and 2012, the rural economy was booming with strong export sales resulting in land prices doubling or tripling in most areas of the country. It makes a difference.
In full disclosure, at the very beginning of this election cycle, I personally went to meet with both the RNC and DNC, and offered our ideas for the coming campaign and sincerely suggested a rural debate. RFD-TV was equally ignored by both parties.
It was William Jennings Bryan who wrote – "Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."
That quote was the opening visual first put on the air when RFD-TV launched in December of 2000. I believe it is even more prophetic today. That predominantly red, county-by-county map of the 2016 election results should serve as a reminder to everyone that rural America is pertinent, rural America has power, and rural America votes.
I would ask and suggest that everyone—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—be more sensitive to rural interests. Help us tear down this wall. If there is one thing that unites all of rural America it is that we have to do a better job or communicating with our urban neighbors. Charter Communications is the latest to join this effort, and is now rolling out RFD-TV into all former Time Warner & Bright House cable markets, adding over 12,000,000 homes and 150 new cities to this movement, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Raleigh, and Cleveland. The Information Superhighway must go down each and every country road. However, the pipeline must also flow both ways, with not only urban content and viewpoints flowing down into the country, but just as important, rural issues and perspectives being distributed, understood, and respected by folks in the cities. We have just seen an example of what can happen when rural America is ignored and/or taken for granted.
As for us, we're going to do the same thing that we have been doing for the past 16 years – supporting our President, whoever he/she may be, constructively lobbying congress and the proper government agencies for change where needed, honoring our military and our veterans, and working daily to make this world a better place to live in for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
It was not hard for RFD-TV to see this coming. Let's reconnect city with country again. That's when America will truly be at its best.
Political Op Ed by Patrick Gottsch, Founder & President, RFD-TV & Rural Radio on SiriusXM
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