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Inside RFD-TV, the network that covets rural and older viewers

By: Emily Yahr, The Washington Post
December 6, 2017 Updated: December 6, 2017 at 11:30 am
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Westwind Farm on "FarmHer," a series on RFD-TV which focuses on women in agriculture. Courtesy RFD-TV.

In the Nashville offices of RFD-TV, a network focused on agriculture and the rural lifestyle, are hundreds of thousands of letters from fans. The notes, stacked in thick binders, were sent to the Federal Communications Commission in 2016, when Verizon Fios decided to remove the channel.

"My husband and I, being seniors, loved to watch the RFD-TV channel. The channel has good clean wholesome programs and we don't have to feel embarrassed if company should stop by."

"I am very angered with Verizon Fios TV for removing RFD TV from their lineup. Viewing farm and ranch-related programs are of great interest to me even though I don't live in the country."

And so on. While founder Patrick Gottsch was disheartened when Verizon dropped the channel (still available in 52 million homes), he wasn't surprised about the response. He said too many networks ignore senior citizens and the rural audience.

While some TV channels are headquartered in middle America (Scripps's HGTV and Food Network in Knoxville, Tenn., and CMT and GAC in Nashville), most are based on the coasts. The family-owned RFD-TV launched in 2000.

In the morning, shows such as "Ag Day" and "Market Day Report" focus on the weather and markets for agriculture. Daytime and evenings feature equine-focused shows ("Best of America by Horseback"); music ("Mollie B Polka Party"); variety series ("Marty Stuart Show," "Larry's Country Diner"); reruns ("Hee Haw," "The Lone Ranger") and specials such as "Opry Encore," which shows concerts from the Grand Ole Opry.

In addition to its parent company launching the Cowboy Channel in July, RFD-TV recently debuted "FarmHer," on women in agriculture, as well as last month's new "Debbe Dunning's Dude Ranch Roundup," where the former "Home Improvement" actress visits dude ranches.

The shows appeal to the advertiser-coveted younger audience, but it's important for Gottsch that seniors also enjoy them. He's noticed his network is starting to get more interest from advertising agencies that want to connect with a broader demographic than the 18- to 34-year-olds.

Last fall, RFD-TV was included in AT&T's DirecTV Now lineup. "RFD-TV was in the basic package - with ESPN, Disney, CNN, Fox News, MTV and USA and everything else, which makes us real proud," Gottsch said. "I think it's a reflection that programming devoted to rural content and senior citizens does have a place going forward in media."

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