- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

So how did this hopeless news junkie spend the mid-morning after the stunning news from the Iowa presidential caucuses?

Watching recreational tractor driving in Nebraska — on RFD TV. I mean watching geezers riding vintage 1940s John Deeres while touting the joys of tractor riding and the beauty of the Nebraska countryside made possible because the tractor caravans top out at 13 miles per hour.

Now granted, the beauty of flat, brown Nebraska countryside is exciting for only so long, and eventually I was back to Fox and MSNBC, but I was watching a documentary on tractor driving in the first place because I had been absolutely captivated the previous hour by a sales documentary on Elvis Presley’s devotion to (white and black) gospel music.

So how did I come to watch a documentary on Elvis when I normally would be searching satellite television channels for answers as to how Barack Obama crushed Hillary Clinton and why Mike Huckabee beat Mitt Romney — or Ron Paul doubled the vote of Rudy Giuliani?

Because (until Rush at noon and Brit at 6) I had received the bottom line on the Iowa caucuses 2008 just as the next week I would get the bottom line on New Hampshire 2008 on “Imus in the Morning” — on RFD TV.

RFD TV? Who’d ever heard of RFD TV — until I learned Mr. Imus was back and on a satellite channel called RFD TV.

So on that morning after Iowa we heard insights on the election results from Pat Buchanan and George Stephanopoulos and Tim Russert. (Yes, public broadcasting — political balance is not rocket science.) Mr. Imus told viewers how Matt Drudge was reporting the election, and the I-man pretty much explained Mitt Romney when he asked, did anyone actually believe Mr. Romney when he said he wept when he heard blacks had gained admission to the Mormon Church?

I used to argue that you can’t understand presidential politics if you don’t watch “Imus in the Morning” — and the humor of Bernard McGuirk and others had for many of us the admittedly sinful appeal of what accompanied the articles in Playboy. But those quips about the Rutgers women’s basketball team were awful, and you really couldn’t blame New York broadcasting executives as they battled for the distinction of doing the most to wreck Mr. Imus’ career.

Now Mr. Imus is back. He has added two black comedians (Karith Foster and Tony Powell), and they are genuinely funny and likable. Bernie has been taken off camera, but slowly his humor is working its way back into the show. Rob Bartlett is back doing Bill Clinton this morning, and Mr. Imus (who is smiling and more likeable than before) is playfully probing Charles McCord’s faith in Jesus Christ. (Charles actually is a born-again Christian.)

I was introduced to the Don Imus show on WNBC radio years ago in new York by my teenage son who was cracking up over the impersonation of Richard Nixon that once was a staple of the program’s humor. Soon I was hooked.

When in 1996 we were searching for a horse farm in the Virginia countryside, I declared it would have to be in reach of a station that carried the Imus show, which then meant we had to be within reach of a Washington, D.C., radio station that carried Mr. Imus. My wife knew I was serious.

In the late ‘90s when I heard MSNBC would add the Imus show I was puzzled because why would you put a radio program on television? Maybe because satellite TV reception walks all over AM radio, Mr. Imus has been a staple on our household televisions ever since.

Then came Bernie and Mr. Imus and the young women on the Rutgers basketball team — and what followed was a fate arguably worse than death: Morning Joe and Mika Brzezinski in the Imus slot on MSNBC.

Joe Scarborough makes Dave Garroway and J. Fred Mugs seem intelligent. The show was and is unwatchable — except when in the hands of Willie Giest. And so it was with great joy that we greeted the Drudge report that Mr. Imus was returning to WABC radio. Then came the search for RFD TV — we found it on Dish TV — and the rest is history.

But RFD TV has proven to be the hidden jewel of the return of “Imus in the Morning.”

I never really understood how irritating are the news bunnies of Fox and MSNBC — until I experienced the soothing rhythm of three consecutive hours of cattle auctions from Nebraska and Texas and Arkansas. Or the Big Joe’s Polka shows — featuring funky polka bands and white-thatched overweight Minnesotans in dancehalls that I thought had gone the way of 78 rpm records.

RFD TV has reruns of ‘60s Louvin Brothers shows. Horse shows. Ralph Emery. Ads for eating beef. It’s so bad — it’s good. Really good.

Ken Tomlinson is the former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest. He recently served as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors.

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