- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — On this cable TV channel, there are no political pundits, no reality shows, no poker games.

There are livestock auctions, polka music and tractor pulls.

CNN it’s not. Or MTV. Or ESPN.

It’s RFD-TV, which bills itself as “rural America’s most important network.”

Says country music queen Reba McEntire, who talked about her years in 4-H Club and as a rodeo competitor during a recent live interview on RFD: “We need a channel like this.”

RFD-TV has been on the air since December 2000 and now is on 800 cable systems plus satellite services, distributed to more than 30 million homes. (The call letters refer to “Rural Free Delivery,” the mail service in rural America. Before RFD, country people had to travel to the nearest post office to get their mail.)

Remember ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”? RFD has “Wide World of Horses.”

Like to cook? Try “Campfire Cafe,” where cookbook author Pamela Alford shows buckaroos how to cook over an open fire.

There’s also music every day, and if country twang is not your favorite, how about polka? There’s a rousing 30-minute show with polka king Jimmy Sturr.

“No one else does it, so we try to fill the void,” says Patrick Gottsch, the cable channel’s founder and president. “When we put it on, the cards and letters poured in, some of them five to six pages.”

Feeling other channels had ignored rural America, Mr. Gottsch invested $19,000 of mostly his own money to start the channel in Fort Worth, Texas. The corporate office is now in Omaha, Neb. It’s produced in Nashville.

The channel is owned by Rural Media Group Inc., a privately held corporation made up mostly of Mr. Gottsch and his family. It has a full-time staff of just 20, fewer than most local TV stations.

Says Miss McEntire, who grew up in Oklahoma: “It’s honest, down-to-earth and has great information.”

Such as live cattle auctions.

“It keeps me updated on what the world is doing on the market,” says Howard Belgarde, who has a cow-calf operation on 460 acres in Winterset, Iowa. “I watch the channel quite a bit and find it helpful and educational. I learn something every time.”

RFD has about eight minutes of commercials per hour, and, as you might expect, plenty are for John Deere. But there are no infomercials.

Now, about ratings. Mr. Gottsch maintains: “We don’t care.”

Pressed, he says the channel does well in markets like Des Moines. (Nielsen does not track ratings for the channel.)

“We’re not motivated by the money,” Mr. Gottsch says. “There are 200 other channels competing for the 18-to-24-year-olds. The competition to get them and be raunchy is just not our approach.”

Ralph Emery, a TV veteran and mainstay on cable’s old Nashville Network, has his own 60-minute live show every Monday on RFD, usually interviewing a country music star like Miss McEntire.

“They told me not to worry about the young audience,” said Mr. Emery, 74.

So, RFD offers a show on tractor pulls, and another program on training mules and donkeys. And rodeo, lots of rodeo: “Little Britches Rodeo,” “Beyond Rodeo,” “20X Rodeo High.”

And absolutely no political talk a la Lou Dobbs, Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly.

“We’re like Switzerland — neutral in the wars,” Mr. Gottsch says.

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