End of Agrishop Era

After more than 55 years of radio broadcasting and nearly 20 years of weekly hosting the Agrishop Saturday morning live program (in post-retirement), Gene Millard announced that he was “hanging up the headphones” as of February 22, 2020.

Agrishop has been a live Saturday telephone-interactive broadcast that originally started with host Ken Root as an appendage to his AgriTalk program more than 20 years ago on a network of stations in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado. In the early years, when Root was called to greener pastures, Millard was often called upon to “fill in;” and in 2002 when Root went full-time to be the executive director of NAFB, Millard assumed the weekly duty of hosting the show.

Agrishop is simply a “tradio” type of programming that allows only items of an agricultural nature to be listed. The network has grown to 15 affiliated stations that have carried the program live from 8:06 a.m. to 9 a.m. Central time each Saturday.

Millard’s long history in farm broadcasting, as well as owning and operating a family farm with a long and deep memory of farm equipment and culture, created a loyal following of farm and urban listeners. They often called to just chat with a friend who understands what they want to buy or sell.   

“It’s been an amazing adventure into the culture of the farm and ranch community that often connected people in a diverse geography,” said Millard. “While most of the callers are wanting to sell some item, antique, or perhaps equipment worth over $100,000, we also visited with farm women who may have chickens, dogs, or even a donkey needing companionship that they wanted to sell. Every week is a new and unique mix of callers who we just chat with and find out what’s happening in their worlds from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri. Some are surely real characters, especially Fred from Diamond, Missouri, who wanted to sell a pile of dirt! 

“We’ve been blessed with terrific affiliated stations and an audience that is active and engaged. Over the years, we’ve had several of our listeners who will call to let the audience know that a frequent caller has passed away. It might have been Johnny in Oklahoma, John in Colorado, or Jerry in Kansas. Yes, all these true farmers are culturally interconnected in a personal way via the power of the human voice found only in live radio.”

Millard said it’s been his privilege to have had more than a 55-year radio broadcasting experience, and he has never moved from St. Joseph’s KFEQ or his farm east of town. He and his wife, Sharon, and their dog, Rose, look forward to sleeping in on Saturday mornings for a change.

Root told Millard the program was started as a release valve to do something humorous after a five-day round of hard news on AgriTalk.

“Yes, Ken was full of humor and often found a way to weave sometimes uncomfortable humor into the phone calls,” Millard said. “When I assumed the program, I knew I was no match for Ken’s quick wit and had to rely upon my decades of living and knowing farming (with dirt under my nails) and the significant number of tractors, combines, and various equipment that I had either purchased or driven. Most of my tractor and machinery inventory over the years would make Max Armstrong proud as it was red! It’s been a kind of hobby to remember tractor models and some of the specifications associated and some of the challenges that can relate to the callers to the program. Many callers do find real results from their conversations with me and call in the following week to express their appreciation for selling or finding the item they described. It’s amazing that so many folks will travel hundreds of miles to find exactly what they want from some other farmer who may be 250 miles away. Several of the Agri-Shop affiliates have very large signals that reach hundreds of miles. Recently, I had callers listening to KFRM call in from northern Oklahoma, western Kansas, north central Kansas, and southern Nebraska. KFEQ in St. Joseph gets callers from Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. KKOW in Pittsburg, Kansas, gets callers from southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma. The Nebraska stations in Alliance and Chadron get callers from Nebraska, South Dakota, and eastern Wyoming.”

Millard started his broadcasting days in 1964 as the assistant farm director for KFEQ radio and TV. KFEQ radio split from TV in 1969, and he continued with radio and was named the farm director in 1973.  

“I was asked by the ownership to assume the responsibility of general manager of KFEQ in 1976 and elected early retirement in 2003,” Millard said. “It was certainly an exciting and challenging career, and I am so pleased that we were blessed with some terrific staff, especially farm broadcasters. I was so very proud of all our farm broadcasters over the years — Bob Azelton, Bryce Anderson, Gene Williams, Mike Railsback, Sam Knipp, Gary Wergin, Tonya Wilson, and Tom Brand. All were true to their profession and their passion.”