Riley's Road to Farm Broadcasting

Despite working in communications, Kaitlyn Riley’s (WI Farm Report Radio Network, La Crosse, Wisconsin) road to farm broadcasting was better described by the shoes on her feet than with words. Sporting a pair of work boots, Riley learned firsthand the passion and work ethic of farmers growing up on her family’s registered Jersey farm in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.   She was not sure what career path her feet would follow until she was a senior in high school, recording a radio advertisement for June Dairy Month.

“I will never forget when our local radio legend in Prairie du Chien, Norb Aschom, turned to me and said, ‘You have a voice for broadcast.’”

Leaving her barn boots behind, Riley studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I wanted to combine my walks of life and share the story of how agriculture unites us all,” Riley said. “We are impacted by the industry whenever we eat, dress, or even drive. It is certainly an inspiring story to tell.”

In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. After graduating with honors in May 2014, Riley served as the 48th Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs, a one-year ambassador who promotes entertainment and agritourism opportunities throughout the state.

Riley’s start in broadcasting was as the farm news director at WPRE-WQPC Radio in Prairie du Chien, where she had the chance to work with and learn from Norb Aschom. She later became a multimedia journalist for WQOW News 18 in Eau Claire.

“Wearing high heels, I did everything from covering local events to interviewing Donald Trump during his candidacy for president,” Riley said. “However, the most memorable stories were those that required the pink rubber boots I kept under my desk, the stories that introduced me to farmers.”

In May 2017, Riley dusted off her barn boots and returned to the family farm where she managed calf and heifer care. She continued her work in communications by freelance writing for Hoard’s Dairyman and volunteering with agricultural organizations such as the Crawford County Dairy Promoters, Crawford County Livestock Camp Committee, and Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

Looking for a chance to expand her understanding of agriculture’s diversity, Riley applied for the position of Alice in Dairyland, a one-year, full-time public relations professional employed by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. As the 71st Alice, she walked in the shoes of those producing dairy, cranberries, ginseng, mink, ethanol, and more. Riley attended nearly 350 events to deliver tailored speeches, educate urban and rural audiences, and answer media inquiries pertaining to Wisconsin agriculture.

Riley was inspired by the people she met as Alice, so it was no surprise she accepted a position as the farm news director at the WI Farm Report Radio Network in La Crosse to give a voice to the industry. Now back in radio, she is often reminded that it does not matter what shoes are on her feet, but she enjoys staying on her toes to learn from Pam Jahnke and Bob Bosold as they work to grow the Mid-West Farm Report.

“It is my honor to become a member of NAFB and network with members who have walked more miles in the industry than I have so I can better serve our producers in agriculture,” Riley said.