Root Retires

Ken Root (Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network, Guttenberg, Iowa) has retired!

“I pulled the plug on my broadcasting career January 3, 2020. Since then I’ve received several emails; and my wife, Jane, put together a party and decorated one wall with letters from friends who wished me good things in retirement and often cited their memories of our interactions during my long and checkered career. I received 100 letters that Jane made into a wall of memories for me,” Root said.

Root attended his first NAFB meeting as a farm broadcaster from WKY radio and television (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) in 1974. He went on to work at the Kansas Ag Network, the Kansas Broadcasting System, AgriTalk, WHO, and Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network. Also, he served as NAFB executive director from 2002 to 2004.

“Ken has been a great friend to many of our members and is well-known throughout the industry,” said Current NAFB Executive Director Tom Brand.

Root was born in 1949 on an Oklahoma farm. He attended Oklahoma State University and graduated with a degree in agriculture education. He taught for 2½ years in Union City, Oklahoma. This western Oklahoma town was hit by the first documented F-5 tornado during that time. Root found some excitement in documenting the loss of homes and other property for the journalists who arrived to cover the event.

“I took my first job in broadcasting at WKY in May 1974. I worked at that top-of-the-line property for six years. During that time, the TV station was sold (and became KTVY), and the general manager, Norman Bagwell, died of cancer. I realized my future was not always controlled by me. In 1980, the long-running morning farm show was cancelled.”

Root returned to Oklahoma State University in 1980 where he served as head of radio and TV for agriculture. Next, he moved to Kansas and helped start the Kansas Agriculture Network. The parent company went bankrupt after three years.

“Then, I moved to KWCH-TV (Wichita, Kansas). It was one of the most enjoyable rides of my life,” Root added.

Root was elected president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (now, National Association of Farm Broadcasting, or NAFB) in 1986 after serving three years as a national officer. Then, he left broadcasting and moved to American Cyanamid in Wayne, New Jersey. 

“It was an amazing culture shock for me and my family. I was hired by David Butterfield in public affairs. I worked there for six months before being offered an opportunity to set up a national organization of ag chemical dealers. In March 1988, the National AgriChemical Retailers Association became a reality. This was another amazing experience. I was executive director of NARA for four years.”

In 1989, Root moved to Washington, D.C., to run NARA’s four-person staff. NARA did its job and then merged with the National Fertilizer Solutions Association to form the Ag Retailers Association that exists today.

In 1992, he started Root Environmental Services and began inspecting fertilizer/ag chem dealerships.

“I kept Root Environmental going with the help of my brother, Jim, and wife, Gail. We ran it until 2000 when American Cyanamid was purchased by American Home Products. It was broken up and disappeared in less than a year.”

Root then moved to Kansas City in 1994 and joined the startup of AgriTalk.

“What a great experience to do rural-focused talk radio on more than 100 stations! My love remained in broadcasting,” he said. “In 2003, I was asked to apply for the NAFB executive director position. I was selected and directed the move of NAFB headquarters from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Platte City, Missouri. I served as executive director for three years.”

In 2005, Root moved to WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I was terminated in November of 2009. Two days later, I was hired on contract by the Agribusiness Association of Iowa (AAI) to help prepare for their Showcase, a statewide agri-dealer event. Also, I was offered a chance to start an agriculture segment on WHO-TV (not related to WHO Radio).” 

Root used AAI as his base and partnered to take additional jobs including farm director at WGFA in Watseka, Illinois, and AAI director of public affairs. Also, he was a columnist for the High Plains Journal, for which he wrote for 17 years from the late 1990s to 2017. Also, he served as communications director for the Knights of Columbus state organization, and he produced a weekly half-hour radio show for them.

“In 2011, from AAI offices, we started the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network (IABN). Russ Parker was a partner along with Bill Farmakis. The network was my sole remaining job that I left upon my retirement.”

“In 2011, Gail and I divorced. In 2015, I married Jane Ertl from Dyersville, Iowa. I remained with AAI and all my other jobs until I began retiring from each one and moved to Dyersville,” he said.

On January 3, 2020, he ended his daily programming on IABN. 

“In 2019, my son, Russell, died of alcoholism. I am deeply saddened by his death. I think of him every day. I will always carry questions in my heart about what might have been,” Root concluded. 

Pictured in the bottom photo are Ken and Jane Root, who live in Iowa in summer and Florida in winter.