From Top 40 to Agriculture

Travis Cleven, ag director, (WTAQ AM-FM /WDEZ, Green Bay, Wisconsin) knew the challenge facing him.

“I knew I had some big shoes to fill as I took over for Mike Austin once he hung up his headphones for the last time in December 2018. Speaking of that, I still get called ‘the new Mike Austin’ when we go to events. I take that as a compliment,” Cleven said.

Cleven grew up on his parent’s custom calf raising operation, Quiet Crest Farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin.

“They bought the farm when I was born in 1994, and it kept on growing. We currently raise 4,200 calves for various dairies around Northeast Wisconsin. We get the calves through the baby stage. I remember bottle-feeding calves before school and that was just the way things went. I figured most kids did that stuff. Turns out, they didn’t,” he said.

“As a kid I loved showing at the county fair. I first showed dairy with my brother and sister when we were little, but then I bugged my dad enough that he let me get pigs and beef. Raising those animals taught me a lot about hard work, the good and the bad of agriculture, and how people don’t do it for the money. I suppose radio is the same way. I started helping at Reynders Dairy milking cows in De Pere, Wisconsin, to get experience working for someone else. Every farm kid should have to do that.

“I graduated from Brillion Public High School and went on to be an electrician for about two months. My foreman asked me if I hated my job, and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. He ended up setting me up with a guidance counselor at our local tech school to talk about what my interests were and to look at the possibilities I had. By the end of the meeting, I was signed up for their Digital Media program; and next thing I knew, I had my associate degree. While getting my degree, I needed an internship. I randomly messaged a local radio station, and their program director, Dayton Kane, told me that they could use an intern on their morning show.

“I had no on-air experience at all. That was the best thing for me as a person and professionally. After a while, I was hired as part of the KISS FM Morning Show on 95.9 KISS FM WKSZ and then became the program’s producer. I worked at KISS FM for about three years when the morning show was replaced. I decided to go back to college for my bachelor’s degree in communications. Working at that station was a great opportunity that got my foot in the door and taught me a lot of what I know about radio. Woodward Radio Group will always have a special place in my heart for the experiences they gave me.”

After college, Cleven joined Midwest Communications as a part-time on-air personality for Y100 WNCY, the local country station.

“One day I saw Mike Austin recording in a studio and decided to go say ‘hello’ because I remembered him always interviewing us at the fair. I asked how he got his job because I love ag, and I also love radio. He told me that he would be retiring in a few months, and we should have a more detailed conversation about his job. Once we figured out the details, everything fell into place, and I ended up taking over. I can’t thank him enough for teaching me what he knows about agriculture, the people he’s introduced me to, and how to be an ag broadcaster.

“I love my position here because I’m able to share the stories of farmers all over the state. I’m able to learn about so many different sides of ag — from dairy, to bee farms, to wine makers, and more. I may not sound or look like a polished reporter, but I’m a good storyteller. I want my listeners to feel like I’m just simply having a conversation with them while they’re driving to work or out in the barn. I want those who may not know much about farming to be interested in the stories I’m sharing and be able to understand what I’m talking about. That’s been my goal from day one,” Cleven said.

Second photo:  Cleven is shooting the video and interview for the November “Farmer of the Month” at Vanden Wymelenberg Dairy in Shirley, Wisconsin. He is interviewing Adam Vanden and his wife Marie.