News

Rural News On Tap at RFD-TV

4/12/2008 2:00 AM Eastern

RFD-TV has new programming plans that include a musical show hosted by Levon Helm and a news operation with bureaus in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and São Paulo, Brazil, its founder said.

President Patrick Gottsch said in an interview last week his rural-lifestyle network will keep spending on original programming, after committing $25 million to a five-year deal simulcasting Don Imus’s New York-based radio show.

Gottsch sees Imus in the Morning, launched in December, as a vehicle to get launched on urban cable systems, and credits Imus partly for Comcast’s signing a corporate deal in January that led to a March digital launch in Nashville, RFD-TV’s home base. In about 32 million homes now, Gottsch predicts RFD-TV will have 40 million subscribers by next January.

RFD-TV’s biggest show, though, is the revived weekly musical variety hour The Crook & Chase Show, a former staple of The Nashville Network, whose changeover to Spike TV Gottsch frequently says created a void.

He said he recently visited Helm — the longtime drummer and singer in The Band — at the Woodstock, N.Y., studio where Helm has hosted musical get-togethers called “Midnight Rambles” since regaining his voice after throat-cancer treatments. Helm’s lining up guests for an RFD-TV show expected to start taping in July for a September launch, Gottsch said.

The news operation (scheduled to launch Aug. 1) will target issues important to rural communities, Gottsch said. Financial reports, for example, will cover underserved commodities markets.

RFD-TV is prepared to spend $25 million on the news operation, he said, including a rural version of CNN’s Larry King Live.

The rural economy, built around agriculture, is quite healthy, Gottsch said, with prices high for crops and livestock. That’s good for RFD-TV’s audience (he said the network has been rated by Nielsen Media Research since January) and for advertisers like John Deere and Ralston-Purina.