If you want to make a writer or a broadcaster nervous, it takes just four short words: “Can I interview you?”
And so it is for Rita Frazer, who’s spent the past 30 years telling Illinois agriculture’s story on the airwaves. “I’m so used to being on the other side!” she says with a laugh, and just a touch of apprehension.
Frazer’s voice is well-known in Illinois, broadcasting on RFD Radio throughout the state, and becoming one of the greatest examples of her signature mantra: The best people work in ag. And though she grew up on a small farm in Jersey County — technically hailing from Otterville — she didn’t connect her love for radio to the farm until she was studying at Lewis and Clark Community College.
“Mike Dreith told me, ‘You come from a farm. Why don’t you explore farm broadcasting?’” Frazer recalls. So she did, and went to work at WSMI in Litchfield in January 1990, where she stayed for 22 years before moving to RFD Radio in 2012. Today, she’s director of network and audio services for RFD Network and Illinois Farm Bureau.
In this interview with Prairie Farmer, Frazer shares what she’s learned and how she leads.
You’ve interviewed thousands of people in agriculture. What have you learned about farmers? They’re humble. They’re self-motivated businessmen and businesswomen. Over the years, consistently what I come back to and am impressed by is their eternal optimism. And it’s people that you know are still handshake people. Their word means something.
Where’s the story in agriculture? When I started doing the livestock report for RFD back in 2008, I realized romance isn’t gone from agriculture — it’s here, it’s on livestock farms still! It rejuvenated me. It wasn’t that I thought the row crop farmers were awful people, but the way things had gone in the late ’90s, livestock kind of lost its shine. Then you get into it and realize there are all these farm families that are still diversified and raising everything.
How do you draw a story out of farmers, who are humble by nature? Exactly what you did with me! You talk to them and make them feel comfortable. Talk about the weather, set their minds at ease. Once people trust you, and they know everything you’re doing and why you’re doing it, it’s 10 times easier. I let them see I’m not out for a headline; I’m there to help and educate others.
BEST: Since 2015, Rita Frazer has served as master of ceremonies for the Parade of Champions at the Illinois State Fair, championing the move back into the Coliseum this year with state fair Manager Kevin Gordon (left), state Ag Director John Sullivan and Deputy Director Warren Goetsch.
You are one of two lead voices on RFD Radio. What have you done there that no one else could? I’m that person who always showed up. When this network position opened up, aside from Max Armstrong, I was the most senior person in Illinois broadcasting. I could bring 22 years of relationships and contacts and all of that.
So how do you make and keep those relationships? I care about these people. I can’t imagine having a better job than being able to record stories and do interviews that promote other people. That’s what I’m most comfortable doing.
You were recently elected president of the 950-member National Association of Farm Broadcasting. What does that mean for you? I’ll represent NAFB at events like Commodity Classic, National Cattlemen’s, NAMA [National Agri-Marketing Association], etc. And I’ll preside over our business operations. We’re a 75-year-old organization with the best of the best, like Max and Orion [Samuelson].
That’s a tall order. How do you build consensus? Pray?! Not kidding. I’ve done that before. Everybody doesn’t always agree — I get that. Find your common ground with people.
How has farm broadcasting changed in 30 years? We’ve followed farmers. We’ve met them where they are. We’re radio first at our network; now we can come to them on their mobile devices, too, with podcasts.
And your message? Yes. They can get their markets anywhere now. We do more telling why, instead of just “here are the markets.”
TRAVEL: Technology makes the farm broadcaster’s life easier. “Now I show up at an event with my cellphone, where I used to have a whole bag of equipment,” Frazer says.
In life, what’s something you’ve seen someone else do and thought, ‘That’s a good idea and I’m borrowing it’? Dan Rather on “The Big Interview” always says at the end, “What didn’t I ask that I should have?” When I started asking that, that’s where I’ve found and learned the most. I don’t do an interview without it.
Your daughter’s a freshman in high school; what’s one lesson you want her to take away from your home? Choose a profession that utilizes all your skills. Aside from marriage and family, that was my best decision in life. Find something that moves you, that you’re passionate about.
You’ve worked with a lot of people in Illinois ag leadership. What makes a good leader? Somebody that listens. That’s important.
What’s one thing you do that’s directly tied to your success? Observe. Watch interactions between people. Observe the people who are real, the movers and shakers.
On her career path:
“I love farm broadcasting. I love NAFB. I have a clear idea that anything I do or say is for the better of the common good.”
“I don’t expect more of anyone else than I expect of myself. A good leader puts others’ needs ahead of their own.”
On learning from the best:
“I watched people like Peggy Kay, Mike Adams, Cyndi Young — how they approached people to do interviews, how they handled everything. Mike Perrine told me, ‘interviews, interviews, interviews.’”
FRAZER IN BRIEF
Truck? My bucket-list vehicle: Chevy Colorado 4x4
Tractor? Toy Allis-Chalmers on my shelf, like Dad’s
Livestock? Dairy — love the close relationships
Team? St. Louis Cardinals
Reading? “Your Food, My Adventure” by farmer Philip Bradshaw
Best advice? Also from Bradshaw: Show up
Family? Husband Mark Harris and daughter Alexa