Mike Hergert, co-founder of Red River Farm Network, to retire after 46 years in radio
GRAND FORKS, N.D.—Mike Hergert has lived by one golden rule when it comes to radio: be accurate and treat others the way you want to be treated.
"You only get one chance to get it on the air right," he said. "There is no excuse for not getting it right."
But when he started the Red River Farm Network more than 20 years ago, he and his colleagues had a motto: reporting agriculture's business.
"We really focus on business, what we call pocketbook issues," he said. "We really try to report the important stories that we think will affect the pocketbooks of farmers."
That dedication to farmers has made the Farm Network one of the most widely listened to agribusiness networks in North Dakota and Minnesota. Airing on 20 radio stations from Bismarck to Roseau, Minn., and into west central Minnesota, Hergert has led the network to regional recognition.
The co-founder is signing off as the network's leader next week. He will officially retire Tuesday after more than four decades in the radio industry, with colleagues calling him one of the most dedicated and trusted voices in agriculture.
"He understood the show must go on, even to the length where we would be working late in Fargo, maybe doing karaoke," retired Farm Network co-founder John Vasichek said. "We would come home. I would go to bed and he would go to the studio and show-prep for the morning show. He wouldn't even go to bed."
Starting the network
As a child, Hergert wanted to be a sports broadcaster. He would shoot hoops when he was younger, doing his own play-by-play.
His 46-year career began in 1970 when he joined KFIL out of Preston, Minn., as a sports broadcaster. He later switched to reporting on agriculture and would go on to work for other media outlets, including KNOX in Grand Forks.
When Hergert and Vasichek were working at KKXL, they talked of forming a radio station dedicated to agribusiness reporting.
"I asked, 'What would you think about creating an all-farm radio network?'" Vasichek said.. "He said, 'Talk dirty to me.' "
Most networks did quick segments on agriculture business—perhaps two or three minutes recapping markets or reading a short farming story.
The two wanted a network that would feature stories that affected the bottom line of farmers' budgets. In launching the Farm Network in 1995, they formulated the idea of having two half-hour shows talking about agribusiness and offering the service to other radio networks to set them apart.
"That half-hour show showed our commitment," Hergert said.
The two thought they would be lucky if they could get six radio stations to sign on. Before they knew it, they had a dozen, with farmers signing a petition to get the program on KZZY in Devils Lake.
Vasichek and Hergert knew that the audience—farmers and agribusinesses—was small compared with a typical radio station, but they knew the impact was great in the Red River Valley.
Hergert attributed Vasichek's success in advertising the network to potential radio stations for the business' growth, but Vasichek said Hergert's dedication, hard work and unbiased reporting are what made him a household name in the radio industry.
"He never grandstands, he is just there to give you the story," Vasichek said. "Mike is the example that everyone aspires to be."
Hard to let go
Hergert isn't completely exiting the radio scene. He plans to help the Farm Network cover the Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo, and possibly other events.
He wants to spend his retirement traveling, volunteering, getting to know his grandchildren and being more involved in the Red River Runners Club in Grand Forks—he is an avid runner.
"If there is any time left, I'd like to figure out my second career," he said with a smile. "I don't know (what that is) yet."
Fellow broadcaster Don Wick, who is taking over as owner and president of the network, said Hergert and Vasichek took on a big task going out on their own and building up the network from scratch, but they focused on agriculture's economic impacts.
That, along with Hergert's dedication and pursuit of accuracy, is why the network is the top-rated farm radio entity in the region, Wick said.
"The integrity he has is unmatched," Wick said. "He has a hall of fame career. There is a lot to be said for what he has built here."
Hergert has mixed emotions about retiring, he said. After all, Farm Network has been a large part of his life.
"It's hard to let go," he said. "It's kind of like my child."
The work has been fast paced, but he has met some tremendous people. He wanted to thank his three core customers: the radio stations, advertisers and the farmers who listened to him for more than 20 years.
"We have been very fortunate to find local radio stations who believed in us," he said. "We've been blessed."