RFD-TV to Simulcast Imus in the Morning

 

RFD-TV, the seemingly sleepy Nashville-based cable channel focusing on rural America, is about to deliver an unmistakable wake-up call to Music City and the rest of America.

Possibly as soon as this week, RFD-TV officials are expected to announce they will simulcast Don Imus’ weekday radio morning show, Imus in the Morning, a move that should boost their current reach of 30 million homes to more than 50 million by the end of 2008.

Patrick Gottsch, RFD-TV founder and president, would only confirm that the network, home to farm-related programs and country and polka music shows, was in talks with Imus.

The cantankerous shock jock was dropped by CBS Radio and the MSNBC cable channel this spring after he called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Citadel Broadcasting said Thursday it had signed Imus to New York’s WABC-AM, to begin Dec. 3.

Gottsch said having Imus would “pour fuel on the fire of the acceleration of this network getting clearances in urban markets.”

“The biggest obstacle we’ve had in the last three years is convincing urban-based program directors in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, and so on that they need to be carrying this ‘rural’ network,” Gottsch said. “Imus helps us cross those borders.”

The network has reached verbal agreements with Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s two largest cable companies with a combined 30 million homes. Deals are expected to be signed within a week.

“Comcast told us we are a ‘must carry’ now,” Gottsch said. “They are getting so many requests for this programming.”

“What is really going on right now that’s fueling this network,” he said, “is people are starting to get it, that people miss The Nashville Network, and here’s the closest thing to those values and programming.”

The Nashville Network, which showcased country music, outdoors, racing and Southern-themed syndicated shows such as Dallas and The Dukes of Hazzard, was re-branded as The National Network in 2000and later became Spike. Its headquarters moved from Nashville to New York, and it dropped its rural-themed programming.

On Dec. 1, RFD-TV is launching a second, separate network, RFD-HD, that will broadcast shows in high definition, including Imus in the Morning and, in January, The Crook and Chase Show, as well as Ralph Emery Live and the other shows produced at its Nashville broadcasting operations and production studios. (Its corporate headquarters are in Omaha, Neb., but RFD-TV officials consider the network to be Nashville-based.)

“The HD Network basically doubles our capacity,” Gottsch said. “When horses are on one channel, music will be on the other channel. It will give us a lot more versatility as programmers.”

RFD, which stands for rural free delivery, was launched in 2000 on DISH Network to about 4 million homes as a public interest channel with mostly agricultural and equine shows. It moved its broadcast operations from Dallas to Nashville in 2004 to provide a base to further expand programming.

Viewers seek it out

Last year, RFD-TV began airing Ralph Emery Live, an interview show featuring the legendary country music broadcaster. It now airs numerous music shows, including The Porter Wagoner Show and Gaither Gospel Hour.

“We knew the audience for The Nashville Network was still out there,” Gottsch said. “Everything is falling into place now. This thing is growing up and getting a lot of traction. Ralph helped tremendously last year, with the interviews he did with Eddy Arnold, Barbara Mandrell and Willie Nelson.”

Gottsch said the new shows will not change the station’s format, which remains 20 percent equine, 20 percent agricultural, 25 percent music, 25 percent rural lifestyle and 10 percent other programming.

Beginning Jan. 1, the channel’s programming wheel will go from eight hours, which means a show airs three times in a 24-hour period, to 10 hours, which means two airings per show. The other four hours, if all goes according to plan, would be filled with Imus.

Ironically, the Nashville-based network is still not available locally on Comcast. RFD officials have been in negotiations with local Comcast executives for months.

John Gauder, Comcast area vice president, said he is waiting for Comcast to reach an agreement with RFD-TV before he can decide whether to carry it in Nashville.

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