WASHINGTON – The first broadcast network devoted to farming, ranching and rural lifestyle issues will be beamed into homes across the country beginning in early March.
The new network, called Channel Earth, will be available to subscribers of DIRECTV, a satellite company.
DIRECTV has about 2.5 million subscribers nationwide, over 25 percent of whom live in rural areas, said company spokesman Jay Thibault.
Channel Earth programming will include up-to-the-minute weather and market reports, reports from agriculture schools across the country and analyses of market trends, said Orion Samuelson, Channel Earth’s chairman, co-anchor and chief correspondent.
The channel also will report on rural lifestyle issues, such as state and county fairs, animal health, antique farm equipment and farm toys.
Initially, Channel Earth will air about 70 hours a week, Samuelson said. It will air between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. EST on weekdays, and for a few hours on Saturday mornings.
Although reaction to the station was generally favorable, some feared that the programming would not be seen by many farmers outside of breakfast and dinner hours.
“Most of them will be out in the field,” said Jeff Semler, an agent with the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension Service in Washington County.
Channel Earth would, however, help fill a programming gap, he said. “There certainly has been a void as far as TV” programming on agricultural issues.
Samuelson said he is more excited about this than anything he has done professionally. He also has worked as a longtime WGN- TV broadcaster in Chicago and as a columnist for the magazine Farm Journal.
Wayne Shaff, an extension agent in Wicomico County, said Samuelson could be a big draw for viewers.
“If he’s involved, it could be a success,” Shaff said. “People in this area really do like him.”
Samuelson and his WGN partner, Max Armstrong, formed Channel Earth with the help of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, a nonprofit association of the nation’s rural electric and telephone utilities.
The NRTC has been affiliated with DIRECTV for more than three years, and Channel Earth fulfills one of the original goals of the partnership, said Bob Phillips, head of the NRTC.
“We’re going to target rural interests and the rural agricultural community,” Phillips said. The channel will be carried exclusively on DIRECTV, which offers 18-inch satellite dishes and a variety of viewing packages. The dishes cost between $200 and $400; the most popular viewing package is about $30 a month, Thibault said. -30-