This Week’s Column: Recognizing a Great Communicator

I grew up listening to the radio. Every morning when I got up, after breakfast and getting packed up for school, I’d ride Grandma’s school bus off to school. Yes, Grandma was my bus driver. That made me the first kid on the bus in the morning, and the last kid off the bus in the evening. Long ride aside, I had the best deal in the school district because I spent hours every day with one of the best role models any kid could have, and because I learned a lot about great radio.



As you might imagine, I had no earthly clue at the time that my career would be in communications at all, let alone in radio specifically. Nonetheless, I met two radio heroes on those long trips from Crosen Road to the Hillsboro City Schools: Ed Johnson and Paul Harvey. Both gone from the airwaves now, these two legends entertained and informed me every morning. Ed’s singularly enthusiastic delivery and Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” are cherished memories of my youth and my first exposure to the relationship that exists between broadcaster and listener.



Many years later, fate and happenstance brought me into my first collegiate internship: a job working at Ed Johnson’s ABN Radio, the network my wife and I are now honored to own and operate. From those early days at ABN, I had the great fortune of earning a position as Farm Director at WRFD-AM in Columbus, then one of the largest and most storied farm news operations in the country. With a heritage stretching back nearly 60 years, WRFD brought literally hours’ worth of news and information to rural Ohio. I was shocked that at 20 years of age, I was offered the opportunity to host such an important broadcast.



The challenge was that I was on my own. I was offered the position as Farm Director, and basically encouraged to take ownership and work hard to make the program a success under my own leadership. In the months I had been with the station, fortunately, I had heard a name repeated early and often: Joe Cornely. Joe served as WRFD’s Farm Director for two decades, during which the programming, and Ohio agriculture, flourished. Joe, now Director of Corporate Communications for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, agreed to take a meeting with me in my new office at the radio station. I basically told Joe he didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him, but I’d heard his name uttered with enough deference at the station to know he was somebody worth meeting.



Joe became my mentor that day, and he’s been a dear friend and trusted advisor ever since. Last Friday, Lindsay and I welcomed Joe as an Honorary ABN Farm Broadcaster.



For some reference, during the first 30 years of ABN’s history, Ed Johnson presented a “Golden Boot” award to folks in agriculture he deemed worthy of commendation for their work on behalf of the industry. I remembered seeing Earl F. “Doc” Kantner’s Golden Boot housed in a place of honor at the Ohio FFA Center Archives, and knew how important that award was to Ed and the men and women he honored over the years. To show our thanks and appreciation to the key leaders and partners in Ohio’s food and farming community, we decided to bring our own style to the concept and denote one or two outstanding individuals each year as “Honorary ABN Farm Broadcasters.”



These are people, like past recipients E. Gordon Gee, President of the Ohio State University, who’ve made a lasting and indelible impression upon us and our organization, and on the industry as a whole. Ohio Cattlemens’ Association Exec Elizabeth Harsh, Farm Science Review General Manager Chuck Gamble, and Ohio Director of Agriculture Bob Boggs are a few of the more recent recipients of this Commemorative Heritage ABN Microphone.



Joe Cornely stands tall among those peers. During his tenure as Farm Director at WRFD he spent countless hours in the cabs of pickups and combines, keeping Ohio’s farmers in the loop as they produced our food and natural resources. He is a tremendous reporter, with that amazing vocal gift that so many of us wish we had. His unique wit and humor have made him an incomparable Master of Ceremonies at agricultural events across the state, and his year as President of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters is hailed as one of the most successful in the organizations 65-year history.



A past NAFB Farm Broadcaster of the Year, Joe’s work is now on the other side of the microphone, for the most part. As Senior Director of Corporate Communications for Ohio Farm Bureau, Joe works with members of the press around the state to accurately communicate the farm story, and help “forge a partnership between producers and consumers.” He is a gifted writer, and a great storyteller. His commentaries on the television show Ohio Farm & Country are hard hitting and straight to the heart of an issue. As host of the weekly syndicated radio program Town Hall Ohio, Joe talks with newsmakers from the Governor of Ohio to the Secretary of Agriculture. The depth of guests he’s welcomed to the show speaks volumes of his credibility in our state and business.



I’m thankful for many things in my life, most notably that I married so well and that I’d had the opportunity to work in the only two radio newsrooms I ever dreamed of visiting. I’ve had some great mentors in my life: my Dad, my FFA Advisor, Dr. Steven J. Gratz of the Ohio FFA Association, and Farm Broadcaster Joe Cornely. A future NAFB and Ohio Agriculture Hall of Famer, join me in welcoming Joe as the newest Honorary ABN Farm Broadcaster. Keep up the great work old friend.