By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service
Manhattan, KS – Eric Atkinson, whose career in agricultural broadcasting began nearly four decades ago under the tutelage of several giants in Kansas radio, has signed off the popular Agriculture Today program for the final time.
Atkinson retired June 10 after hosting the program – which airs from Kansas State University — since 1983.
“One of the neat things about this job is the amazing cross-section of talented, smart and engaging people that you get to work with,” Atkinson said.
“There’s no doubt I’ll miss not doing that on a regular basis. But it’s time. It’s time for the next generation to take the ball and run with it. I’m looking forward to seeing how that fleshes out.”
Samantha Bennett, who recently earned a master’s degree in animal sciences with a focus in agricultural issues communications from Auburn University, takes over as host of Agriculture Today, which currently reaches 80 counties in Kansas, the northern third of Oklahoma, eastern Colorado and southern Nebraska.
Agriculture Today also is available online as a daily podcast.
“I’m thrilled,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t be more honored to be filling such huge shoes. Anytime you’re given the opportunity like that, you’re not only super excited, but you wonder, ‘Can I live up to this?’
“I’ve told anybody who remotely mentioned graduation when I was leaving Auburn, ‘oh by the way, I’m moving to Kansas because I’m going to be hosting this really cool radio show.’ I can’t contain my excitement about this job.”
Atkinson, who earned bachelor’s (1978) and master’s (1982) degrees from K-State, said the university has hosted an agriculture program in some form since 1924, when the program was known as Farm Hour. The name of the program changed to Agriculture Today in 1961, he said.
K-State’s land-grant radio station was known as KSAC for most of its history (1924 to 1984), then KKSU from 1984 to 2002. From 1929 to 2002, the station filled five hours of live afternoon programming in a time-share agreement with WIBW radio (580 AM).
Atkinson was hired in 1983 and worked with a group that pioneered agricultural and extension radio programming in the state, including former station managers Jack Burke and Ralph Titus; agriculture director Paul DeWeese (known as the ‘Dean’ of ag broadcasters in the Midwest); and Dev Nelson, who along with being named Kansas Sportscaster of the Year eight times, also produced an award-winning environmental program and ‘Voices in Kansas.’
“I got a call from Jack Burke in mid-May 1983 asking if I would like to come work for (K-State),” Atkinson said. “I wasted almost no time saying, ‘when can I start?’
“It was a dream job. This station was well entrenched and it had superstars in radio working for it. I couldn’t pack my stuff quick enough to get back up here. They took a gamble on a young guy – I was 26. But I knew something about Kansas ag and had an affinity for this place. A lot of good fortune fell into place.”
In retirement, Atkinson said he will manage land he owns, “attend more extension events than I’m able to now,” and has some radio projects he’d like to explore.
Bennett said she envisions Agriculture Today expanding on its current success in podcasting. In early June, Agriculture Today’s podcast surpassed 1 million downloads since it first went online in 2018.
“Podcasting gives you the opportunity to listen when you want to, and the format that you want to listen to,” she said. “I’ve tried not to put too much pressure on myself, dreaming up what I want to do with this program. The legacy is a huge thing to me, I don’t want to ruin what’s going so well already, but the podcasting area is where I’d like to grow.”
She called it “funny” to hear Atkinson call Agriculture Today his dream job.
“Those were my exact words when I was interviewing for the position,” Bennett said. “It’s the same thing that he loves about this job…the connection to agriculture. I have a passion for the industry and the people who are running it. I’ve never met more honorable people in any other industry who have more passion for what they do, just because they love it so much.”
Moving to Kansas, “I get to see a whole new state’s worth of people that are just as thrilled about agriculture as those I knew back home,” she said.
“I’m excited about the people and getting to know this whole new world of agriculture.”
In Kansas, Agriculture Today airs each weekday morning at 10 a.m. on KFRM (550 AM) and KBUF (1030 AM); and 12:20 p.m. on KVGB (1590 AM and 97.7 FM).