50 years at the Mic: Agri Shop’s Millard hanging up his headphones
After 55 years at the mic, Agri Shop host Gene Millard said he’s hanging up his headphones on Feb. 22, 2020.
The “tradio” show began, he said, as a part of Ken Root’s Agri-Talk program and was broadcast on a network of stations in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. Millard took the mic in 2002. Heard on 15 affiliated stations, it has become a staple in the 8:06 to 9 a.m. Central Time slot.
For the uninitiated, listeners call Millard with items, all of an agriculture nature, they hope to buy or sell to the listening audience. Millard, who has a lifetime of experience farming near Osborn, Mo., has been heralded for his ability to ask questions specific to each piece of equipment based on his knowledge. Millard, though, said his knowledge about seemingly every piece of farm equipment sold on the show, was won by old age alone. Incredible knowledge aside, he said many of his callers must feel like they’re calling a friend when they call the show to sell an item.
Millard began his radio career in 1964 after graduating from Colorado State University, hitting the air as the assistant farm director at KFEQ in Saint Joseph, Mo. The station underwent some organizational changes and Millard stayed with the radio side of the company, taking the reins as the farm director in 1973, eventually becoming the general manager in 1976 before taking early retirement in 2003.
In the 80s and 90s, Millard said he spent some time flying with longtime Colorado farm broadcaster Evan Slack in Slack’s Mooney airplane. One trip to Toronto proved memorable when the pair were held in Detroit by a customs agent because Slack’s new plane didn’t yet have a title on board.
Once the pair was finally cleared to take off en route to Saint Joseph, they discovered low fuel levels in both tanks, landing with little to spare. He said he and Slack had some adventures and they were always enjoyable.
“I’ve had a tremendous career and I had no idea what I was going to be doing when I got out of college,” he said. “It was a challenging time, the Vietnam War was getting warmed up at that point and I was 1A on the military draft. Nobody really wanted to hire me, I had a job lined up with Farm Credit and that didn’t work out because of my draft status.”
Ultimately, he said, President Kennedy accepted marriage as an exception to the draft on the same day he received his draft notice.
“I was ready to go,” he said. “It was too much hanging over my head and I wanted to serve my country. I had family responsibilities and there was a job opening for a farm broadcaster, so I went in and applied. I didn’t have any broadcast experience, but they hired me anyway and I guess it’s worked out for 55 years.”
All of this was done while he and his wife, Sharon, were living on the family farm east of St. Joseph. His dad farmed the ground originally and Millard purchased nearby land, eventually purchasing the farm when his father passed away. In 2002, his youngest son joined him and, as he said, he became a “go-fer” and combine operator as they transitioned the farm between generations.
Millard filled in at Agri Talk for host Ken Root periodically but knew when Agri Shop came along, it was right up his alley.
“It was simply visiting with farmers and producers around the country and hearing what they want to buy or sell,” he said. “Ken’s style was more humorous, and I knew I didn’t have his wit, so I had to rely on years and years of having my hands on a steering wheel and buying too much farm equipment and trading too many tractors.”
Millard said his listeners have become like a big family, many of whom are memorable characters. He said there has been multiple times a regular caller has passed away and another listener will call in to let the Millard and the audience know. Clipped copies of obituaries have been sent to Millard and it’s not uncommon for him to be stopped by a listener when he’s out and about.
It’s like one big family,” he said. “The signal goes from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi and it doesn’t make any difference where you are, you’re in the family.”
One memorable caller is Fred from Diamond, Mo., who was constantly on the hunt for a wheel for a WD Allis Chalmers tractor to replace one that had rusted. He called one Saturday hoping to sell a pile of dirt and another call, hoping to buy a tarpaulin to avoid a trip to a Walmart.
In recognition of his career, Millard earned the Agribusiness Distinguished Service Award from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce; the Outstanding Service to Agriculture from Missouri Farm Bureau; was inducted in 2006 into the St. Joseph Agribusiness Hall of Fame, was inducted into the National Association of Farm Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010, earned the J Dillingham Agriculture Leadership and Excellence Award from the Kansas City Agri-Business Council in 2019, and was inducted into the Missouri Broadcasters Hall of Fame, also in 2019.
Millard continues to farm with his son, Brian, on the 1905 farm acquired by his great-grandfather. The family farm operation includes corn, soybeans and cattle near Osborn, Mo. He said he’s looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday mornings after his final Agri Shop on Feb. 22. He and his wife, Sharon have four daughters, two sons, nine grandsons, and one granddaughter. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 768-0024.
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