You may not recognize his face, but you probably know his voice. Lee Mielke, who launched DairyLine Radio on Labor Day in 1988, is starting his third decade of bringing dairy news to the nation.
By Dave Natzke
Midwest DairyBusiness (MDB): DairyLine Radio is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Give us some history on how it all started.
Mielke: I helped a new radio station, WISS, in Berlin, Wis. go on the air in 1971. It had a strong farm program, so I learned the power of farm radio there. Several years later I moved to Lynden, Wash., and several years after that I started a local farm show on what was then KLYN.
At the time, Whatcom County was the 17th largest dairy-producing county in the United States, with about 500 dairy farms, plus several hundred more within reach of the station’s 100,000-watt signal.
A few years after starting the Sunrise Show, two national advertisers discussed the idea of starting a nationally syndicated dairy program. I started with five stations in three states on Labor Day, 1988 and it snowballed from there. Today, DairyLine airs on more than 80 stations.
About a year after I started the broadcast, I started writing a weekly column, and today it is featured in 10 newspapers across the country.
I am quick to tell people that I had absolutely no background in agriculture. I was born a city slicker and barely knew the difference between a bull and a heifer. If you told me in high school that I would be a syndicated farm broadcaster who specialized in the dairy industry, I would have thought you were smoking something. But, it clearly shows that the Lord has a sense of humor to take someone like me and do what He did.
One of the ways He did it was to bring some very special people into my life, including (in alphabetical order): Jim Barr, who was CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation; Jerry Dryer, dairy consultant and editor of the Dairy & Food Market Analyst; and Steve Kerr, who was an aid to then Vermont Congressman Jim Jeffords. Two other important people in those early days were Gene Meyer and, a few years later, Steve Larson, editors of Hoard’s Dairyman.
Each of those men did a weekly report with me on DairyLine for years, and all of them taught me the ropes of the industry. I will be eternally grateful for the contributions they made to DairyLine’s success.
MDB: How did you come about becoming a part of the DairyBusiness Communications team?
Mielke: My association with DairyBusiness came about after a talk with Joel Hastings at World Dairy Expo, about nine years ago. I was producing DairyLine each day, marketing it and the column to other papers and radio stations. I was still doing the local Sunrise Show on KLYN, and selling farm and non-farm radio advertising. I had way too many balls in the air and couldn’t keep them all going at the same time, so I made the decision to sell DairyLine to Multi Ag Media and quit the radio station.
MDB: You’ve covered a number of dairy issues over the years. Are there any that especially stand out in your memory?
Mielke: The biggest issue I covered and actually got involved with was the USDA dairy buyout program. I had been doing a regular weekly interview with Steve Kerr. He joined Dan Hollingsworth, a California dairyman who developed the herd buyout concept, on my show. They had been in contact with each other long before, but it perhaps helped solidify the concept in Kerr’s and Rep. Jeffords’ minds, and Jeffords became “the father of the dairy buyout” in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The other big issue that I devoted a lot of coverage to, but was not involved with, was the introduction of recombinant bovine somatotropin, which is still in the news today.
There have been many other issues, but my main focus and desire was to cover dairy prices, policy and politics.
MDB: Any particular interviews that are especially memorable?
Mielke: Most memorable were my trips to Washington, D.C. where I met with senators, congressmen, staff aids and dairy leaders. I interviewed two different U.S. ag secretaries.
MDB: The dairy industry has changed, and so has broadcast technology. Describe some of that evolution.
Mielke: One word: Internet. It has expanded DairyLine’s ability to serve the dairy industry and, because radio is so time sensitive, it works very well together. Bill Baker and I update our website three, four, five times a day with the latest dairy news and market information.
The other technology aid, of course, is the computer, especially when it comes to digital editing. For many years I used reel-to-reel tape, razor blades and splicing tape to prepare my interviews, many of which had to be edited down to just 2 minutes to fit the broadcast’s time parameters.
MDB: Broadcast journalists are often called “personalities,” in that listeners invite them into their homes via the radio/television. Have you tried to incorporate your “personality” into your dairy programming?
Mielke: I developed DairyLine’s delivery, not as a “newscast,” but I envisioned it as two neighbors chatting over the fence, with my listeners able to listen in on the conversation. I have never tried to build DairyLine around Lee Mielke. I built it around the people who were the experts.
I had fun with my name, saying I was the “Mielke” and my listeners were the “milkers,” but I regularly reminded myself of my humble beginnings and how, as one of my favorite preachers used to say, “I am a turtle on a fence post. Somebody put me here.”
I have been privileged and honored to meet listeners as I travel across the country, and at some speaking engagements farmers come up to me and introduce themselves and say “I listen to you every morning,” or “I read your column every week.”
I often joked in my speeches that most people, when they meet me say, “You’re Lee Mielke?” almost disappointedly, because I didn’t look like they thought I would. My dad always told me I had a face for radio. But then, he gave it to me.”
MDB: Any other thoughts before signing off?
Mielke: When I was first starting and didn’t know much about the business, I’m sure I asked some real dumb questions. But 99% of the people I interviewed or worked with took me seriously, explained things to me and treated me with respect.
Some had some fun at my expense and that was okay, because I got a good laugh out of it also. A local veterinarian, Vern Pederson, of Kulshan Vet Hospital in Lynden, Wash., would lead me on once in awhile, but I got him back one day when he came in to record our Monday morning “Vet Visit.”
With a totally straight face, I asked, “Vern, what’s the best way to dry off a cow, with a towel or a hair dryer?”
He looked at me so dumbfounded, he wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking, and the look on his face was priceless. It was one of the few times I wished we were on TV.
Meet Lee Mielke
Lee Mielke was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wis. and is a graduate of Brown Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. He began his broadcast career in 1971 in Berlin, Wis.
While not raised on a farm, he soon came to appreciate farm radio. A few years after moving to Whatcom County in Washington State, he started “The Sunrise Show,” a local program devoted to the dairy industry.
In September of 1988, Lee began a syndicated radio program called DairyLine, airing on five radio stations in three states. Today, DairyLine is carried more than 80 stations covering 25 states.
For more information, contact Lee Mielke, phone: 360-354-5596; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.dairyline.com.
For additional information on DairyLine Radio, including list of radio stations carrying the program, e-mail Bill Baker at email@example.com.
DairyLine’s weekly lineup
David Pelzer or Joe Bavido, Dairy Management Inc.
Weekly updates on the dairy checkoff and promotion program
Veterinarians from Pfizer Animal Health
A weekly look at dairy markets, featuring (rotational basis):
• Al Levitt, market analyst and editor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Daily Dairy Report
• Bill Brooks, dairy economist with Downes-O’Neill, a division of FC Stone LLC
• Mary Ledman, Principal of Keough Ledman, & Associates
• Dr. Robert Cropp, professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Dr. Brian Gould, professor, UW-Madison
Dr. Alan Britten, specialist with Udder Health Systems Inc.
Featuring representatives of the Internaional Dairy Foods Association and others
John Ellsworth, Success Strategies, Modesto, Calif.
National Milk Producers Federation report
Chris Galen and other representatives of the National Milk Producers Federation
Featuring representatives from Select Sires
Dairy Profit Weekly Update
Dave Natzke, Editor, Dairy Profit Weekly
Dr. Paul Chandler, Chandler and Associates, Dresden, Tenn.
DairyLine’s Bill Baker provides a weekly recap of the cash dairy markets, plus any other significant dairy news that may have occurred during the week. Bryce Anderson updates the hay and feed situation with the DTN Hay and Feed report.