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Viewers beg FCC to save rural programming amid cable mergers

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Old people want their 'Hee-Haw' and they're letting the FCC know it

There's one potential casualty of the pending cable industry mergers that most city dwellers probably haven't given much thought to: rural TV programming. But it turns out there are a lot of people concerned that Comcast and Time Warner Cable becoming one could mean the end of shows like National Tractor Pulling, Cumberland Highlanders, The Mollie B Polka Party, and re-runs of Hee-Haw. The same goes for AT&T's proposed buyout of DirecTV. According to The Wall Street Journal, nearly half of comments received by the FCC over both proposed mergers that could reshape the cable TV landscape have come from viewers pleading with the commission to protect RFD-TV. That's an impressive effort when you consider just how small the channel they're fighting for really is.

RFD-TV was founded in 2000, with its name a clear reference to Rural Free Delivery, the US Postal Service's system for delivering mail to rural Americans and farm families. It pulls in just a fraction of the viewership most major networks enjoy every night, and advertisers pay the channel little mind since its primary demographic is people over the age of 55. But the audience RFD does attract has proven to be fiercely loyal — as evidenced by the stand many people are now taking with the FCC. They're worried that a more consolidated cable market could result in the demise of RFD and the last vestige of content tailored for rural communities. RFD-TV isn't outright opposed to the pair of mergers, but wants the FCC to do everything it can to guarantee the channel's survival in the event they're approved.

It's easy for urbanites to poke fun at RFD's programming schedule, but there's also very real value in having a TV station focused on the farming and agriculture activities that many families base their daily lives around. As the Journal notes, we're incredibly far removed from the days when people gathered in front of the TV to watch The Beverly Hillbillies and Lassie. RFD has already had to deal with that reality numerous times. Comcast dropped the channel in Colorado and New Mexico last year, and it's not even carried by AT&T's U-verse.

Testifying before the US Senate in June, DirecTV CEO Mike White vowed he would do his best to convince AT&T CEO Randall Stephensen "that RFD-TV would be great for them to carry" if the merger between both companies is approved by regulators.  "There should not be a wall erected between urban and rural America," says Patrick Gottsch, founder of Rural Media Group, on a petition page calling viewers to action. Gottsch says RFD is constantly doing its best "to reconnect city folks with country people again."