Pioneer farm broadcaster Les Leonard dies

Colleen Kottke Associated Editor
Now Media Group


For years, the friendly voice of Lesley "Les" Leonard blended in naturally with the morning sounds of milking in dairy barns all across Wisconsin.

The down home banter mixed with lively stories of farm folks along with shrewd insights of the agricultural industry was carried across the airwaves for decades on local radio stations and become a daily staple of his faithful audience.

The iconic broadcaster passed away Wednesday, Feb. 17, at the age of 92, in the city of Marshfield.

Before entering the field of broadcasting, the Marshfield native served in the United States 9th Air Force during World War II.

Leonard's employment at the Milwaukee Stockyards in 1953 thrust him into the epicenter of Wisconsin's livestock world.

In a video created to honor his induction into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 1992, Leonard said, "I had a better education at the Milwaukee Stockyards than you could get in any university. What went on there was a bible for livestock information throughout the state".

During his 25-year career at the Milwaukee Stockyards, he broadcast the Milwaukee Livestock Market Report. He began his stint behind the microphone in 1953 on a part-time basis and later became the organization's voice full-time basis in 1955.

In 1973, Leonard was named the Farm Director for WISC-TV in Madison and hosted the station's popular noon agricultural show, while also establishing a state-wide radio market report for Equity Co-op Livestock sales, according to the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.

Three years later, Leonard took a position with Goetz Broadcasting as Farm Director for that company's six Wisconsin radio stations. In 1976, an early morning farm program debuted and was hosted by Leonard. He later developed programming to serve other stations and the Goetz Farm Network was formed, eventually sending Leonard's daily broadcasts of "Daybreak" out over 40 stations.

Leonard was a familiar fixture at Wisconsin's signature ag events including World Dairy Expo and Farm Progress Days (now known as Farm Technology Days). He was also comfortable visiting farms across the state, talking to ag producers about issues impacting their livelihood.

During his WBA Hall of Fame video tribute, fellow farm broadcaster Orion Samuelson said Leonard had a penchant for calling attention to what was happening in the dairy barn, adding to the culture of the Midwest.

"He was genuine and honest and cared...and provided all the information that farmers needed," Samuelson said.

His humanitarian efforts were also notable. In the 1980s, Leonard spearheaded the "Auction of Champions", an annual event to auction off the Grand Champion Steer of the Central Wisconsin State Fair. The proceeds from the auction are donated to the National Farm Medicine Center in his hometown of Marshfield.

Throughout his notable career, several awards were bestowed upon the humble radioman including honors from the Wisconsin Agri-Business Council and Wisconsin Cattleman's Association.

Bob Meyer who serves as the morning announcer for WDLB (Wisconsin's Dairy Land Broadcaster) Radio in Marshfield said of his predecessor in the WBA video tribute, "Les treasured the fact that he was a part of so many lives and families across Wisconsin who woke up (to his voice) every morning."