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NRA tunes into cable TV to raise money, air gun rights issues

By Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When President Barack Obama announced a raft of proposals in the biggest U.S. gun-control push in decades, Cam Edwards, host of Sportsman Channel's "Cam & Company" talk show, wasted no time siding with the National Rifle Association.

"Assault weapon is a made-up name for a gun I can ban," said Edwards, an avowed Second Amendment advocate, who later in the program read, word for word, the NRA's statement in response to Obama's announcement.

Edwards, whose show is produced by NRA News, is one of the cable TV personalities the NRA hopes will promote the right of Americans to bear arms. That effort might become more important if public and political sentiments harden in favor of gun control in the wake of the Newtown shootings that claimed 26 lives.

Another Program, Outdoor Channel's "Friends of the NRA," is hosted by former baseball player Matt Duff and champion shooter Jessie Harrison Duff and is an offshoot of the group that raised more than $200 million for national and local programs "that ensures the availability of quality training and educational opportunities," the group says on its site.

In the show, the two hosts visit NRA banquets and fundraisers as they tour the country.

The NRA produces or sponsors six cable TV shows that appear on either the Outdoor or Sportsman channels, which are each available in more than 30 million homes, including many gun owners.

"They're consolidating their base," said Larry Gerbrandt, a former cable TV executive who founded Valuation Partners, which appraises media assets for acquisitions and other purposes. "It's a lot easier to get your message across with video than it was a printed pamphlet.

Edwards, whose show started and continues online and on SirusXM's conservative Patriot channel, said on his TV show on January 16 that he "is not a spokesman for the NRA" and that NRA News is separate from the lobbying group. The NRA did not return calls and emails.

Other shows, which are mostly history or competition programs, help the NRA promote the gun owning lifestyle and are an important advertising platform for advertisers such as gun makers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp or Remington Arms Co Ltd..

It is also a potential profit center for the NRA, which produces the shows and sells most of the advertising. Programs on the Sportsman Channel can charge premium advertising rates, said Graig Hale, the channel's programming vice-president, because it is watched by men aged 25-54 years who are hard for advertisers to reach.

"Sometimes the shows can be controversial," said Hale. "But they are mostly about a range of topics that affect the sportsman."

One of the Sportsman Channel's highest rated shows is "Guns and Gold," a NRA-produced program in which two officials from the National Firearms Museum tour the country to value heirlooms and ancient guns.

The NRA also sponsors the shooting competition show "3-Gun Nation" on the Sportsman Channel and Outdoor Channel's "American Rifleman," which reviews products and airs stories about gun owners from the NRA's "American Rifleman" magazine.

Edwards' one-hour show, airing nightly at 5pm Eastern, is the only program that overtly supports the Second Amendment, which is at the center of NRA's promotional efforts.

NRA members viewpoints can come through in other shows. In one episode of "Friends of the NRA," the hosts visit a wild-game chef and NRA member who tells them that, in the past, there was never an issue of losing the right to bear arms and hunt.

"(Now) that's all you hear," he added.

During the episode, hosts Matt and Jessie Duff attend a wild game cook-off that is followed by a message urging viewers to "support Friends of the NRA and the NRA Foundation by attending a banquet today."

Not surprisingly, the shows attract a large dose of hunting and shooting ads. Nearly two dozen advertisers crammed into one recent 30-minute episode of "American Rifleman," including Crimson Trace laser sights, hunting gear discounter Cheaper Than Dirt and gun makers Smith & Wesson and Remington.

Many of the same names also sponsor "Cam & Company," but the heaviest advertiser in one recent episode was the NRA itself with three ads that criticized Obama for sending his children to a school that is protected by armed guards, while failing to embrace the NRA plan to arm teachers and others in schools.

(Editing by Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon)

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