You can’t attend a performance of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo without noticing some distinct voices booming through the Thomas & Mack Center each night.
The job of Wrangler NFR is a coveted one, but also one of the more challenging roles in the sport. Making a mistake at the “Super Bowl of Rodeo” is catastrophic, and the announcers are tasked with the responsibility of driving the ship that is the Wrangler NFR.
If there’s a hiccup in the action or an unplanned event – which is a rarity – during one of the performances, it’s the announcers’ job to smooth things over and keep the show moving along. Being able to think on their feet is a necessity, and hours and hours of work are required to pull off the job in a professional and entertaining manner.
Once again this year, veteran announcers Bob Tallman, Boyd Polhamus and Randy Corley have been selected to fill these roles in Las Vegas, and I spent some time with the talented trio during rehearsals following Round 6 on Tuesday night. I’ve known what their jobs have entailed for the two hours of each performance, but I was interested in learning what the other 22 hours of the day are like for them.
What I found out was interesting.
For instance, I had no idea that the announcers arrive in Las Vegas two weeks before the Wrangler NFR to study video of Finals from previous years and rehearse various segments and parts of the rodeo. The announcers pore over pages and pages of notes and statistics, for both contestants and stock, and they have daily “homework” to do during the 10-day rodeo to stay on top of what is coming next.
Virtually every hour of their day is allocated to one obligation or another, and they are doing well if they get six hours of sleep a night. It’s a tough grind that can only be understood by those who have the job.
“Until you start working it, you don’t know the pressure that’s on you,” said Corley, who is working his 12th career Wrangler NFR.
While the job is tough on the trio, they have a talented team of support staff – guys like sound guru Benje Bendele – who work together like a well-oiled machine to make the production a success.
“This is a major team,” Tallman said. “Just to be a part of it all is a thrill. I love the excitement of it and knowing that there will be a butt in every seat and that they are truly coming here to watch the greatest rodeo in the land.”
Corley agrees and never takes for granted the opportunity to work the world’s richest rodeo.
“It’s always an honor, and if you said it wasn’t an honor, you’d be lying,” Corley said. “If you said it was easy, you’d be lying worse. It’s a great team to be a part of, and I’m privileged to get to work with those two guys.”
Those two guys, Polhamus especially, give each other heck at every opportunity. Smart-aleck remarks and witty banter is the norm among them, and you can just see the connection they share. It’s a brotherhood, that’s for sure.
I noticed that during the hour-long rehearsal, which is run once with staff only and then again with General Manager Shawn Davis sitting in the stands taking notes, and I connected with the camaraderie the three men share. After all, that’s the way I interact with most of my male friends, and if you can’t make fun of them, then you’re just not doing it right.
They are working hard, but the announcers feel they are lucky to have a front-row seat to history.
“I’ve seen it all, and I’ve seen kids who make their first trip here who go on to be the greatest cowboys we have known in our era,” Corley said. “It’s fun to be a part of that part of history.”
“I’ve got dozens of great memories, so it’d be tough to single out any one of them,” said Polhamus, who is working the Wrangler NFR for the 17th time. “But to say what I will remember from all my time behind the mic at the Wrangler National Finals – the night Brent Thurman died.”
The 25-year-old Thurman was killed in Round 10 of the 1994 NFR when a bull stepped on his head in front of a capacity crowd. It was a difficult night for all involved.
“Adriano (Moraes) came up crying after riding his 10th-round bull – and he’d ridden all 10 – and he said, ‘I ride that one for Brent. I ride that one for Brent,’” said Polhamus, who took home his fourth PRCA Announcer of the Year award last week. “I remember throwing the microphone down, looking at Randy and going … I felt dirty. I felt like I was making money off someone else’s loss.”
Tallman said one of his favorite memories is from Round 1 of this year, when prayer was added to the opening ceremony for the first time ever. All three announcers love the sport, love the Western way of life and cherish being able to have a career and earn a living working in the industry they hold dear.
Their passion and determination is paramount and impressive, and I, for one, applaud their efforts.
An “average” day for a Wrangler NFR announcer in Las Vegas:
6 a.m. – Wake up
8-10 a.m. – Morning meeting, Shawn Davis’ office, Thomas & Mack Center
10-Noon – Study day sheets, stock and other materials at hotel
Noon-3 p.m. – Lunch and more study
4 p.m. – Arrive at Thomas & Mack Center
4:45 p.m. – Announcers’ meeting, Shawn Davis’ office, Thomas & Mack Center
6:20 p.m. – Begin pre-performance announcing at announcers’ stand
6:45-9 p.m. – Rodeo performance
9:30-10:30 p.m. – Rehearsal for next night’s performance
11 p.m.-Midnight – Host post-performance shows at different locations around town
*Midnight – Sleep
*An optimistic and usually unrealistic goal on most nights.