“Calling the action and the musical accompaniment makes the show.”
While contention of some likely is that arena competition is most important, in reality how those in the grandstand perceive what’s happening on the arena floor is the most important of all.
Days are bygone of everybody understanding every occurrence when the chute opens and a wild bronc explodes as a cowboy spurs wildly into the air.
However, as details of the colorful bucking horse’s heritage, and the highly conditioned athlete on board, are explained in a layperson’s lingo with modern musical background tying it together, the rodeo spectator goes home enthusiastically planning return with neighbors and friends at toe.
The sport of rodeo grows, as contestants, contractors, committee and all benefit, thanks to The Rodeo Announcer.
“I work hard to make every performance an improvement over the last one with intimate details about the livestock, the cowboys and cowgirls and the most enhancive modern music,” insisted Charlie McKellips, proven one of the top young rodeo announcers around.
“I spend lots of time studying the livestock, standings and successes of contestants, listening to music and talking to and seeking advice from other professional rodeo announcers,” related McKellips, honored as the International Finals Rodeo Contracts Acts winner in the announcer division last year.
“That was one of my goals when I started announcing rodeos about six years ago. I’ve always wanted to do the best I can colorfully informatively describing the intimate details of the rodeo arena action to our paying spectators. Now, I have to hold up to and continue to expand my level of announcing standards,” added McKellips, son of Chuck and Regan McKellips of C-R McKellips Rodeo Company at Raymore, Missouri.
“I grew up around rodeo, competed in steer wrestling, team roping and calf roping and was on the Fort Scott Community College Rodeo Team,” he noted.
Involved in all aspects of rodeo production including serving as a pickup man for C-R McKellips Rodeo Company, McKellips stepped into the announcer’s box at one of the contracting family’s rodeos and has met what should be called phenomenal appeal and success.
“I’ve been announcing about 50 performances a year, then got to announce the United Rodeo Association Finals last fall and have a rodeo in St. Louis this weekend for a another contractor. So, I’ve really been happy about where my announcing career has progressed,” McKellips appreciated.
Looking to why he’s in such demand and appreciated by all involved in the sport of rodeo, McKellips contended: “The main thing is I am myself. I don’t try to copy anybody. It’s my style. My advance study and knowledge of the livestock and the records of the contestants are essential. I describe every run individually as comprehensively and with as much color and detail as possible within the short time I have in order to make rodeo exciting for everybody.”
Always eager to improve in any way he can, McKellips said, “Scott Grover and Brandon McLagan are top rodeo announcers, and they been my mentors, who I go to for advice for progress and to make changes in my style to continue to develop.”
An avid follower of televised professional rodeo and bull riding competitions, McKellips is intent on the commentary, seeking words, clichés, and uniqueness for incorporating into his own announcing jargon.
“I’ve been to the National Finals Rodeo several times and am an avid follower of Boyd Polhamus, many times professional rodeo announcer of the year, being aware of all of his personal announcing techniques,” McKellips said.
Contrasting rodeos announcing of earlier decades, music is a key to a rodeo production. “Technology is big in rodeo today. I keep all of the stats on my computer tablet and run all the music myself right from my laptop,” explained McKellips, admitting that initially required considerable coordination to air the best music at the precise time while appropriately describing the arena action.
“I listen to a lot of rodeo music, watch many bull ridings and incorporate the latest sounds into the rodeo performances I announce. I have an extensive music library, but it’s so important to keep current with the right sounds and background. There’s so much to gain with appropriate music,” McKellips said.
All of this is fine and dandy, but it’s all worthless without a quality sound system. “I have my own system. It’s not the most elaborate there is, but it’s the most essential part of announcing a rodeo. If the spectators can’t hear or understand the announcer, it kills the rodeo dead in its tracks. They won’t come back if they can’t hear details of what’s the action is in the arena. That’s just a simple fact,” McKellips emphasized.
Although sometimes there has been skepticism about the future of rodeo in such a computerized, fast moving modern society, McKellips is animate in his belief for the sport.
“Rodeo has never been better, and it’s continuing to improve from every aspect. The quality of cowboys is the best ever, we have the best livestock in the history of the sport and prize money continues to climb all of the time. This is a professional sport with more and more top athletes wanting to be a part of it,” he declared.
Backing his philosophy, McKellips pointed out, “There was the first million dollar one day rodeo open to all contestants this past spring, RFD TV’s event called The American. Las Vegas has just signed a contract to continue hosting the National Finals Rodeo. Our New Year’s Rodeo Stampede in Kansas City was one of the biggest winter rodeos in the Midwest with 1,600 contestants over four days. Everything is optimistic for the future of the sport.
“Added to that, livestock continues to improve. The bucking bulls have been developed through breeding programs and futurities, so there aren’t just one or two top bulls at a rodeo, but cowboys can win on any bull they draw, because every bull there is exceptional.
“Now, through the Born to Buck programs, bucking horse breeders are having futurities so the draws are just as tough and consistent. Top bucking horses and prospects sold at a recent auction for $20,000 to more than $50,000,” continued McKellips, who still occasionally contests in the bulldogging, and does some roping at the rodeo ranch.
“I’ve got a horse I’m trying to get seasoned to do more competition steer wrestling,” he said.
Recognizing the cost to travel has escalated, McKellips responded: “There are such large added purses and incentive programs along with individual corporate sponsorship programs that it has become possible for professional contestants to make a good living in rodeo.
“Plus, there are other organizations such as the United Rodeo Association and the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association, which both sanction a number of the rodeos I announce, that allow for tough competition closer to home for those rodeo contestants who have full time jobs yet want to rodeo just on weekends,” McKellips continued.
So what’s McKellips’ personal future?
“When I started announcing rodeos, I set three objectives; to announce the URA Finals which I did, to claim the International Finals announcer’s award which I did. Now, I still want to announce the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association Finals at the Missouri State Fair next, and I think that’s a strong possibility in the future,” he related.
This takes on special significance when McKellips relates a “couple of tidbits” about his public speaking history. “They wouldn’t let me be the student announcer when I was in high school, and I had to drop out of speech class in college, even though I ended up taking it later and got an ‘A.’ Now I’m making living as a rodeo announcer. There has to be some irony about that.”
Admitting he’s satisfied at his level of success to date, McKellips related, “My goals now are to get my card to announce at PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and PBR (Professional Bull Riders) events, then announce the finals for both of those organizations.”
Nearby, McKellips is anticipating his position in the announcer’s box at the 44th annual Santa Fe Trail Rodeo to be hosted by the Burlingame Saddle Club Friday and Saturday evenings at Burlingame.
“I’ve announced the Burlingame rodeo five years. I love to come to Burlingame. It’s the first outdoor rodeo of the year for C-R McKellips Rodeo Company, and I anticipate it so much. The committee is so dedicated to putting on an outstanding rodeo. Everybody is so nice.
“We have a full slate of outstanding contestants, and the rodeo stock is fat and sassy coming out of winter rest. Plus, there’ll be the Kansas Pride and Glory Riders performing at both performances along with outstanding contract acts, comical clowns and the best bull fighters. I look forward to seeing everybody at Burlingame Friday and Saturday evenings, at 8 o’clock,” McKellips welcomed.