When the dirt starts flying each night at the National Finals Rodeo, it’s tough to imagine a more action-packed two hours in sports. And along with the cowboys, horses and bulls, a big part of the excitement has to do with the play-by-play of announcer Bob Tallman.
The 63-year-old Nevada native with 40 years of announcing rodeos under his belt has created a style all his own. Though many have tried to follow his lead, well, no one else has managed to buck him from the booth, and he’ll be back behind the microphone Dec. 2-11 at the Thomas & Mack Center to call his 23rd NFR.
“You can’t emulate Michael Jordan,” says co-announcer Boyd Polhamus, who has worked alongside Tallman for 20 years. “Bob just has gifts and abilities that other people don’t have. … When Tallman hit the scene, he revolutionized [rodeo]. This was like going from the horse to the automobile. It just changed the way people lived life. Well that’s the same impact Tallman had on the announcing industry and the rodeo industry.”
Tallman was a small kid growing up in Winnemucca, and although he loved rodeo and the lifestyle it presented, he didn’t have the talent necessary to make it as a cowboy. So, he tried calling an amateur event in 1969, and showed enough skill to land his first NFR gig in 1975.
“I’m the most blessed man in the rodeo business,” Tallman says. “I was way too young, didn’t have a clue and didn’t really deserve to be there.”
The self-proclaimed “conservative, redneck idiot” says he’s not exactly sure how he developed his high-energy, conversational delivery—often rooting on competitors with a hearty “Hang on, cowboy!”—but he knew he didn’t want to simply imitate the stoic, formal style used by the announcers he had grown up listening to.
“I knew I had to be different in order to be noticed and in order to be accepted,” Tallman says. “And in the ’70s I had long hair because it would set me apart from them older guys. But I had to be more accurate, I had to know more stats, I had to be a better storyteller.”
Polhamus, who will be calling his 15th NFR, compares Tallman’s relationship with rodeo audiences to John Madden’s connection with NFL viewers, giving fans an intimate knowledge of the rodeo athletes as if they are old friends.
“It’s not just a way with words, which he obviously has,” Polhamus says. “He can use words and craft a vision that is so beautiful, but it’s not just that the vision is beautiful, it’s that it’s accurate.”
For Tallman, who in 2004 became the first Nevadan inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, announcing a rodeo isn’t so much finding a balance between entertaining and informing the crowd, but instead offering a blend.
“It has to be educational and entertaining, and it all has to be delivered enthusiastically, but you’ve got to have highs and lows,” he says. “You’ve got to let people breathe. You can’t just keep driving it at them all the time, so in between some heavy stuff you throw them some light stuff, and every once in a while you throw them some silence.”
The amount of preparation Tallman puts in before each rodeo has grown over the years as audiences have become more educated, although much of the information he delivers during competitions comes from his decades of experience.
“I started doing my homework in 1969 and I’ve never stopped,” he says. “And that’s year-round—on the road, at home, wherever.”
Tallman has lived in Texas for the past 20 years, including the last five in the tiny town of Poolville, near Fort Worth. When contacted by Vegas Seven, he was busy riding his tractor on his ranch, something he rarely gets a chance to do being on the road 260 days a year.
The eight-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Announcer of the Year calculates that about 12½ years of his life has been spent traveling from one event to the next, always carrying his “flying tools” of two Payday candy bars, a bag of peanut M&Ms, a USA Today and his Bible. But still he has no timetable for retirement, calling it “God’s choice, not mine.”
“I’m one of them overachieving, never-take-no-for-an-answer, no-door-has-ever-been-closed, anal-for-success idiots,” he says. “I’ve been in this business 40 years and I’m going [to the NFR] with the same or maybe more enthusiasm than I’ve ever had before. There’s a lot of big things happening in the rodeo business, and I’m just tickled ass pink to be a part of it.”