Boyd Polhamus was in his element last March, doing what he does best while announcing the rodeo at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Eight days into it, the show was shut down, beginning a string of one cancelation after another. Among those cancelations are the Fort Bend County and Austin County fairs, two he regularly announces this time of year. There’s been a whole lot of others shut down in between.
“COVID still hasn’t blown over,” Polhamus said in a recent phone interview.
There have been a few rodeos for him to announce during the pandemic, but those are a far cry from the 40 events on average that kept him on the road for about 280 days a year for the last 30 or so years.
Polhamus is widely recognized as one of the top rodeo announcers in the world and when there isn’t a pandemic closing everything down, his services are in high demand. He announces some of the biggest rodeos in the country, including Houston, Denver and the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, to some of the smaller county fairs such as the ones in Bellville and Rosenberg, which are local for him. Although he was born in Wisconsin, he has lived most of his life in Texas, much of that with his wife Sandee on a ranch in Brenham.
“I feel like I’m a Texas boy,” he said.
His familiar voice is deep and gruff with hint of Texas twang and the feel of the rugged individualism of the American cowboy. But he is soft-spoken and folksy in a conversational way, especially behind the microphone. That’s probably because he is home no matter where he goes.
“It’s like a family reunion everywhere I go. It doesn’t matter if it’s Bellville, Rosenberg, or Nampa, Idaho, members of my rodeo family are there,” he said.
Polhamus, 55, and his wife don’t have children of their own and consider many in the sport to be their children or extended family members. It’s that closeness he has with competitors, stockmen, promotors, and more that allows him to be so familial while chatting up the crowd between rides and events.
“Once you hear about Aunt Rosey and Uncle Jim, you know Aunt Rosey and Uncle Jim,” he said.
He also has a special relationship with the bullfighters (clowns), who keep riders safe during he bull rides. He singled out Leon Coffee and Dusty Tuckness as close friends.
“I hate to beat a dead horse, but they’re family,” he said.
He said he has had many a long political discussion with Coffee and has built a special relationship with him over the years.
“They should get paid a lot more for what they do,” he said.
Like Tuckness, he is very open about his Christian faith, something many in the sport share.
“What you see is what you get,” Polhamus said. “You don’t find a lot of fakeness in our industry and you respect people for that.”
Polhamus knows most of the cowboys and cowgirls, their families, their trials and their successes. It’s keeping up with the standings, earnings, and who’s done what lately that requires work.
“I put in four hours a day into just doing the research,” he said.
All of that happens when he’s not crisscrossing the country on the rodeo circuit. Polhamus didn’t set out to be an announcer. He was a competitor in college for Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, now Texas State University.
“I was decent at some events and OK at others, but I knew I wasn’t going to be competitive enough to feed my family,” he said. “I never competed at the professional level.”
While traveling with his roommates, he would often joke around pretending to be an announcer.
“I was telling stories about my rodeo family at college … and got asked to announce a college rodeo,” he said. “Other colleges heard me and asked me to announce their rodeos when I was in their town.”
Seeing that he wasn’t going to compete, announcing was a way to keeping him going at the professional level with the sport he loves.
“I got that same adrenaline rush that I had as a competitor when I flipped the microphone to ‘on’ and knew everybody was going to be judging me … It made me want to do well,” he said.
He was so good at his job that in 1990 he was invited to be an alternate at the National Finals Rodeo – the sport’s championship event. He was an alternate five times before getting a starting nod. He has been a lead announcer at the NFR 22 years and in 2018 was promoted to general manager of the rodeo. After two years in the position, he left when they could not come to terms on a contract. In all, he has been involved with the NFR 29 of the last 30 years.
Within a couple months of leaving the NFR, the pandemic hit. Currently Polhamus is still doing a few announcing jobs and a lot of voice-over work during this transition period.
“I’m continuing to try to be as good a rodeo announcer as I can for the venues that trust me to carry their message,” he said.
One of the questions he is most often asked is if he has a favorite rodeo.
“You can’t do that to me,” he said, adding that it is like asking a parent which child is their favorite.
“There are things that I absolutely love about every place I go,” he said.