Calgary’s “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” opened on July 3 and runs to July 12, so if you live elsewhere, there is still plenty of time to reach our fair city. If you are a Calgarian, likely at some time during the annual event, you will head down to the grounds and take in some of the events and activities.
The efforts of many go into making it a success. Its long history includes rodeo events, but there have been many, other unsung heroes or “stars.” That includes the announcers who explain events and entertain the thousands who attend the arena events. In Awed, Amused and Alarmed: Fairs, Rodeos and Regattas in Western Canada, I explored a little of their history, and here is what I had to say:
Local auctioneers were great choices for announcer. The auctioneer knew the people, knew livestock, and was never speechless. In Calgary, Josh Henthorn had announced at the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. By 1919, he was a dance instructor in the city, and as a sideline, Henthorn announced at the city’s Victory Stampede….
Warren Cooper was another who found fame announcing for rodeos in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and BC. Born in Calgary in 1902, Warren was one of nine children. He was slow to find his niche in life, but then, he had a slow and easy-going personality. He became known as “Coop,” to rodeo and auction mart patrons and got along with everyone. He was never in a hurry to get or finish a job, but, in reality, he was always busy. Yet the relaxed image was perfect for his job.
Nanton had become the family home, but his job took him around the country. He had taken an auctioneering course in Idaho and travelled cattle country doing sales. The experience refined his skill at getting the most out of a crowd–the most money and the most good will.
Not surprisingly, those traits lead him to the announcer’s booth at rodeos…..
Always, he had the knack for telling a rodeo yarn. For western Canadian events, he found the perfect balance between folksy and friendly, information and boosterism. He was smart enough to announce details and rules for events, acknowledge the home communities of competitors, pump up expectations, play down failures, and do it all without stepping into the role that was designated to the rodeo judge.
It was a fine line to walk, but announcers helped understand and value events, and organizers knew it. In Calgary and across the country, great announcers such as Ed Whalen became so closely linked with events, local audiences were deeply saddened by their retirements or passing away. But the shows went on, and new voices filled the silence. Today’s announcers face stiff competition from those who preceded them, but with talent and luck, they, too, will make their mark. And all of us who work with audiences can learn from them, whether we are presenting our writing or programs to young and old.