Saying Goodbye to Chad Nicholson: The voice at the heart of rodeo
for Tri-State Livestock News
Chad Nicholson was known as the ‘Voice of the Black Hills Roundup.’ A PRCA announcer since 1993, he had announced the Roundup in Belle Fourche for over twenty years. His voice was unmistakable; once you heard it you never forgot it. That voice, heard at rodeos in thirty-nine US states and around the world, was silenced by a freak accident May 17, 2019.
Friends and colleagues are still in shock.
Hank and Lori Franzen, Powder River Rodeo, Riverton, Wyoming, hired Nicholson to announce at the Black Hills Roundup.
“Chad started announcing for us a little over twenty years ago,” Lori said. “He was young, just starting out, and we were looking for new talent. He was excited and passionate. He had such a talented voice, but he was also a fun person. He was very approachable. Not all announcers are, but you could always visit with Chad. He had a really good working relationship with our family.”
Not only did Nicholson work for the Franzens announcing many area rodeos including Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and Rock Springs and Riverton Wyoming, he mentored Hank and Lori’s daughter, Jill Franzen-Loden, in the art of rodeo sound.
“Chad started Jill out when she was sixteen,” Lori said. “She was doing the music at a rodeo for us and he gave her pointers as we went along. Now she does sound at rodeos all over the country.”
Jill Franzen-Loden was named 2018 PRCA Music Director of the year, and Lori credits Nicholson with coaching her daughter in the business of rodeo audio.
“He had a lot of love for the contract personnel at the rodeos. He loved the committees and worked alongside them to make each rodeo better. He went to a lot of radio stations to do ads to help with ticket sales. The people at the rodeo in Belle all feel that we’re all there for a reason, and you have to have a passion for the success of the rodeo,” Lori said.
Chad Nicholson was no exception.
“We had worked together for so long I just kind of knew what was coming next. We had so much camaraderie, working together behind the scenes to make everything work well,” Franzen shared. “He really worked hard at announcing and had a real passion for it. He loved everybody, and really cared about rodeos.”
Lori also saw Chad’s funny side behind the scenes.
“He wore ear buds so he could hear himself as he went along, but that often meant he couldn’t hear the person next to him. Sometimes I’d say something and he wouldn’t hear me even though I was standing right next to him, so I’d have to tap him on the ear and say, ‘Hey!’ to get his attention!”
Franzen has not yet begun to look for an announcer to replace Nicholson. “I have over six rodeos to get filled,” she said.
Josh Rivinius, PRCA bullfighter from Elgin, ND, first met Chad Nicholson in 2003.
“He was one of those guys who made friends right off the bat,” Rivinius remembered. “He was very warm and made a person feel comfortable. He always had time for a person, and he was someone you could always look up to like a big brother.”
Rivinius got to know Nicholson better when Chad gave him a ride from a rodeo in Coleman, TX to the airport at Fort Worth, and they worked several events together over the years.
“Chad was one of the good guys,” Josh said. “He was a true American. He had served in the military and he was very proud of his country.”
Justin Tupper, Black Hills Roundup executive committee member and former chairman said that Nicholson’s openings were stirring.
“Chad had a voice made for the Fourth of July,” Justin remembered. “His opening about the flag was the best you’ll ever hear. It would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. He was a former U.S. Marine, so it really meant something to him. Announcing was more than just a job for him without a question. There are not many people who put forth that level of effort.”
Rivinius recalls Nicholson’s good heart. “He never talked bad about anybody and he was always the same guy no matter where he was, whether he was in Vegas or in a small town somewhere. He had a distinct voice and he was a real professional.”
Nicholson was an iconic figure with a prestigious career, but Rivinius said Chad took pride in every event he announced, big and small.
“Chad was not someone who would just show up once, work the rodeo, get a paycheck and leave,” Rivinius said. “He kept coming back. He was a helper and wanted to see better things for each rodeo. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Tupper, said that Nicholson was a good friend to many. “He had a unique ability to remember a person: if he met you once he didn’t forget your name.”
“Chad was the ‘Voice of the Black Hills Roundup’ but he also participated in the Belle Fourche community. Over the years he bought vehicles at Scott Peterson Motors, and did business with our sponsors. He invested in the development of the Roundup. He wanted to grow with the rodeo. I remember sitting around after the rodeo, enjoying some refreshments, and talking with him about moving to a four-day rodeo with two nights of fireworks.”
Changes were made, and in 2018 the Black Hills Roundup received the Medium Sized Rodeo of the Year award. Nicholson announced the award at the PRCA convention last December, and Tupper felt it was very fitting.
Nicholson wasn’t the kind who was just there to get paid, Tupper said. “He had lots of ideas about ways to grow the rodeo. He had a phrase he used often, and I don’t know if he came up with it or not but he sure used it a lot: ‘You pay for the whole seat but you’ll only need the edge.’”
Tupper said that Nicholson spoke extremely highly of his wife, Jennifer Welch Nicholson, and was very proud of her PRCA specialty act, the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls. Nicholson was part of the production team when they were invited to represent the United States at her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th Diamond Jubilee celebration, All the Queen’s Horses, in 2012.
As the Roundup prepares for its 100th anniversary rodeo in July, Chad Nicholson’s voice is going to be absent.
“He will be deeply missed,” Tupper said.
Dennis Halstead, PRCA rodeo clown from Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, traveled with Chad and worked many rodeos with him over the years.
“We were like brothers,” Dennis said. “He was a great guy, he had a heart of gold, and he lived every day to the fullest.”
The interaction between the rodeo clown and the announcer is a big part of each rodeo. Some clowns ‘click’ better with some announcers than with others. Halstead and Nicholson ‘clicked.’
“Chad and I had so much chemistry,” Dennis said. “I could bring tears to his eyes. He never knew what I was going to say next. I’ve always said a rodeo clown’s show is nothing without a good announcer.”
Nicholson and Halstead’s relationship went beyond the rodeo arena. “Every time we had a break in between rodeos Chad took me somewhere,” Halstead remembered. “No matter where we went it was always exciting. Once I woke up in Sturgis with a tattoo because of Chad. He took me to pro football games, to baseball games, to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. As a Canadian, this was kind of a big deal.”
Halstead did his share to liven up the friendship.
“I played so many practical jokes on him… and I’ll never forget the last one. Chad lived to golf, and he was quite competitive. When we were out there it was every man for himself. Recently we were playing a pretty fancy course and Chad got himself a cigar, and he was smoking that stinkin’ thing all day. He was ahead of me by a couple of strokes, and he set the cigar down on a rock while he was driving. Now, I’ve got dentures, because a bull kicked me in the mouth, so while he was driving I took my dentures out and stuck his cigar in my dentures and took a picture of his cigar in my dentures sitting on that rock. He finished his shot, and said, ‘How do you like that?’ and just then I texted him the picture I’d taken. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he saw that picture of his cigar in my dentures! He just took that cigar out of his mouth and threw it as far as he could.”
Halstead is still numb from the news of Chad’s death.
“I think in our business we often focus too much on the gold buckles and the world titles and forget how precious life truly is. Chad lived life to the full every day. Events like this make us appreciate what’s truly important in life,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that he’s gone. Chad and I had that special chemistry every time we worked a rodeo. I will never be able to replace that.”
Lori Halstead feels the same way.
“I will replace him and go on,” she said, “But no one will ever fill his shoes. He was a really special person.”