For nearly 30 years, rodeo announcer Jake Grossmiller kicked off the action at the Spray Rodeo with the words “where the pavement ends and the west begins!”
This year, in recognition of Grossmiller’s decades as the voice of Spray Rodeo, he will be honored as grand marshal.
The 71st annual Spray Rodeo will be held May 26-27. Saturday and Sunday performances start at 1 p.m. Slack is at 11 a.m. May 25. The rodeo parade is at 11 a.m. May 26.
Grossmiller started attending rodeos with his father, Kenny, also a rodeo announcer, when he was about 6 and selected the pre-rodeo and grant entry music. He started announcing slack at age 10.
“Dad was insistent that I speak clearly and chop my words, instead of trailing them off,” Grossmiller said. “Most important was pronouncing the cowboys’ names correctly. It’s a habit I still have that whenever I see a printed name I sound it out.”
Soon, they were splitting announcing duties, with his father announcing the rough stock from the stands and Grossmiller announcing timed events from the roping chutes.
“We had about 100 feet of cord on a reel that we strung along the fence. No wireless mics in those days,” he recalled. “I do believe we were the first to work with two announcers from the rodeo arena.”
At 18, the Umatilla Sage Riders asked him to announce his first rodeo by himself, and he was invited back for years after that.
Grossmiller first announced the Spray Rodeo in 1961 when he was attending Eastern Oregon College in La Grande.
“When they asked, I wasn’t sure about it,” he said. “I had heard how wild and woolly Spray was. But I arranged for my sound equipment to be shipped and drove down for the weekend.”
Later, after he was married and his first child was 6 months old, he brought his family to the Spray Rodeo. He said they stayed at the “Spray Hilton” in a room the size of a closet with the bathroom down the hall. The next year, he bought the first of many travel trailers he took to rodeos nearly every weekend.
At the peak of his career, Grossmiller was announcing 22-24 rodeos around the Northwest every year. The break came in 1968 when he announced the Pacific International Livestock Exposition and Rodeo in Portland.
“There were 12 performances in 10 days,” he recalled. “I was working days driving Pepsi truck out of The Dalles. In the morning I would do my rounds and then load my truck for the next morning. After that, I’d drive to Portland to announce the rodeo, drive back home to sleep a few hours, deliver Pepsi the next day and then drive back to Portland.”
The long days — and nights — paid off. Grossmiller was noticed, and his announcing career kicked off. The Roy Pioneer Rodeo and Molalla Buckaroo immediately contracted with him to announce their rodeos, and it was the beginning of a relationship with both rodeos that lasted for 20 years.
After nearly 70 years announcing rodeos, he has endless memories of cowboys and rodeo clowns, pickup men and stock contractors. He is in the process of writing a book of his experiences titled, “Around the Arena.”
For anyone starting out in the announcer’s stand, Grossmiller shared some advice: “Take all the speech classes you can find. And don’t expect to go to the top at the beginning. It’s like making a good saddle horse — it takes lots of wet saddle blankets.
“The most important thing to remember when you’re announcing rodeos is that you are not in it for yourself or for your own glory,” he said. “You are there to do the best possible job for the people who have invested their time and money to be there — the contestants. That means being aware of everything around you, taking any opportunity to become acquainted with the cowboys and getting to know them. The better you know the contestants, the better announcer you will be.”