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Remembering Chad Nicholson

by Kendra Santos | Jun 11, 2019

Special to


Chad Nicholson packed a lot of life and love into his 50 years. Though his happy, full life was suddenly cut tragically short by an unimaginable accident, it surprised no one who knew Chad that his last act here on earth was helping others.

“I’ve met a lot of people in my lifetime, but I’ve never met a man who was always more concerned about everybody else around him than he was about himself,” said ProRodeo Hall of Fame announcer Bob Tallman. “Chad Nicholson was a giver, not a taker. I used to tell Chad he worked too cheap. But being raised in Texas, he had a lot of Southern gentleman manner about him. And Chad was just so satisfied when he was helping other people gain ground.


“No matter how fast he was going or how busy he was, Chad always made time to stop and visit, and he always took the time to help all the people around him before he helped himself. Chad had a special way with young people, and he took my suggestion to put an announcing school together. He held it in Fort Worth, and used the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo as a teachable moment. That rodeo was a field trip, and by watching us work, those students learned how every aspect of announcing is done.


“I referred people to Chad’s announcing school (Chad Nicholson’s Rodeo Announcer’s Training Seminar, which he started in 2005 and has since graduated more than 130 students from the U.S., Australia and Canada over the years) all the time. Sometimes people didn’t have the money to attend. When that happened, I’d pay for half and Chad didn’t charge them the other half. That was Chad. He was very good at convincing people they had worth, because he found value in everyone around him. Above all else, Chad Nicholson was a nice man.”

Chad Edward Nicholson was born September 10, 1968 in Carrollton, Texas, the son of Gerald and Sharron Nicholson. He attended Tarleton State University in Stephenville, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture. Chad was a passionately patriotic American who proudly served his country in the United States Marine Corps. In 2005, he married the love of his life, Jennifer Welch Nicholson. Together, they forged an unbreakable bond and unwavering partnership, which was based at their home ranch in Three Rivers, California.

“Chad and I were really good together,” said Jennifer, a founding member of the contract act Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls. “We were perfect life partners. I’ve been amazed by the outpouring of love for Chad, but I can’t say I’m surprised, because Chad was always sincerely happy for other people. He had a gift for championing others. He was a great friend to so many, and he was so proud of all of his rodeos. The rodeo world lost a true sportsman with Chad’s passing. It’s impossible to say how much we all will miss him. He truly loved life and always lived it to the fullest. Chad was a good man, and he was great for rodeo.”


Jennifer and Chad’s Riata Ranch International was a home, safe haven and training ground for many lucky little girls who grew up to be accomplished young women while in the Nicholsons’ care. Talented trick rider Brandi Phillips was only 13 when she became a Riata Ranch Cowboy Girl in 2003, and spent 13 years in the program.

“Chad and Jennifer met at the Woodlake Rodeo in May 2003, and I started with them that summer,” Phillips said. “That October, when we were getting ready to work at the Senior Pro Rodeo in Woodlake, Jennifer told us a rodeo announcer was coming to the ranch to watch our rehearsal. That’s when Chad and Jennifer first got together, and they were a great team from the start.


“I became a team leader, and lived on the ranch full time from when I was 18 to 26. Chad was such a leader in our program. He wanted us all to be successful. Chad was really the reason that my generation got to go out and have a career in the big rodeo world. He used his connections and introduced us to people like the Franzens and Powder River Rodeo, and people up in Canada. Chad guided us to set goals, then helped us go reach them.

“Chad became a father figure for some of us, and because he was helping raise us, he wanted us to experience everything we possibly could when we were on the road. When we were working a rodeo in South Dakota, he took us to Mount Rushmore. He took a couple of us to our first Sturgis Bike Rally. He wanted us to see Yellowstone, and took us to our first Jimmy Buffett concert. That was just Chad. While we were working hard all summer, he wanted us to experience the world. Chad was a very proud American, and he wanted us to see as much as we possibly could about all the things that make this country great.”

Chad’s powerful delivery of his signature rodeo-opening tribute to the American flag—“If Old Glory Could Speak”—was a crowd favorite at rodeos everywhere. A former rodeo contestant, he actually fell into his rodeo-announcing career by complete accident. While working for a radio station when he was in college, Chad was asked to announce a local junior rodeo. That’s all it took. He was hooked. Chad went on to announce rodeos and prestigious Western-world events in 39 states, Australia and Canada.


Chad worked more than 100 performances at Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Professional Bull Riders events each year, and earned many accolades along the way. He announced 13 RAM Circuit Finals Rodeos in the California, Mountain States, Turquoise and Wilderness circuits. The 2002 RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo announcer and 2015 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Announcer of the Year emceed the ProRodeo Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Welcome Reception during his colorful career, and last year was honored to be the voice of the 2018 PRCA Awards Banquet in Las Vegas.

Outside of professional rodeo, Chad did voice-over work for radio and television commercials worldwide. He is the voice of the talking dog on TV commercials—Chad’s voice is featured in the “horseback riding date” and “fishing date” spots—which continue to air. In 2010, Chad co-announced the World Equestrian Games Opening Ceremonies in Lexington, Kentucky, and also worked at major NASCAR tracks announcing monster truck shows.

IMG_9424Far beyond the rodeo arena, Chad announced various equestrian productions, including the Del Mar Night of the Horse at the Del Mar (California) National Horse Show, and the Spirit of the Horse in Perth, Australia. In 2012, Chad worked alongside Jennifer on the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls crew that participated in Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th Diamond Jubilee Celebration—All the Queen’s Horses—at Windsor Castle in England.

Chad was a worldly cowboy. And he was cowboy to the core. No one appreciated that fact more than the cowboys Chad introduced to rodeo crowds themselves.

“I first met Chad when I was in high school and he was announcing our (California High School Rodeo Association) state finals in Red Bluff,” said five-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho. “In all the years I knew him, what stands out the most to me about Chad was that contagious smile of his. He always had a smile on his face, and when you saw him, that smile had a way of transferring over to your face, too. I always made a point of going to talk to Chad when he was at a rodeo. He just lifted everybody up. That smile is what I’ll never forget about him. Chad never knew a stranger, and he was a special friend to us all.”

Jennifer was working the Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Hayward, California, when she got the shocking May 17 call from her 86-year-old dad, Dennis Welch, that the unthinkable had happened and Chad was gone. As Chad and Jennifer have been longstanding pillars of their community, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux had come to the ranch personally to relay the stunningly sad news. Randy Corley was announcing Hayward, and was the first person Jennifer ran to tell.


“A few years ago, Michelle (Randy’s wife) and I started what we call The GAG, which is short for The Getaway Gang,” said ProRodeo Hall of Famer Corley. “We go somewhere special with special friends, and we have a big time. Chad and Jen went with us to Maui a couple years ago, and we had a blast. That’s also when Chad, who’s always such a real doer for others, became my hero for his masterful mixing of business with pleasure.

“Chad loved to golf. He golfed every single day when his schedule permitted. If he wasn’t behind the microphone, he was either golfing or in that Jeep he loved so dearly. Chad made a daily golf-a-thon out of our trip to Maui—36 holes, minimum. I got the biggest kick out of him. Chad was always giving and helping others. It’s hard to believe he’s gone, but that he died helping someone else is no surprise at all.”

It’s true. Chad and that Jeep he loved so much were literally helping a friend out of a ditch when that tow strap broke. Besides his soulmate, Jennifer, Canadian rodeo clown Denny Halstead was as close to Chad as anyone.

“Chad and I had a chemistry very few rodeo announcers and clowns have in our business,” said Halstead, who works 140 rodeo performances a year, so has plenty of perspective for comparison sake. “We took that working relationship outside of the arena, too, and became best friends out of it. My mentor was Lecile Harris, who had a chemistry with (the late) Phil Gardenhire that was like no other. That’s what Chad and I had. There was never a script at any of our shows—we just rolled.

“There were times I had Chad laughing so hard he couldn’t speak. I would hold a chicken up to my microphone before my act, so that chicken would be clucking into Chad’s ear. We were a team, and the fun we had and the friendship we shared were fun for rodeo crowds. We weren’t just an announcer and a clown. We were a lot more than that, and it showed.

“When I think of Chad, the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is his kindness and how great a friend he was to all of us. When Chad walked into a room, he made a point to know everybody before he left that room. There was no prouder American, and Chad knew how to live it up. I saw Mount Rushmore because of Chad, and I woke up in Sturgis with a tattoo because of Chad. I got to do so many fun things I never would have done if it wasn’t for him. I’m going to miss traveling with him, and I’m going to miss him in the arena. Chad Nicholson had a heart of gold.”


Chad Nicholson’s memorial service—complete with military honors—will be held Thursday, June 13 at 3 p.m. at the Three Rivers (California) Lions Club Roping Arena, which is located at 42490 North Kaweah River Drive. 

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