Meet the Rodeo Company Rockin’ K Rodeo
story by Siri Stevens Tony Keeton started his company, Rockin’ K Rodeo in 2017. It’s not his only full time job. Tony has worked for […]
story by Michele Toberer
“I never would have believed all those years ago that this is how I’d be making a living,” explains Mark Northall, a professional rodeo announcer with a career spanning over 25 years and counting. Born in Ohio, Mark has lived a little bit of everywhere since. He grew up riding cutting and reining horses, and even competed as a calf and team roper. With a passion for reining, he spent several years training and riding reining horses after graduating high school. Mark also worked as a finance advisor at a car business and as a stock broker but could never kick his draw to the boots and spurs lifestyle. While at a Michigan arena to judge a rodeo, Shane Engstrom of Flying Star Rodeo convinced him to announce the rodeo when his scheduled announcer didn’t show up “It was one of the only indoor arenas around, so in the winter, the who’s who of rodeo came there to work and compete.” Stuart Pletcher worked as a pick-up man and the two developed a friendship as Mark eventually announced rodeos every Saturday there for four years. It was Stuart that convinced Mark to go to the IPRA Showcase at the IFR in 2000, and that’s when the course of Mark’s career truly began to change. At the showcase, bullfighters, barrel men, dress acts, comedy acts, and announcers show their wares as they compete jackpot style against the others. Mark competed there twice, both times taking second place, and it proved to be a springboard into a full-time rodeo announcing career. “The IPRA Showcase launched my career. From there, the phone started ringing and I booked a whole season of Big Hat rodeos in Illinois.”
While at a Big Hat rodeo, Mark met his wife of 14 years, Brittney. Brittney’s mom, Vanessa Bogner, was a timer, and step-dad Dale Bogner, was a pick-up man, and during a season of seeing her come to the rodeos with them, the two became a couple. Mark later judged the IFR48 showcase with Lenora Calzavara of Big Hat Rodeo Company and told her, “If you hadn’t hired me, who knows who my wife would have been? Because of rodeo, I met the love of my life and we now have two daughters, Cheyenne, 12, and Abilene, 7.”
Mark hired on with the Dixie Stampede, working in Florida for a year before transferring to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to announce over 600 shows each year. “For 6 or 7 years I announced at rodeos as well as the Dixie Stampede, and although my family was eating good, I was gone 7 days a week and knew that wasn’t how I wanted to live.” Five years ago, Mark left the Dixie Stampede to lighten his schedule and focus on rodeos alone. “I learned so much about showmanship during my time there. Every 90-minute show is completely scripted to get 92 reactions from the crowd. More than once a minute you’re engaging the audience and getting them to feel or do something.” That experience has helped Mark in the rodeo world because every stock contractor and rodeo committee wants their audience to be engaged and involved.
“Everywhere you go there is a connection to someone or somewhere you’ve been. I’ve made the best friends all over the country, I think I could get help anywhere if I had trouble.” Of course, traveling has its own set of challenges, “You become part trucker and part truck driver having to maintain your vehicles and keep yourself going down the road. I tell people I really get paid to get to and from the rodeos, I announce for free.” Being able to travel with his family has been a huge bonus, and two years ago while making a big northern rodeo run, the family made memories as they spent several months on the road. “We picked the girls up from school with the truck and trailer and didn’t get back home until the second day school started after summer was over. It’s an unorthodox way to live but awards a lot of freedoms that are pretty special.”
Over the years many have helped Mark grow in his career. IFR announcer, Cotton Yancey, of Mississippi was one of Mark’s earliest influences. Mike Wentworth, a 3-time IPRA clown of the year has been a great friend. “Mike has been giving me honest, constructive criticism for over 20 years, he’s been my go-to guy when I’m not sure about how things are working.” IPRA contractor, Lonestar Rodeo Company has given Mark the opportunity to announce at their rodeos for nearly 15 years and has been a huge influence on his career. “The third-generation of Preston Fowlkes’ family is at the helm now, and the entire family has been a great source of advice and support for my career. I’m so grateful to all the contractors and committees that I’ve had the honor to work with over the years.”
Mark is grateful to the IPRA for the opportunity to announce at the past two IFRs. “IFR48 was incredible and showed me how intertwined cowboy life really is. I announced with Garrett Yerigan, who I first had on the mic at a rodeo when he was just 8 years old and had worked with several times over the years. I worked at rodeos, and even the Dixie Stampede, with the roman trick-rider, Dusti Dickerson, since she was 14 years old. The rodeo clown, Dusty Myers; I had announced at the first rodeo he ever clowned at several years ago. I saw so many connections that had come together at one event.” Mark was especially honored that the IPRA trusted him with the position and asked him back for a second time to announce IFR49. “It is an honor to make a living like this. Back when the opportunity came to play a rodeo cowboy, that’s all I wanted to do; after all, who doesn’t want to be a cowboy?”
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