Having worn many hats during his professional career, Jeff Medders gears up for rodeo's Super Bowl as the TV voice of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Jeff Medders grew up on a ranch and rodeoed in high school, but he thought his cowboy days were long behind him as he pursued a career in sports broadcasting. As it turned out, though, he ended up becoming the national voice of televised rodeo.
Along the way, as many of his paths crossed through Tulsa, Medders started his own production company (Geronimo Productions), which now produces the broadcasts of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), the 10-day event every year in Las Vegas that serves as the final championship tournament for the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). He is also a significant player on the national rodeo scene.
“It’s been fun,” Medders says of his winding career path. “I don’t know that I envisioned this being the path that I was going to take, but it’s been fantastic. And I like the rodeo cowboys. You’d like to see those guys make more money, but it’s not like the money has ruined the game. They treat you like you’re one of their own.”
The fact that the athletes in both of rodeo’s governing bodies, the PRCA and Professional Bull Riders (PBR), don’t appear to have changed their humble demeanor as the sport’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past decade or so is gratifying to Medders and makes him proud to be a part of that world.
“The PRCA renegotiated their deal with Las Vegas a couple of years ago, in terms of keeping the NFR there, and the [overall] prize money jumped to $10 million,” Medders says. “It’s helped them a lot. You got guys making $350,000-400,000 now. The PBR’s done a great job of creating stars and building a television tour.”
Medders’ inclusion in the equation was somewhat coincidental. Still, once he got into that arena, he became more entrenched in it — first as the TV voice of the NFR broadcasts, and eventually starting his own company to produce them.
It all started with Medders landing a gig as an intern in Tulsa at KJRH Channel 2. Following his internship, he left town for a while to become a sports news anchor at a station in Midland/Odessa, Texas, before returning to Tulsa and Channel 2 as their weekend news anchor for five years.
“While I was at Channel 2, a company called Winnercomm started in Tulsa, and they were doing syndicated horse racing. They were a fast-rising production company, and eventually became the largest program packager for ESPN,” says Medders, an Oklahoma State University graduate. “I went to work for them in 1988, doing America’s Horse on ESPN. At first, I was a freelancer. Then in 1991, they picked up all of the PRCA rodeo stuff on ESPN. That was the first year that I did the NFR, and I’ve been the television host of the NFR ever since.
“Winnercomm went through some sales, some changes, and through that course of time, I was doing other stuff and started my own production company. We’ve done the National Finals Rodeo for the last eight years. I’m the host, but my company does all the television production too, so I wear several different hats during the NFR.”
The rodeo connection comes naturally to Medders, who grew up on a ranch in Talihina, Oklahoma (about 140 miles southeast of Tulsa), and learned some of the tricks of the trade when he was young.
“I junior rodeoed as a kid, just more down the line of steer riding. I’m a terrible roper,” he says. “We had a cow-calf operation down there, so I grew up working cattle and riding horses and doing that kind of thing. I played a bunch of stuff in high school too.
“Starting in 1991, rodeo became the center of my universe, and it’s just stayed there.”
While it was a challenge creating his own production company when his background was more as the on-air talent, Medders credits his success to his philosophy of surrounding himself with knowledgeable people to collaborate with.
“After I left Winnercomm, I freelanced with CBS, ESPN, Animal Planet, and a variety of different networks. Through the course of that stretch of 15 years, I worked with so many talented people,” says Medders. “I like the behind-the-scenes stuff, but I also know there are people who are better at it than me. I’ve worked hard always to hire talented people who have great ideas.
“I think old-school TV is like a pyramid, where there’s a guy who sits at the top dictating down to everybody else how it’s going to be. I think my model is more of a reverse pyramid. I like a lot of cooks in the kitchen. I like a lot of ideas. I like a lot of people collaborating and bringing their side of the equation, their expertise to the project. I think that’s been a good model for us, and it’s worked out well.”
And while rodeo programming is the marquee feature of its repertoire, Geronimo Productions doesn’t only cover rodeo.
“We do a lot of corporate and commercial stuff, and we’ve been involved in some bull riding series that have been on GAC and FOX,” Medders says. “Tuff Hedeman has been the front guy for that. [Hedeman won the PRCA bull riding world championship three times and the PBR championship once.] I’m still involved with Tuff on the television of his tour now, the Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour. We also do the National High School Rodeo series on RFD-TV. We’ve done several documentaries, and we’re working on several reality projects at the moment. We’re trying to branch out and do some different things in that cowboy world, which I think is untapped and has a lot of appeal for people across the country.
“I have a show right now on CBS Sports Network called Bullseye. It’s very similar to Feherty on the Golf Channel. I sit down with either legends from the past or current stars, and it’s a little more in-depth, a little rawer.”
And there’s no one better equipped to illuminate those stories than Medders.
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