Bendele’s sleight of hand makes for sweet sounds of rodeo

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I wrote this piece for the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend in Claremore, Okla. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work with that committee, just as I am with some of the best talent in ProRodeo. This is about Benje Bendele, the top sound guy in the business. You’ll see why.

When Benje Bendele clicks his fingers, something magical usually happens.

Benje Bendele works the sound at the Dayton (Iowa) Championship Rodeo over Labor Day weekend. (PHOTO BY TED HARBIN)
Benje Bendele works the sound at the Dayton (Iowa) Championship Rodeo over Labor Day weekend. (PHOTO BY TED HARBIN)

Ah, the life of the preeminent sound and effects man in ProRodeo. If it happens in the arena, the speakers rumble with a complementary sound. It’s a split-second, a click and a style that has led the Texan to many of the biggest rodeos in North America.

“It’s been a great ride,” said Bendele, who has lent his talents the last nine years to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. “Rodeos have picked up this format. They’ve left the traditional brass bands, and they realize that this is another aspect of the performances.”

And that’s one of the reasons he will be a major player in the three performances of the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 28, Saturday, May 29, and Sunday, May 30, at Will Rogers Stampede Arena.

“This is a big deal for the Will Rogers Stampede to get the No. 1 sound guy in the business,” rodeo chairman David Petty said. “I’m excited we were able to bring him to Claremore, because he adds so much to the show. The reason he’s worked the NFR so many times is because he’s simply the best.”

The effects and music can’t be choreographed, because the action doesn’t allow it. But with split-second timing, Bendele finds the right music or right sound effect to bring together that excellent ride, fast time or explosive dismount.

“I think the thing I like about my career is being part of the way the rodeo is watched and taken in by rodeo fans and how that’s changed in the last 10 years,” he said. “It’s changed drastically in the last five years. It’s just the way sporting events in general are being seen, and we, in the rodeo business, have to keep up with that. I’ve been part of that, part of the goal in our sport.

“It’s how our sport evolves.”

That’s something Bendele understands well. He started his rodeo career as a contestant, then followed his passion for the sport to the announcer’s stand and on to the sound booth. Beginning at age 9, he competed in youth, high school and college rodeo as a team roper and tie-down roper. He even tried his hand at bull-riding, which lasted 15 seconds – five bulls at an average of three seconds each.

“It was then and there that I decided that bull riding was not for me,” he said.

No matter. Bendele has used that experience and an insider’s understanding of the extreme sport to stand out among his peers. Not only does he work the annual championship, but he’s also been hired to produce sound for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Calgary Stampede, Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo, Dodge City (Kan.) Round-Up Rodeo, and the tour finales in Dallas and Omaha, Neb., just to name a few.

He’s also worked his way up the charts, so to speak, with ingenuity and hard work. In fact, he got the NFR job while working at a rodeo in Glens Falls, N.Y.

“I knew Shawn Davis, the general manager of the NFR, was looking for a music guy for the Dallas event, so I called him up from a little hotel room,” Bendele said. “I’d set up all my equipment in this room, kind of a mini-studio, and when I called him, he asked, ‘What can you do for me?’

“So I put on a little show. By the end of the conversation, I was hired. I did the Dallas event, and at that point, they hired me for the NFR.”

Bendele got his start 22 years ago when, at the age of 20, he fell into a job while accompanying his brother to a youth rodeo. There was no announcer available, so Bendele jumped in, and a career was born.

“I started announcing at that time,” he said. “I worked a bunch of youth rodeos after that, then started working some open rodeos. I got tired of showing up to places where the sound wasn’t good, so I bought a small sound system.

“I was getting called more for my sound, so in 2001, I made the decision to start focusing on the sound.”

And even though his focus is on the sound, he has been voted by other announcers to serve as their representative on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s executive council. It’s a position on the political side of the business he takes very seriously and has leaned on the assistance of others, including the late Clem McSpadden, a former statesman from Chelsea who was a legend in rodeo.

“I did ask advice from Clem, and he gave it honestly,” Bendele said. “I had the chance to work with Clem in Dodge City, and I enjoyed working with him when I had the chance.”

He’s had plenty of enjoyable experiences, especially in the past 10 years. He recalls the days of not only hauling equipment into announcer’s stands at rodeos all across this land, but hauling cassette tapes and CDs, too. Now all the effects and music are loaded on computers, and making updates is a regular part of his job.

“We have to keep up with technology,” he said. “Digital is constantly changing. Now with the computer, it’s at the touch of a button, and there’s so much more of a variety to have.”

And whether it’s a snippet from a hip hop song or brass trumpets or the moans of a crowd, there is a defined marriage between the action in the arena and the sounds that accompany it. Bendele has orchestrated the ceremony countless time, perfecting it, even. That’s just one of the many reasons he will be in Claremore for the Will Rogers Stampede.


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