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Updated Thursday, October 23, 2008 2:39 PM
BY EDWARD SOUTHERLAND
For more than 30 years, he got up at 4 a.m., five days a week, so people in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma would know the price of cattle in Oklahoma and wheat in Chicago. Most people didn't much care to be sure, but if you were a farmer or a rancher, that information was critical to your economic survival. Today, the information is a mouse click away, but before the Internet, there was Rudy Dockray and the farm report.
Actually, when Dockray started on KXII-TV on June 15, 1966, the program was called "12 Acres," a name he kept until KTEN-TV lured him to Channel 10 in 1985. From then on, the show was "The Rudy Dockray Farm and Ranch Report."
But that's getting ahead of the story, which starts in Bois d'Arc, Mo. where Dockray was born. He did not stay long in the "Show Me State," as the Dockray family soon moved to a farm south of Pauls Valley, Okla. near the small community of Wynnewood (Pronounce that "Winniewood"; we checked). His father worked for Marathon Oil.
"There were three boys in my family, and my dad had a working arrangement with a businessman in Pauls Valley who owned some land, several hundred acres, and he needed someone to work his place. So dad arranged that the three of us would operate it," said Dockray.
"We ran cattle; we hayed it, cut it, raked it, baled it, stacked it the barn, and that's how we were raised. My younger brother was still in elementary school, my older brother was high school, and I was in between. We operated that way for years."
The farming brothers lost one third of their work force when Dockray's older brother graduated from high school and joined the Air Force. When Dockray finished school at Wynnewood High, he made a change too. "I finally decided I needed to do something besides work all the time," he said. "I first got a job at the Wynnewood refinery, but it didn't take long to find out that that wasn't it for me, so I decided to go to school."
In 1954, Dockray enrolled at Oklahoma A&M, studied agriculture and four years later graduated with the first class to show the new name of their college, Oklahoma State University, on their diplomas. With his new earned credentials in had, Dockray got a job teaching ag classes in Bokchita, a small town west of Durant. It was a good fit for eight years.
"Right after school ended in 1966, I was sitting in the superintendent's office when the phone rang, and he handed it to me," Dockray recalled. "It was Chuck Balding, the station manager at Channel 12 in Sherman. He said, 'You have been recommended to me as a person to hire, if I can hire you. When can you come to Sherman to see me?'
"I went the next day. The call was on Thursday; I met with him on Friday, and I went on the air the next Monday." By the time he went off the air, Dockray had done more than 10,000 programs. He never found out the name of the person who had recommended him to Balding.
Dockray was in the dark about how to do a television show, so he turned to Balding for help. The station manager told him to write a script and deliver the information like a news broadcast. "I tried that for a few weeks, but it just didn't work," said Dockray. So he came up with a new format, one that served without much change for his entire television career.
He also brought another twist to broadcasting. "I was smart enough to know that if I was going to succeed in the business, I had to be responsible for the business. So I made a deal with the station that I would sell my show."
Dockray did not rely on the station's sales reps to find sponsors, so he could tailor his pitch and his offerings to fit each of his "clients." The idea was more than successful. When he retired in 1998, most of his original clients were still with him, although several had changed ownership and management two or three times. "It wasn't a matter of selling them; it was a matter of taking care of them," he said.
His client list included all the stockyards (livestock sales) in the station's market except one -- "I canceled him because he was always complaining. He was a complaining individual" -- farm equipment dealers (tractors, etc.), financial institutions (farm loans), automobile dealers (trucks and cars), farm supply companies (seed, fertilizer and more). If a farmer or rancher needed it, and somebody sold it in Texoma, they advertised on Dockray's twice daily farm report.
"I made an agreement with the clients. I told them I'd put them on a budget that they could live with in good times and bad, because agriculture is so cyclical, up and down. If you get in trouble, you tell me, and I'll get you off the books. If you don't make it, I don't make. They were handshake agreements."
The advertising business is notorious for having collection problems, but not Dockray. He took care of business, and the businesses took care of him, and on time too.
For the first eight years, Dockray did two shows a day, from 6:30 to 7 a.m. and from 12:30 to 1 p.m. "I'd open with headline news, just short headlines, not complete stories, then I go to commercial. I'd come back with the farm and ranch news, national, regional, local. Then I'd do the weather. I'd follow that with markets. I'd do the Oklahoma City and Fort Worth livestock markets. Then I'd do the grain markets and the commodity markets -- wheat, corn, soybeans, live cattle, feeder cattle. I'd follow that with the local markets, the local stockyards. I had from McAlester to Pilot Point, from Paris to Ada and Ardmore. It was a pretty wide range. I'd close the show with a guest." The guests ranged from agriculture VIPs to country music stars such as Loretta Lynn and her sister, Crystal Gayle.
Because his broadcasts reached so many people, Dockray became the fellow who represented the station with the noon speech at the Lion's Club or the 4-H banquet. He was also much sought after as an announcer for local agricultural events. When tractor pulls took off, Dockray was the man on the mic.
He also became, as he puts it, "the voice of agriculture for this area." He had the ear of national and state officials as well as congressmen and state representatives, and when he thought it necessary, he picked up the telephone and let them know what the farmers and ranchers in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma wanted and needed.
Dockray said that he was a detail man, "very organized." He planned and anticipated and rarely, if ever, was he surprised or caught off guard while on the air -- well, once.
"I remember the total surprise, what happened to me on my 25th anniversary. My guest failed to show up that day, but it didn't ring a bell. When I finished my last market, people started pouring into the studio from every entrance in the station, through the control room, through the back entrance, and wondered what was going on.
"Everybody started hollering, and I got upset real quick. Management was there, my clients were there, my family, all these people that the station had brought in for a special day. We were on the air 'til -- well, I don't know when we got off the air that day. That was my biggest surprise."
When Rudy Dockray signed off for the last time on Aug. 28, 1998, the farm report signed off with him. He had planned a lakeside retirement on Lake Fork Reservoir north of Mineola -- "It's the best bass fishing lake in Texas" -- but his wife Betty's health problems made the move impractical. So for the last decade, the couple have lived in their home in Denison where, if they step out the front door, they can see the sun bouncing off the waters of Waterloo Lake.
There are children and grandchildren for the Dockrays to keep up with, and a couple of times a day, Rudy gets on the Web to check the price of hogs in Omaha. Old habits fade slowly.
Reporters have several stock questions for interviews, one of which is "What is your biggest disappointment?"
"I don't have any disappointments," said Dockray. "I could not ask for a group of people to have treated me any better during my years on the air than my two station managers. Life has been good to me. I have been blessed."
Comments ... 4 found!
I remember watching as a child as well (with m y Dad). I have since grown up and had opportunities to work alongside Mr Dockray as he has continued his efforts to serve his community while coping with the new set of circumstances that life has brought. His "old school of thought" includes hard work, accepting responsibility, being thankful, and helping others along the way whenever possible. There aren't many being made from this mold in our world today. I, for one, certainly appreciate Mr Dockray and his values as well as his efforts to pass them along to future generations. Thanks, too, to the Herald Democrat for such a refreshing article.
12 Acres Watcher turned Co-worker
Rudy Dockray was a blessing to the farmers & ranchers in this area, of whom one was my Dad. We watched his broadcasts without fail and as a child, my brother and I ran into Mr. Dockray coming out of an elevator in Wilson N Jones Hospital. He was a celebrity and it impressed us immensely! I'm glad we grew up watching and I'm happy that Mr.& Mrs. Dockray are still in the Texoma area!
I worked with Rudy and Betty at Channel 12 back in the 70's. They are both first class people and a joy to have worked with. Thanks for this story. It's nice to read good articles about good people!
My special needs son use to watch the farm and ranch reports with his aunt when he was little. He liked seeing all the animals on tv. he watched it every day and he knew the music when the show started, and would run into her room to watch it with her! thanks for many memories!! Ms. Wilson
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