Our Newsletter to your inbox every week!
L TO R: The Cowboy Channel CEO, Raquel Gottsch Koehler, producer Karlee Peterson, CMO, Jenna Cargile, and on-air talent and Western Sports Round-Up host, Janie Johnson, on set at The Cowboy Channel studios in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Cowboy Channel, which was launched in 2017, is the official network of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the first 24-hour TV network dedicated entirely to Western sports and the Western lifestyle. Headquartered in a brand-new state-of-the-art TV studio in the Fort Worth Stockyards, The Cowboy Channel impressively beat out CBS Sports in 2019 to earn the media rights to broadcast the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) and the regular ProRodeo season.
It also happens to be the first and only sports network run by women.
CEO Raquel Gottsch Koehler worked for more than a decade in several roles for the network’s parent company, Rural Media Group, Inc., before taking the reins at The Cowboy Channel. Her sister, Gatsby Gottsch Solheim, is General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer for Rural Media Group, the parent company to RFD-TV, The Cowboy Channel, and RURAL RADIO Channel 147 on SiriusXM Radio. Their father, Patrick Gottsch, founded Rural Media Group in 2000.
The Gottsch sisters grew up going to meetings with their dad—many of which were held at the Fort Worth Stockyards—learning the business and solidifying their passion for the rural lifestyle.
Patrick Gottsch grew up farming and raising cattle in Elkhorn, Neb., before moving to Texas to attend Sam Houston State University. After leaving the family farming business in the 1980s, he worked at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange where he became interested in the commodity market.
Sisters Gatsby Gottsch Solheim and Raquel Gottsch Koehler.
BELOW: The Cowboy Channel headquarters in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
He then went on to launch C-Band Home Satellite Company that installed over 2,000 satellites throughout the Midwest. His customers loved their satellite service, but many complained about the lack of programming targeted to the interests of rural Americans. He decided to create a network to fill the void, and RFD-TV was born.
Gottsch Solheim says her dad has always empowered women to be successful in their careers—something she and her sister continue to do in their leadership roles at the company that employs more than 35 women.
“Women have always outnumbered my dad in his personal life,” jokes Gottsch Solheim of the family dynamic that includes not only her older sister Raquel but also their younger sister Rose, who is in the second grade. “Clearly, that’s starting to be true in the professional setting, as well,” she adds.
As leader of The Cowboy Channel, Raquel Gottsch Koehler rides herd on programming and scheduling, and she has a passion for marketing, events, and branding. She was responsible for converting the old dirt-floor auction barn at the Fort Worth Stockyards into a cutting-edge studio and headquarters for The Cowboy Channel.
“It felt like a homecoming, because I basically grew up in the Stockyards,” she recalls.
Gottsch Koehler utilized her collaborative leadership style to successfully steer The Cowboy Channel through the challenges of the global pandemic, which put live events on hold for a period of time and required many of the network’s employees to work from home.
Amy Wilson Cameron on assignment at WNFR 2020.
Janie Johnson interviews champion bull rider Sage Kimzey at a ProRodeo Xtreme Bulls event.
The Cowboy Channel Fort Worth team.
“COVID allowed us to try new things, and our team put its heart and soul into figuring it out,” Gottsch Koehler praises. “We had to scramble for programming when live rodeo was cancelled, and it made us a stronger network that will be more sustainable into the future.”
That future includes many big ideas for programming and beyond. Gottsch Koehler is working on creating The Cowboy Channel’s version of Austin City Limits featuring live acoustic music. A recent addition to the headquarters complex, the new Cowboy Channel Western Sports Bar in the Stockyards airs network programming and hosts live music events.
Gottsch Koehler’s team has also launched the very successful Cowboy Channel+ app to viewer’s TVs, laptops, and smartphones. Cowboy Channel+ streams up to 8 live rodeo performances simultaneously with goals to expand coverage and events significantly in the near future allowing The Cowboy Channel to expand its audience outside of linear television.
“Our goal is to bring everyone in the Western industry together and incorporate their programming into everyday life with family, beauty, fashion, food, décor, and lifestyle shows,” the CEO says.
To support all the programming The Cowboy Channel produces, Gottsch Koehler is also forming a college internship program with colleges such as Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and the University of Wyoming. She plans to create a pool of interns who can be deployed to the rodeo trail.
Interns have been a continual feeder source for talent at the company. A shining example is Jenna Cargile, the Chief Marketing Officer for Rural Media Group, who started in 2012 as an intern.
“I got the chance to learn about marketing, sales, events, advertising, programming – the whole thing,” she remembers. “It was truly a six-month training process that helped me navigate into the role that best fits me, which is marketing and events.”
Cargile relocated as opportunities became available in Nashville and ultimately Fort Worth, working her way up to her current position where she oversees a team of talented women who are in charge of marketing, brand management, and event logistics for everything from The American Rodeo to The Rose Parade and, of course, the NFR and The Cowboy Channel’s Cowboy Christmas.
CLOCKWISE: Key staff members gather in the control room at the studios in Fort Worth; Raquel and events team in the conference room; Cowboy Channel CEO Raquel Gottsch Koehler at her desk; ad exec Dyana Gracey at work; stage manager Ashley Davis behind the camera.
Gottsch Koehler says rodeo experience is nice to have when looking for new team members, but it isn’t a requirement for employment at The Cowboy Channel.
“Whether they have rodeoed or not, they must have a passion for the lifestyle,” she explains. “It makes a person so much more successful.”
South Dakota native Karlee Peterson ticks both boxes. Before becoming a producer for The Cowboy Channel, Peterson earned her marketing degree at the University of Wyoming where she was on scholarship for Goat Tying and Breakaway Roping. She got an internship at ESPN that changed the course of her career and fed into her current role at The Cowboy Channel.
“I had two mentors at ESPN that took me under their wing – David Glodt and Maria Prekeges – and I soaked it up like a sponge. They taught me everything I needed to know to be a producer.”
L TO R: On-air talent Amy Wilson Cameron, Western Sports Round-Up producer, Karlee Peterson, on-air talents, Katy Lucas and Janie Johnson.
Raquel Gottsch Koehler on the construction site of the new Cowboy Channel Western Sports Bar in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
During her time there, ESPN had the contract to live feed the NFR to hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, and Peterson used her connections through the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) to land 30-minute interviews with rodeo athletes that aired as “NFR Extras.” During her junior year at college, her final exams were at the same time as the NFR, so Peterson got up at 4 a.m. to study, then spent the rest of the day editing B-roll, doing interviews, and producing the podcast before going to the rodeo.
“I was on cloud nine,” she says. “What more could a college junior ask for?”
Peterson now spends her time as a producer, editor, and talent booker for The Cowboy Channel’s Western Sports Round-Up show.
“I love telling the stories of the athletes. A lot of them are very quiet and shy, and they don’t realize how incredible their personal stories are until they start telling them. I want to be the one to share those stories with the world.”
Janie Johnson is the on-air talent for the show Peterson produces, as well as a sideline reporter for the PRCA rodeos. Johnson typically spends about 270 days a year on the road covering rodeo events. Growing up on a cattle ranch in West Texas, she competed in rodeo as a junior high and high school student, and hails from a multi-generational rodeo family. Her great-grandfather, Benny Binion, was key in getting the NFR moved to Las Vegas in 1985. Her father, Clint Johnson, is a four-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider, and both her mother, Mindy Johnson, and grandmother, Brenda Michael, participate in cutting horse competitions.
Graduating from UT Austin with a degree in radio, TV, and film, Johnson never planned to be on air. An internship with The Cowboy Channel and Geronimo Productions changed all that when she had the chance to do on-camera interviews with junior high and high school rodeo athletes.
CLOCKWISE: Kirbe Schnoor interviews outside the Thomas & Mack, Amy Wilson Cameron interviews Cort Scheer at The American, Karlee Peterson and Katy Lucas on set, Katy Lucas interviews Erin Johnson and Loni Lester, Janie Johnson on camera.
“I dove headfirst into it, and I had a lot of fun and freedom,” she says.
Johnson works hard to make her interviews entertaining for the athlete and the audience—a balance she strikes by taking the time to build rapport with her interviewees.
“My main focus is to remember that it’s not about me, it’s about the contestants. I get them to tell stories that you would never think to ask, but they confide in me. They know that I am a personal fan and that I want people to be as excited as I am. These athletes are funny, unique, hardworking, and a breed of their own.”
Gottsch Solheim notes that having women leaders at every level of their company might be unusual in some industries, but it is nothing new for their target audience.
“The vast majority of farms and ranches have women and men serving equally difficult and challenging roles,” she notes. “It’s definitely a unique thing to be able to come to work each day and work with your sister and your father, but it’s not unique to our viewers. They do this on their farms and ranches as well, so this helps connect us and stay true to our roots and our mission.”
Meet The A-Team
The Cowboy Channel employs more than 35 women in a variety of roles. Here are some of the key team members that keep the machine running.
TOP TO BOTTOM, L TO R: TOP TO BOTTOM, L TO R: Amy Wilson Cameron, Ashley Davis (Stage Manager), Christine Copeland (Editor), Dyana Gracey (Ad Sales Account Exec.), Holly Henderson (Editor-In-Chief, Digital), Jacqui Kyle (Business Manager), Janie Johnson, Jenna Cargile (Chief Marketing Officer), Kami Peterson (VP Western Ad Sales), Karlee Peterson, Katy Lucas, Kirbe Schnoor, Madison Smith (Content Manager, Digital), Megan Browning (Director of Network Logistics), Raquel Gottsch Koehler, Sarah Hendrix (Event Marketing Manager), Taylor Spears (Marketing Coordinator), Suzie Richter (Events Assistant). Photos by Janzen Tew.
To learn more about The Cowboy Channel and to see the extensive programming lineup, visit TheCowboyChannel.com.