It’s Jan. 1, 1980. A new year dawns, and as the sun rises over cattle ranches and forest lands in the rolling hills of East Texas, farmers and ranchers are well on their way to completing their morning chores. For these Texans, the day begins like clockwork with a rooster’s crow at dawn and the familiar voice and famous opening line of Horace McQueen ’60 on his Farm and Ranch TV News program: “A pleasant good morning to you; hope everything’s off to a fine start at your house this morning.”
For nearly three decades, McQueen’s reliable greeting was part of every East Texas household’s morning routine. By the time the children arose to watch cartoons, McQueen had already reported on the latest agricultural news, production practices, weather forecasts and market conditions as the well-known and well-respected “voice of Texas agriculture.” When asked what it felt like to be bestowed that title, he chuckled and humbly responded, “Well, I appreciate it, but there were a lot of good folks in farm broadcasting.”
Yet, his distinctive reporting style and down-home relatability made him a central part of rural life for countless Texans. “I was in a taco place in College Station in the ’90s and heard two Aggie girls in the next booth reciting Dad’s opening line perfectly,” said his son Dennis ’82.
Today, the 84-year-old broadcaster lives with his wife, Carole, on their cattle and timber ranch in Grapeland, Texas, just 90 minutes up Highway 21 from College Station. It’s beautiful country, and the smell of pine is strong. Their ranch-style home sits nestled on a hill. Inside, surrounded by a treasure trove of pictures, mementos and awards that document their lives, McQueen reflected on his legacy as one of the state’s strongest agriculture advocates.
It All Started With a Calf Scramble
When people from Texas discover I grew up in Montana, they often poke fun at my northern, rural roots by asking questions like, “Is there Wi-Fi up there?” or “Did you ride your horse to school?” I can’t help but laugh while I confirm that, yes, we had internet access on my family’s ranch and, no, we did not giddy up to get to class. Ironically, the only person I know who actually rode a horse to school is a Texan: Horace McQueen.
As youngsters, McQueen and his friend often rode to school and tied their horses up under the superintendent and principal’s window. “They didn’t like it because there wasn’t air conditioning, and the smell got to them occasionally,” he laughed. “They let us do it, though. The four miles there and back every day was a good little ride; it definitley beat taking the school bus.”
Growing up on a farm in LaPorte, Texas, just east of Houston, McQueen’s agricultural upbringing led to a passion for the industry. He spent his youth mowing pastures, working cattle and “all that other good stuff” on local farms and ranches.
In 1955, fortune struck when he caught a calf during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s calf scramble. The following year, he returned with the calf and was awarded the grand champion Brahman heifer. When prodded to elaborate on his underdog success story, he grinned. “Well, let me tell you the full story...she was the only Brahman heifer in the show.” Regardless, his grand champion sold for $700, and those funds helped him enroll at Texas A&M University to study agricultural journalism.
In addition to his calf scramble cash, McQueen received a scholarship that made becoming an Aggie financially viable. His college choice was also influenced by two county extension agents who mentored him while livestock judging in 4-H. “I figured if they were Aggies, it had to be a good place. I had the opportunity to attend Rice University on a scholarship,” he said, “but I wanted to study agriculture.”
Fast Track to Broadcast
While majoring in agricultural journalism, McQueen double-minored in roping steers and riding bulls. He spent many college weekends at rodeos before landing his first job as associate editor for the National FFA magazine in Alexandria, Virginia, after graduation. A little more than a year later, he became the national editor for Farm and Ranch magazine in Nashville, Tennessee, the largest circulated farm magazine in the country at the time.
Just a year and a half into his role, the magazine went bankrupt. That’s when McQueen called on his Aggie connections. “I called John Hutchison ’36, the director of Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service,” he shared. “I said, ‘You know, Dr. Hutchinson, I really need a job.’ And he had one for me.” The job led McQueen and his wife to Lubbock, Texas, where he became the field editor for the extension service.
In this third editing job, he met a fellow Aggie, Jack Tompkins ’50, who owned several farm and ranch TV shows in Oklahoma and Amarillo, Texas. McQueen asked Tompkins, “Why don’t we start a television show in Lubbock?” Without a second thought, Tompkins replied, “Sounds good to me.”
Tompkins mentored McQueen for a short year, buying a station wagon, cameras and production equipment. He then kicked the bird, or rather broadcaster, out of the nest. “He told me I was on my own,” he said. “I borrowed money to pay for the equipment he’d bought, and that’s how Farm and Ranch News started.” The move meant that McQueen was in business with himself, producing for TV stations in Lubbock, Abilene, Midland-Odessa and Big Spring. “Carole likes to remind me that the first month of television, I brought home $22,” he said. “But it went up from there.”
In 1973, McQueen decided he wanted to get back to his East Texas roots, so he made a deal with TV stations in Tyler and Lufkin and moved the family to a ranch near Troup, Texas, about 20 miles south of Tyler.
As the producing host, McQueen had a broad autonomy over his TV show that allowed him to be live five days a week from 1973 to 2000. However, his greatest service to the agriculture industry was more than his consistent morning reports on the Farm and Ranch TV News program.
During his career, McQueen met with several presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to advocate for agriculture and serve his audience. “It was fun to meet them,” he shared. “But it was more about the opportunity to talk agriculture with our nation’s leaders.” He regularly traveled to Washington, D.C., and spoke with top economists and leaders to bring national news back home to Texas.
After the National Association of Farm Broadcasting named McQueen the top farm broadcaster of the year in 1980, an agricultural chemical company sponsored him on a two-week European trip to witness agriculture abroad. A second successful European trip sponsored by the Texas Farm Bureau inspired him to set his sights on another continent: Australia.
Working with representatives from a major Australian airline, Qantas, McQueen and a cameraman traveled the outback, filming local farmers and ranchers. The next year, he organized and led 35 Texan farmers and ranchers across the continent to discover Australian agriculture for themselves. The trip was so successful that the airline sponsored a third trip for the broadcaster in New Zealand.
Last Man Standing
For the entirety of McQueen’s 26-year career with Farm and Ranch TV News, he loyally served his audience in many ways, from sharing whether the day’s cattle prices were up or down to offering insights into agricultural practices around the world. His breadth and consistency in the industry were unmatched, and, in 1986, the Texas County Agriculture Agents Association named him Man of the Year in Texas Agriculture. “When he started in the mid-1960s, 14 or 15 other guys were doing live shows daily,” shared his son Dennis. “When he retired, he was the only one left.”
In 2000, McQueen could have kept producing his show but opted to sell it to the TV station. His departure led to the show’s demise, which lasted only a year and change without him. Shortly before he left, he was asked what he’d do next. “I don’t know,” he answered, “but I’m dang tired of waking up at 4 a.m. every morning.”
While Horace got up well before sunrise to start East Texans’ mornings, there was an even earlier riser in the McQueen household: his wife, Carole, who arose before her husband every day to make his breakfast and keep him on time. She ensured that McQueen and their four children—Dennis ’82, twins Deidre ’87 and Debra ’87, and Dale, a Texas Tech University graduate—had a “fine start” to every morning. “Without her, none of it would have been possible,” McQueen shared.
Today, McQueen is applying his broadcasting experiences to life on his 700-acre Houston County ranch, a part of which has been in his family since 1854. The couple raises Murray Grey cattle, a premier beef breed he learned about in Australia. Not only did he bring the first live animals of this superior breed to the United States for his own herd, but he also brought several thousand units of semen to help ranchers nationwide incorporate Murray Grey genetics into their own cattle operations. Thanks to him, hundreds of ranchers today raise this cattle breed all over the country.
Aggie and Agriculturalist for Life
Despite his time on air ending, McQueen still finds ways to reach audiences and contribute to the industry. He writes agriculture columns for several East Texas newspapers, while he and Carole also support aspiring Aggie agricultural communicators through three endowed scholarships in Texas A&M’s Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. In 2012, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences honored him with its Outstanding Alumni Award, a testament to the lifelong Aggie and agriculturalist.
As an agricultural communications and journalism major, I couldn’t help but ask for the voice of Texas agriculture’s advice for a soon-to-be job-hunting graduate. “There are plenty of opportunities out there, but you’ve got to go search them out,” he shared. “Preferably, you’d find some Aggie like I did who knows the ropes and can help you open some doors. If you’ve got the right attitude, you’ll figure it out.”
Fortunately, McQueen’s life has already opened many doors for agricultural communicators like me. His accomplishments and experiences shine a light on the endless ways to get involved in agriculture, whether it be editing a magazine or interviewing the president of the United States. He inspires every young Aggie to boldly ask for opportunities: ask for a job, ask to go overseas, ask to start a TV show, but most importantly, always ask how you can keep serving the people and places you care most about.
To support the next generation of agricultural communicators at Texas A&M, contact Bailey Allison ’21, assistant director of development, at the bottom of this page.