THE LAST WORDS OF BIG TEX…
The Last Words of Big Tex…
aka Bill Bragg, The Final Interview
With Special Guest Kim Bragg
By Paul Heckmann, Executive Director, Memories Incorporated
Edited by Mark Cheyne, Administrator, Memories of Dallas
The first words you would hear as you approached the Texas State Fair. That voice, who was it?
“Howdy folks. Tex is mighty proud to see all you folks down yonder. And Tex wants to make sure that every last one of you have a real fun, and real safe time while you’re here at the Fair.”
For a dozen years the 6’5 Bill Bragg was the voice and image of Big Tex, both through the speakers from his studio and his forays onto the midway at the State Fair of Texas. Before that he was a Broadcast Engineer, Camera & Audio Operator for some three decades at CBS, Ch 11 KTVT and FOX, Ch 4 KDFW and so many more. Also Chief Broadcast Engineer for EDS/Hewlett Packard.
Bill and I started work on this interview in 2018 and I traveled to Richardson half a dozen times in 2019 to speak to Bill, but unfortunately dementia was starting to take him. Some days the interviews would last 5 minutes, other days several hours with the same things repeated over and over. I had just spoken to him a couple of days before he passed away, we were going sit down and finalize this interview. That never happened.
I went back a couple of weeks ago to spend some time with the lovely Kim Bragg, Bill’s widow. She really helped us capture Bill’s essence.
The way I saw Bill, you really liked him or you didn’t, there wasn’t much of an in-between. He wasn’t always the easiest guy to get along with, some days he could be very sharp edged, other days quite accommodating. But you never had to worry about him not completing his job. He was simply a fella that got stuff done. That was Bill.
And thanks so much to my fellow Administrator at ‘Memories of Dallas’ Mark Cheyne who helped me dissect many, many hours of taped interviews. Couldn’t have done it without you.
Paul Heckmann: Good morning Bill. Tell me about growing up in Dallas
Bill Bragg: You bet. I was born in Dallas in 1946. I went to Vickery Elementary School and Benjamin Franklin and Hillcrest High Schools, then I went to college for a year at Garland Christian College.
Paul Heckmann: And during this time your dad was working over at the famous superclub Louann’s for Lou and Ann Bovis?
Bill Bragg: Yes, my dad was Marvin Bragg. He worked part time there and also worked at First Texas Pharmaceuticals manufacturing drugs.
I guess you could say that’s where I got hooked on the entertainment world and working behind the scenes. My dad tended bar, took tickets, a little bit of everything. My aunt, his youngest sister, Helen Dollinger was a waitress there. And as an under-aged kid I worked there, selling popcorn, cleaning tables and such. I was probably 10 – 15 years old.
Paul Heckmann: So I guess you knew Ann Bovis pretty well.
Bill Bragg: Yes, and Nonnie, the head waitress, and Clara the cook.
Paul Heckmann: So I guess you knew Tony Bovis and the Martinkus boys when you were kids?
Bill Bragg: Oh yes, I used to go swimming out at the Bovis house. In fact that’s where I learned to swim. They lived in the Abrams/NW Hwy area when it was still out in the country.
The local convenience store was Cabell’s which was on the corner of Lontos and Abrams was owned by Earle Cabell, who went on to be mayor of Dallas. One day he called Ann Bovis and told her that if her kids were going to keep riding up to his store, he was going to have to install rings for them to tie their horses to.
Anton Martinkus was Ann’s brother. He served under George Patton when Patton was a Major. He went to the Pacific and fought in the Phillipines. He was Army Cavalry, so you know he had no problem keeping people in line. I’m sure some of Patton’s saltiness had rubbed off on him.
Paul Heckmann: Did you get to see or meet any big name acts at Louann’s?
Bill Bragg: Well, Guy Lombardo was there one night. I was selling popcorn table to table. They had a special table set up for them out in the middle of the club. I walked up to the table, but it was dark and I didn’t recognize him. So I asked if he’d like to buy some popcorn. He looked up at me and said, “I’ll make you a deal”. He and his band were there with their wives. He said, “We want to go dance. If you’ll sit here and keep an eye on the ladies’ purses, I’ll buy all the popcorn you’ve got.” So I did, and he bought all my popcorn. I made more money that night than I ever thought I’d make in my life.
I saw Bruce Chanel there one night. He had the one hit song, “Hey Baby”. He kind of dated a cousin of mine some. Anyway he was there and Roy Orbison was there signing autographs.
I wasn’t selling popcorn that night. I was out picking up beer bottles off the tables. I used to like cleaning the tables. I’d sniff the beer bottles. On occasion I might have even sipped some beer out of a couple of them. Hell, when you’re a kid you gotta get your beer where you can.
So, Roy Orbison was over there signing autographs. He looked over at me and said, “Would you like an autograph too?” I said, “That’s okay, I’ll get one next time you’re here”. And he never came back to Louann’s.
I’m the stupidest guy in the world. I was at the LBJ Library in Austin. LBJ was there with Walter Cronkite. They were shooting a piece for ’60 Minutes’. I didn’t get their autographs either.
You know, you don’t have to put that in, but I’ll kick your butt if you don’t.
Paul Heckmann: Well, you’re certainly big enough to take a crack at it!
So did you meet any other big name acts while you were working at LouAnn’s?
Bill Bragg: I met Trini Lopez there, although I’d already met him once before. My mother worked as a secretary for 5 Bishops of the First United Methodist Church. Every year the church would have its annual ‘Roundup’ for the members. They’d serve barbecue, and one year they hired Trini Lopez to play. So I met him there, and spent time backstage with him and his band.
So then he turned up playing at Louann’s, and I ran into him again there. He remembered me from the Church Roundup and said, “What are you doing HERE?” He was quite surprised to see me at Louann’s. So I guess I met him in Holy and not so Holy places.
I remember my dad would come home and say they had a big crowd, because someone big was there. Sometimes it was local acts like The Chessmen with Jimmy Vaughan, or Kenny and the Kasuals. And some touring acts would pack the house, like Rod Stewart or Jeff Beck.
A couple of side notes on my mom and dad. As I said before, my mom worked for the Methodist Church we attended. At some point the wife of one of the church elders died, and there was some question whether foul play might have been involved. Probably because shortly afterward the widowed elder ran off with the Sunday school teacher. The same one that taught me the Beatitudes.
And as you know my dad worked at the pharmaceutical company. They made aspirin for the City of Dallas. And of course some of the aspirin were distributed in the jail. Well, the inmates had figured out how to boil down the aspirin and get the caffeine out of them. So they had to have the company reformulate the aspirin without any caffeine.
Paul Heckmann: So you have left your first career as a table wiper and popcorn maker. What did you do next?
Bill Bragg: I also worked in television, at KDFW and KTVT. I ran camera, I switched, and ran audio too. I also ran the floor sometimes. You know, cue cards, time cues, stuff like that. I also did some on-air gigs as Bill Benson.
But most of the time I was on camera or something to do with engineering
I also did some on-the-air work for KPCN
And over at KSKY which was on top of the Stoneleigh Hotel
But I guess my heart belonged to Channel 4 and CBS
One day I was running the floor for Frank Glieber’s sports report. He’s sitting up at the desk while we’re in commercial, and he’s talking to someone on the phone. Getting the latest updates I assumed, because some of the games were still going on.
So I’m saying, “Stand by Frank” “Thirty seconds Frank”. And he’s still talking on the phone.
Then I say, “Hey, Frank! Fifteen seconds!” Then the countdown, “5, 4, 3,…”, and he looks up at me and winks. And I wink back ready to kill him.
And you know what happened? He went home that night and he and his wife had sex and she got pregnant. They had the cutest little baby boy that they named Mitch. A name that just happens to rhyme with something I won’t say here. Anyway, Mitch grew up and became the head boss at the State Fair and I ended up working for him until the day I didn’t.
Paul Heckmann: So I guess we better backtrack a bit and find out what that job was! Can you tell us a little about that?
Bill Bragg: Well, I was with the State Fair, the voice of Big Tex, for more than a decade.
“Howdy folks. Tex is mighty proud to see all you folks down yonder. And Tex wants to make sure that every last one of you have a real fun, and real safe time while you’re here at the Fair.”
And it was neat because all I had to do was talk.
Paul Heckmann: And you obviously hate talking. (winking)
Bill Bragg: Unless I get paid for it. Then I’ll talk your arm off.
One last thing, I’ve got an idea here. You know John McKay at channel 8 is going to retire. I’ve got a 12 foot statue of Big Tex at my house. I wonder if that would make a good retirement gift.
Paul Heckmann: Wait. You have a 12 foot statue of Big Tex at your house? Where did you get that?
Bill Bragg: Well, the first year I was at the Fair, it was Big Tex’ 50th birthday. They’d have a nightly parade, and there was a float with this statue on it. When the Fair ended I went down the midway to say goodbye to some of my carny friends. And there that statue was, sticking out of a trash bin. So I took it home and I’ve had it ever since.
Paul Heckmann: So tell me about Big Tex.
Bill Bragg: I guess the first thing is that there are no folks sitting inside of him. There is enough room up there for a few people but there is no air conditioning and its too dang hot in Texas for that!
There is small sound studio just in front of Big Tex, over to the side where I would sit and talk. The voice was never taped, I was always live.
Lots of folks ask about how big ‘Big Tex’ is. First I would say that the Big Tex that I worked with burned down at the end of my tenure. He was 52 foot tall, the official mascot of the State Fair Of Texas, Tex wore a size 70 cowboy boot and his hat was a whopping 75 gallon Stetson. Every three years he gets a new outfit, that is always good for some new press.
I could move the head and hand with controls in the studio. The jaw responded to my voice so it looked like Big Tex was talking.
I was responsible for not only the voice but also greeting visitors who called the State Fair Information line while the fair was in progress
Paul Heckmann: The Fair is open quite a bit every day. How long would you be on the ‘air’?
Bill Bragg: I would get there at 10am and start talking until 7pm for the entire run of the State Fair.
Paul Heckmann: So, things are going well. Then tell me about leaving the State Fair.
Bill Bragg: I loved that job. I really did. I loved walking the midway and posing for photos with everyone that asked. I thought God himself had sent that job down for me.
My last day was the day Big Tex burned up in the fire. I guess you could say we both left on a heated note.
(note, this is something we had put on the backburner along with him telling me about the love of his life, Kim. We had intended that to be the final interview.
More from the media of that day and his wife Kim Bragg before wrapping up this story with what would be Bill’s final words to me)
Fairgoers turn to social media to protest dismissal of Big Tex’s voice, Bill Bragg
Dallas Morning News, The: Blogs (TX) – March 28, 2013
Author/Byline: Eric Aasen
State Fair of Texas fans are turning to social media to express outrage that the longtime voice of Big Tex, Bill Bragg, was let go this week.
The fair decided not to renew the contract for Bragg, the voice of the folksy cowboy since 2002.
The fair said that Bragg wasn’t adhering to the terms of his contract. The fair won’t offer specifics, but it appears fair officials thought he was taking his Big Tex persona too far outside of the fair. Bragg told me yesterday that his departure partly stems from the requests he gets throughout the year to speak at charity events, where he’s introduced as the voice of Big Tex. Bragg said he forwards those requests to the fair for approval, and fair officials have allowed him to attend events in the past. But a recent request to appear at an American Cancer Society event in Coppell seems to have bothered fair officials.
Bragg said that the fair told him that he is the voice of Big Tex only during the State Fair of Texas.
Bragg said that things started to sour with the fair the day Big Tex burned down last October — a day when he was besieged with requests to speak to the media. By the time he started negotiating a new contract, his boss at the State Fair had retired, and he was instead reporting to Sue Gooding, the fair spokeswoman. He said that he and Gooding didn’t see eye to eye.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Gooding declined to discuss the specific reasons behind his departure but said it didn’t involve money. She said the contract between the fair and the talent who provides Big Tex’s voice outlines “guidelines and protocol regarding the use of our trademarks.”
“The contract was to move under me for the first time. I made a decision that my responsibility is to protect our brand,” Gooding said. “All terms will be adhered to or a contract will not be issued.”
Bragg has appeared on several TV and radio stations since the news broke yesterday afternoon.
On WFAA, Bragg attributed his firing to “a personality conflict” between him and Gooding.
Bragg told KTVT this morning that his dismissal was “a big misunderstanding about what my role is. I thought I was the voice of Big Tex and they said I’m not because he’s not standing up right now. … When the fair closes, my mouth is supposed to close to.”
KXAS said that his dismissal was related to doing interviews about the Big Tex fire. Interviews “without prior consent from the fair’s public relations staff … may have been the final straw.”
“Everybody lost – I lost. The state fair lost. The biggest loss is to the people who come to the State Fair, especially the children,” Bragg told KXAS.
Some comments on the State Fair of Texas Facebook page:
“NOT COOL!!! Fix this!!!!”
“Bill Bragg is an amazing man full of passion for all he does. He IS Big Tex! Can’t believe he’s been fired! Bring him back!!!”
“The State Fair of Texas should be ashamed for releasing “The Voice” of Big Tex. Why not go ahead and change the name to State Fail of Texas.” Some comments on Bragg’s Facebook page:
“Bill, you are Big Tex and they may think they are moving in another direction, true Texans will petition the SFOT to return you to the job you love and hold dear to your heart.”
“Oh, State Fair of Tx, what in the world are you thinking? Writing off Bill Bragg as the voice of Big Tex? Really? He IS Big Tex. Boycott? You bet.”
“How horrible! I can’t believe they would do that. Hopefully there is a big enough outcry and they back down!”
North Texans sounded off on Twitter, too:
“Boycott @StateFairOfTX for firing Bill Bragg, voice of Big Tex!”
“#statefair of Texas fires the Voice of Big Tex Via email! Booooo
Paul Heckmann: Okay, here we go. I wish it were better circumstances, but Bill has left us and gone to the great radio station in the sky. Rest in peace brother.
So Kim, how did a gal in Pennsylvania meet up with Bill from Dallas?
Kim Bragg: I heard Bill on a FM radio station call letters that was a pirate radio station. And the man who was playing it would rebroadcast yesterday USA, right up the hill from the FCC. And they didn’t care as long as they didn’t get a complaint, so I had that station for like, two years. And I was up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And I heard that they were having a radio convention in Newark, New Jersey, which was only three hours away. And, I would listen to Bill every night. I didn’t know what the station was.
And I grew up with my grandmother, so I would listen to old radio shows on her talk radio they would play bits and pieces so I knew what it was and I liked it. So, I had a habit of channel surfing on the radio at night time, and then I’d find Bill’s station. But then when I’d turn it on during the day, sometimes there was something else on there. And I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
And, I finally caught a live show with Bill and his friend Mike talking, and I called in a couple times and said hi and how I was listening and all. And then they said about the convention in New Jersey and I thought, I’m gonna go meet them and see. Meet them and see all the old radio stars that were still around at the time. This was in ’97. October ’97. And I met Bill and we started talking, and then I’d call in a couple times on the radio show, and then sometimes I’d talk to them afterwards. And then I’d come down to visit sometimes, have my vacations down here.
And then, it was about a year I guess, when I thought about moving down here and he said, “Well, why don’t you move down?” and I’m thinking, “Well, maybe I will.” So, I did. And, so I’ve been here since October 31, 1998, Halloween weekend!
Paul Heckmann: And this was here at this house?
Kim Bragg: I’ve been here ever since. That’s when this house was just a regular-size house. He still had a lot of the collection, where you could hardly walk around.
Paul Heckmann: That’s Bill. It’s like I say to my roommate, he cleans off the space so he can have more room to put stuff.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, exactly. And I’d say to Bill, we want to buy something and I’m like, “Well, where are you gonna put it? We have no place.” He said, “Well, I’ll find a place.” And I’m thinking, you know, we have so many things that need to go in these places that you’re building, you’re never gonna have a place. But he still kept buying and buying and adding to the collection.
He just loved the general store stuff and the Victrolas. And, his idol was Thomas Edison. He just loved Thomas Edison. And he got all the things he could have Thomas Edison’s stuff. And we have a mimeograph machine in there where the person would talk into it, and it would record onto a wax cylinder. And then this wax cylinder would be taken off by the secretary and put into this stereo. She’d listen to it and type and then there’s a shaver where you would take that wax cylinder, put it into the shaver, and it would take the top layer off and then they would reuse it again. I never wanted to try them, I’m afraid to break them, but they do work. And even today, a wax cylinder will still play. You know, what was it ten years ago, some CDs were made and they don’t play anymore.
Paul Heckmann: So, that was the forerunner of the album.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, it was. The wax cylinders were first, then it went to transcription discs. Well, here’s a transcription right here. This is the size of the transcription, and they used to be glass.
Paul Heckmann: That’s a big record. Looks bigger than the albums I used to own.
Kim Bragg: This one’s from ‘54 but transcriptions were glass, so these are vinyl now. And then they had some that was acetate that was on, and I just found one over here. It looks, the label looks great but it’s metal. It’s very interesting. The acetate has peeled off… One of these here, the acetate has peeled off and you see the metal. But it was like a metal disc, and then just the recording piece, the black stuff, the acetate has just dripped off of it or just has fallen off. But, they used to be, it was that.
And then it had the 78s, which were, what about ten inches, and they were real heavy. I remember when I was a kid I used to break them just because it was fun to do. Little did I know I’d be surrounded by them. But they would break and remind me of charcoal, just the way it would break and just crumble up and that color.
Paul Heckmann: So tell me about this house.
Kim Bragg: Well, like I said, it was regular size when I moved here. I’m thinking we started working on it in 2000? I’m thinking beginning of 2000. Yeah, and it took forever. I know we had Thanksgiving upstairs and we weren’t even moved upstairs yet. I decided to carry the meals and we had it up there, so that was in November of that year. I forget when we were finally able to move. Because Bill planned this and he drew it out on a napkin.
And then as we were going along he would think of things. Like, with the train, you have the archive in the center, and then the train, and then that wall there was just blank. And Bill said “Why don’t we do a cut-out and I can display stuff there?” Just, like, behind you. He said, “Why don’t we do a cut-out there?” And then upstairs, you go up the steps, because of the height we had to do levels here, he said, “Why don’t we make a display window?” And that part is top of the old house, so we have a display window up there and made that into a general store up there.
And it would just come and that’s why a lot of times it took longer because they would come up with – and the builders too would come up with ideas. The guys who were here every day.
Paul Heckmann: The builders must have had a blast doing it.
Kim Bragg: Oh yes. The reason this ceiling is so high, Bill might have told you, because it’s 12 feet high. And it’s because of the back bar right there. That’s one, two, three or four pieces. A lady in Fort Worth had given it to him. Last name of Pate. I know it’s a big family over there. I’m not familiar with the people there, but she had given it to him. She had turned it into a wine rack, and we didn’t drink wine. We were gonna put cars in there. Bill wanted to make a car display, which we never did, but that’s why this ceiling is 12 feet high. Probably 12 or 13 because of that.
Paul Heckmann: Yeah, how do you even move it?
Kim Bragg: Yeah, in fact the movers took a picture. The box on top is single, is a separate piece. The top piece is single, coming down. And then you got the glass door section, and then the bottom cabinet part to that. So yeah, that’s four pieces.
That’s why it’s so high, and that’s why we’re up so much higher. The two story house is now about three and a half stories. And the bottom stories are all his museum and we lived in a little apartment upstairs.
Paul Heckmann: It’s absolutely incredible. I wish I could just take this house and move it down to Fair Park. I really do. Without doing a thing, you’d open the doors and say, “Come on in! $10! Here’s a museum!”
Kim Bragg: Oh, I know, it would be wonderful. That was one of his big things. He wanted to be able to show it to people and his family and all.
Paul Heckmann: Well, didn’t he have part of his collection over like at Las Colinas?
Kim Bragg: The National Museum of Broadcasting. That was in 1990. I think he started it in ’89 and then he came down with colon cancer.
And then the man was gonna be a partner with Bill took it over. And when Bill was sick, they got rid of some stuff. They threw stuff away and I think that was the end of the museum. The VOA might even still be there, the Voice of America radio console. The last time he had taken me over there, it was still covered over and they were using it for an Addams Family display of these fake tombstones. Underneath that is this VOA console from Washington D.C. I think it came from. I think they took a semi-truck over and picked it up.
And then when he lost things from the museum I know that really hurt him too, but he was able to get his own personal collection out. I don’t know if there’s any items. I think they made it to where they each kept their own thing. They were happy, I think, when they finally separated and got it taken care of. Because our friend, Mike who happens to be a lawyer, had gotten in on it and worked it out because Bill had gotten a raw deal at the time. But then he made it better. But he was able to get a lot of his own personal collection.
And people would post stuff, throwing away, he’d get them and he’d fix them all up. He’d do the cabinets over, making them look brand new. And if he could get them working if they weren’t already working. But he always knew somebody who could do whatever.
Paul Heckmann: Well, he’s one of my champion dumpster divers. He’s just like me. He’d see something there in a dumpster and it’s like, “People are throwing that away? What are the thinking?”
Kim Bragg: Yeah, they were gonna get rid of that Big Tex statue. And then they called us and said, “Do you want that?” and Bill said “Yeah.” And so that was his first year. I remember we drove down 635 and went down to get him and drive him back. He was the Big Tex statue was lying in the flatbed of the pickup truck, arm and head sticking out of the tailgate driving back on 635. Boy did we get some crazy looks.
It has a nice wooden base on the bottom. And it won’t tip over. It’s a nice wide base.
They built it for the 50th birthday of Big Tex and they had Bill in the parade as Big Tex. So, this worked kinda perfect that they gave it to him. They were going to throw it out, but Bill said, “Heck yeah, I’ll take it.” I remember it was Saturday morning when we got the call. It was funny we had to go down and get it. We had like an hour to go down and get it so we had to hurry up and fly down to pick it up. Or it was gonna go in the dumpster.
Paul Heckmann: So we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Can you tell me about the Bill Bragg/Big Tex days? You move to Dallas, it’s 1998. He hadn’t started working at the state fair yet. Do you remember when he first took the job?
Kim Bragg: 2002. He auditioned in 2001, he had been the voice of Big Tex on the info line for a while at that time. We thought he was gonna get the job. They had a casting call. And I think there was like 500 people that first signed in. And then there were like ten finalists. And Bill would’ve gotten it if he spoke Spanish, but he didn’t speak Spanish.
So, the man who got the job was only there for a year in 2001. And sometime during 2001 the guy left the job and Bill stepped in.
Then the following year one of the assistants to the GM, Sue Gooding called Bill and said “You’re gonna be Big Tex next year.” and hung up. That’s all there was to it, so that’s how he finally got the job.
And so Bill learned the few lines he would have to say in Spanish, he worked with Ray Langdon, who has passed, and he taught him Spanish. How to say, “Welcome to State Fair” in Spanish. It was not very much. It was just a little bit.
“Hola amigos, bienvenidos, ala feria.” Something like that. It was kind of in my head. And that’s really all they had him say in Spanish. I don’t understand why you had to be bilingual.
Every year I’d stand in the same exact place and get Bill, when he would do the voice testing on it. The Fair would start on a Friday I think it was, and we’d start like Tuesday or Wednesday when he had it set up. And I would listen and I could tell when it was perfect because I would get this certain rumble right in my chest, so I knew it was perfect. And I’d say you gotta do more bass or less bass or more or less treble, whatever it was, to get it perfect where it sounded good.
And that’s how he got the job until the day Big Tex burned down. Bill didn’t even know he was even on fire. Somebody from Fletcher’s Corny Dog came over and pounded on the trailer door to tell him that it was burning down. He couldn’t see because the trees or something had grown over and they had moved a food truck of him so he couldn’t see the bottom half of Tex. So, Tex started burning at the boot and smoke and all that was coming out. So, he didn’t know it. So, he was talking and the lady came over and was pounding on the door and said, “Hey, it’s on fire! It’s on fire!” and Bill thought she was bringing him a corn dog because they always would bring him a corn dog every day. That’s what he thought she was doing, so he said, “No, I’m okay right now.” And she kept saying, “No, no, no! Tex is on fire!” And then he realized what was happening.
Paul Heckmann: And he didn’t say something like through the speakers like, “Ouch! Ouch! My pants are on fire!”
Kim Bragg: No, that would’ve been funny if he would have.
Paul Heckmann: That would be something I would have said, but I have been known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But he’d get them fired probably a little sooner.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, probably for sure.
He absolutely loved that job. He would have done if for free if they had let him be Big Tex all year. He could really do the DJ school voice when he wanted to. But for the Big Tex, that was his voice in the microphone. He didn’t do anything special for it at all.
Kim Bragg: That was 2012. So, that gave Bill ten years at the fair. And then he did the voice on, when you would call and listen to the recording, information, he did that for three or four years before he was even Tex, the voice of Tex out on the midway. So, he was Tex for 15 years.
Something like if you want to hear the hours you hit one. If you want to hear about the agricultural building or programs, hit two. Or, if you wanna speak to somebody in the office, hit three. That was Bill doing that. And then he would have the messages and then he would talk about who was coming, at the time and when it was ready. The concerts, the dates, and who was gonna be there.
Paul Heckmann: So, Bill had been there ten years as the official voice at that time. So, they got the new Big Tex up, and so he was there two years after that?
Kim Bragg: No, 2012 was his last. Because the day he burned, that was on a Friday, I think it was. Well, I’ll tell you, I have the paper right here. Friday, October 19th. That was the day he burned, and that was the day he pretty much got fired. Because Sue said something like “Go get your stuff, get out, and don’t come back.”
I am so angry at the fair for the way they did him. I think that started the downhill. It got him. He loved that job so much, and he loved it so much, and it hurt him so bad. I was there the day that they, she pretty much fired him the day he burnt down because I was there. You know? And she treated him like hell.
Paul Heckmann: And who is she?
Kim Bragg: Sue Gooding. Yeah, and they were friends before she became the press secretary. And then she only lasted one season at that job after working at other jobs there and then the following season all of a sudden she retired, so I don’t know what happened there. Why, but it seemed kind of funny to me.
I think it just destroyed him because he loved it. He always wanted to do it since he was a child, and he was so proud. And he always felt so bad because his mother died in 2001, she never got to see it. Every year he and his Mom would go to the fair. And folks would come up and ask him if he was Big Tex because he was 6’5 and looked like Big Tex. And he always that deep booming voice. He even offered to do it for free for a season. They wouldn’t do it.
You know, and then I know some of the things that happened behind closed doors which I can’t say, but it’s my opinion that she was waiting for a way to make it harder on Bill. I’m not sure, because he did everything they wanted. More so. And they’d want him to do things for free, and he had a contract, but he would go above and beyond what was in his contract.
But, what made me angry even before that even happened, the first year or two Bill would talk when police officers would drive by or ride their horses, y. And he’d always say ‘There goes the Dallas Police Department, why don’t you give them a round of applause?’ And people would cheer and clap and carry on and all that. And the cops would be blushing and that and they loved it. And the fair had him stop doing that.
Paul Heckmann: Why?
Kim Bragg: Because they figured, if you’re gonna give special shout-outs to somebody, then you’re gonna have to do it to everybody.
He would pick a little child out of the crowd. He could see them looking up at him and he would say something very personal to them like ‘Hey there, little podner in the yellow shirt with the cowboy hat, Big Tex is watching out for you’, and it gave it such personality. But, all that, they didn’t want him doing that.
Paul Heckmann: Well, I think that’d be so cool. I wasn’t there when he did that, but I’m sitting here thinking, “Man, I’d love to be that little kid.”
Kim Bragg: Oh yeah, you would get the biggest smiles. But then the state fair officials would have their special people and they’d come over and say, “Hey, Bill, say Hi to this person.” And then he would say Hi to them as Tex.
And then the nixed it and somebody out there would come up and say, “Hey, this is my daughter’s birthday, can you say something to them?” And he’d say, “Sorry, I can’t do it anymore.”
Because I didn’t know what Big Tex was until I moved here. And I equate him to everybody, it’s like Mickey Mouse of Texas. Everybody knows who Big Tex is here. Like everybody knows who Mickey Mouse is. That’s how I tell everybody up North about him.
And they just love the person that he was talking to them or making comments about. Just nice, general comments about people, thanking the police who were there to protect them, to make sure everything was fine. And to put out that the police are there overlooking to make sure everything was okay so they know security is there. But, they had him stop. And that made me angry. A lot of things that the fair did would make me angry over the years. And why not push that you got security? You got somebody there to look out for you.
Paul Heckmann: I would. Makes sense to me.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, because we know a lot of the stuff that makes sense to the regular people doesn’t make sense to the uppity-ups.
Paul Heckmann: So, we’ve come past Bill not working for the state fair anymore. What did he do after that?
Kim Bragg: Actually, during the fair he was working at EDS out in Plano, and then HP bought them. And he was there about five years.
Paul Heckmann: What did he do for them?
Kim Bragg: He was a cameraman and audio, he also redid a studio because they just had some things thrown together.
And, camera, audio, he would mic people up. People would be so nervous in front of the camera. Like, I get nervous talking. I can’t do a radio show myself; I get too nervous. He would go out and he would talk to the person and put their microphone on, whether they put in on their lapel, I guess they still do it. But, he’d say, now this is what we’re gonna do and this is how we’re gonna do it and are you okay. And he always made sure they were comfortable and he made them comfortable so they would be able to talk instead of just looking at this big eye of this camera staring you down.
And, then he would work with the talent and then he would get back there do the camera work and filming and audio and just keep tweaking things making sure things sounded good. He always, like if he was supposed to get there at seven in the morning, he would get there at six and get all the cameras with the color bars to make sure they were all perfect colors and tweak everything and have it all working perfectly.
And then when HP bought them they laid off a lot of people because what they were doing in Plano was the same thing they were doing out in California. So, when he was laid off and a couple of other gentlemen were laid off, they ended up hiring him back as a freelancer. So, he would go and do the camera work, but he just didn’t get benefits. I think they even paid him more money per hour than they were when he was working, but he had benefits when he was working there. So, he did that and then he was also working weekends at a place called Prime Media.
Paul Heckmann: I know that one.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, so he was out there with the license so he had that. And, we’d be out there on the weekends all night long we’d work, and I’d sleep on the couch in the green room, or have a – like in the one studio they had like a little setup and it was dark, I’d go in with a blanket and go to sleep in there while he was working because there was nothing for me to do.
Then sometimes he’d do camera work for T.D. Jakes at his church. He would do that, and then he’d do a TV show on PBS called McCuistion that they’d film over at Richland college. nd he would do the audio work on that and make sure everything ran properly. Now, by then it was mostly computers all you had to do was flip a switch. But, he made sure everything was going, and there were other people there too. He just made sure everything was going…
In fact, he had a job booked for September, which now I guess he is not gonna make. But, he was still doing that and it kinda kept his fingers in the business and he liked it. And he was retired, but he was semi-retired and he would go do certain jobs. And he liked doing that. He’d always carry a tool bag with him of tweaking screwdrivers and voltage testers and meters and all that, to where if there was a problem, and had connectors. And if there was a problem, he would just pull it out of his bag and he’d be all set and ready to go.
Paul Heckmann: He knew what to do.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, he knew what to do. And they knew when Bill was there everything was going to be okay. He used to love doing work. He had some jobs over at AMS, had some camera work there. But he was freelancer, audio/visual for the most part.
Paul Heckmann: So, tell me, I know the last time I spoke to you guys was two or three days before passed away, we had setup our final interview. He seemed very sharp then, much like Bill did the last time I met him.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, he was diagnosed with dimentia a year ago in August, but I’m just finding out. It starts a few years before that you don’t even know. And I was so close, and here all the time with him, not picking up on things, you know about the repeating of things and the losing of things, you know he would always lose stuff. In this mess, it’s easy to lose things in this mess. But he knew where stuff was at the time, but then it got to where he didn’t know, couldn’t remember.
Paul Heckmann: Yeah, I saw that when I was here. Remember the tape that he was looking for?
Kim Bragg: Yeah, and we never did find that tape, and he got so upset and he put it away, and then he couldn’t find it. And I still have yet to find that tape. I know it’s here somewhere.
Paul Heckmann: And you’ll find it.
Kim Bragg: He got really bad in February and March. I think that was one of the days you were coming by the house to work on the Louann’s project with him. And you know, us wives, we swear that the husbands don’t listen to us anyway, or we’ll tell them something and they don’t remember. And actually he had a problem and I didn’t realize it.
Paul Heckmann: And so, Bill has passed away. What are you gonna do?
Kim Bragg: Well, I got to sell everything. I can’t afford to live here by myself. And I’m gonna sell his stuff and I’m gonna keep the radio station going because that’s his legacy. I always told him I would try. He said, “If you can’t don’t worry about it.” But, I’m gonna try. We have plans on moving it out to California. In fact, we were starting to work on that. I had told Bill about it, but it was mostly me and the DJs were talking about what we were gonna do. When I was out there in May, I had driven out and I had taken backups of our computers that has the program running on it so they have that out there. So, eventually it’s gonna end up out there in either Costa Mesa or, I forgot the other town up the road.
I’m planning on doing it again in November because I was wondering what to do with all these cassettes that we have with the DJs and radio shows, what to do with them. And a webmaster out there, he can transfer them for me. Instead of trying to mail them or, I can even mail them for free through, for the stuff for the blind matter or whatever it’s called because the DJs out there are blind, but you don’t know for sure if they’re gonna get the stuff or not.
Paul Heckmann: Blind, you mean blind as in ‘can’t see’ DJs?
Kim Bragg: Yes, they picked up something was going on with Bill before I even heard it. In his voice they could hear it. So, I’m gonna take the truck and hopefully my cat again and all the recordings out and a tape deck. We have 30 years, 35 years of audio recordings from the DJs.
Paul Heckmann: So, this quite they eye opening journey with Bill, for you and now for me. Is there anything you would like to add before we wrap this one up?
Kim Bragg: Oh yes, when I came down here I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just knew what I had heard on the radio. You always hear, “It was quite a ride.” It was sure quite a ride. I’ve met so many famous people. People I never would’ve thought of. Things I would have never thought I was gonna do. I never thought I’d be on the radio talking. I’m nervous talking to people that I don’t know. I’m nervous talking to you as I don’t really know you. It’s just because I’m a shy person. I’ve gotten to do so many things because of Bill. I talked to Errol Flynn’s daughter. For the people who don’t know and the young people, that’s a big movie, he was the Brad Pitt of the day in the 40s. I never thought I would do anything like that.
If there’s anything I would change, I would probably firmly say no in a lot of things instead of just letting him go and do what he wants because I know where it ended up. I would’ve been more forceful but I pretty much just let him do what he wants. I mean, you can’t stop a Texan. It’s hard to stop a Texan.
Paul Heckmann: No. We’re ornery.
Kim Bragg: Yeah, very ornery. And Texans, they know what they want and there’s no way to stop them. I love all of you guys.
I get angry because he’s gone but I miss him and I love him. And then I’m like, “Bill, why did you do this to me?” as I’m looking around at something and then I’ll get sad and then I’ll move on to something else. But, I don’t think I would change much of anything. I’m just glad I had the opportunity and the time that I had because were were together about 20 years. But all in all, I’m pretty much happy. Very much. Pretty, pretty happy.
Paul Heckmann: A little sad and a little laughter. I think that’s a good way to end there. Thanks so much for spending time with me.
(And I will leave you on an upnote, the Bill Bragg that I had come to know,
with Big Tex himself, he of a wink and a nod.)
Paul Heckmann: Bill, I noticed that you are a member of a few organizations. I am going to read this list out loud to give folks an idea of what I am speaking of.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1257
The Society of Broadcast Engineers Dallas
The Society of Broadcast Engineers Tulsa
The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers
Audio Engineering Society of America
The Radio Club of America, Inc.
The Technical Club of Dallas
International Television Association
North American Radio Archives
Dallas Communications Council
Dallas Amateur Radio Club
Irving Amateur Radio Club
Vintage Radio & Phonograph Society
American Association of Museums
Museum of Television & Radio of New York
Texas Association of Museums
N. Texas Museum Association
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Dallas Historical Society
Big Band Society of the Metroplex
National Lum & Abner Society
New England Country Music Historical Society
Houston Vintage Radio & Phonograph Society
Radio Historical Association of Colorado
The Northwest Vintage Radio Society
Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound
First United Methodist Church of Dallas
Tannehill Masonic Lodge
Scottish Rite Lodge Of Perfection
Hella Shrine Temple in Garland,
Scottish Rite Club in Richardson.
Bill, did I miss any?
Bill Bragg: Sorry, I was taking a nap. What were you saying? Could you repeat that? (laughs)
Nah, lets not subject folks to that again.
Paul Heckmann: Thank god! And that brings us to what you have been doing with all your down time!
Bill Bragg: I’m so, so glad you asked. I rebuilt my home several times. I currently have two full size 1930’s General Stores, a 1940’s two-window Post Office, a 1950’s Mobil Gas Station and a 1950’s Shop. I also have an actual amusement park train ride that runs on 300 feet of track laid throughout my house. I have a 1929 replica Model A Ford, not to mention a Wurlizter formerly owned by Conway Twitty, a slot machine, a pinball machine, a player piano and some 50 plus Edison and Victor antique phonographs, radios and television sets. Then there are about one hundred thousand sound recordings, films and videos. I used to have a 1902 wooden caboose that sat on 39 feet rail. When the neighbors complained, we sold the caboose to Heritage Park in Irving. I have an entire room for Christmas goodies that lights up during the holidays. And more projects I am working and more I am about to start on.
And that’s about all I’ve got left to say. My feet hurt.
Fin. Finito. No mas. The End.
Paul Heckmann: And very typical of the way an interview ended with Bill, no buildup, just ‘over and out’. Those were the last words of the last time that Bill spoke to me. Rest in peace Big Bill, I hope you and Big Tex are kicking back high above us having a cold one right about now.
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