Wyoming People: Pinedale’s Nelson Brothers Keeping Cowboy Culture Alive For 21 Years

Andy and Jim Nelson are as famous as a couple of horseshoers get in rural Sublette County. The brothers’ western-themed radio show and podcast "Clear Out West" has aired weekly for 21 years.

Jake Nichols

June 01, 202412 min read

For 21 years, Andy and Jim Nelson of Pinedale, Wyoming, have been doing their radio show and podcast the only way they know how — the cowboy way.
For 21 years, Andy and Jim Nelson of Pinedale, Wyoming, have been doing their radio show and podcast the only way they know how — the cowboy way. (Courtesy Clear Out West)

It’s darn near impossible to interview the Nelsons in the same room at the same time. The whole shooting match just turns into an episode of “Clear Out West” (COW), the popular podcast the brothers host.

Andy and Jim are both farriers by trade as was their father. They’ve both since hung up their rasps, but the hourlong weekly show they host together is going on 21 years with no end in sight.

The Nelsons always said they’d quit when it got to feel like work. So far, so good. Everyone’s still entertained, especially the entertainers themselves.

Bee In The Bonnet

Andy got the idea for a radio show in 2003. A chiropractor by day, the Pinedale, Wyoming, resident also was chipping away at an alternate life as a cowboy poet and guest speaker. In that world, he ran into Hugh McLennan who sparked the notion because the Canadian was hosting his own radio show called “Spirit of the West.”

Like McLennan’s show, the Nelsons modelled their broadcast to be a mix of Western music, cowboy poetry and ranch humor. First, Andy had to convince his brother Jim to do it with him.

“I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Jim said. “Inwardly, I’m thinking, ‘This won’t go a month. There’s no way.’”

Andy knew the immediate market — Sublette County, Wyoming — would embrace the cowboy entertainment, and he and his brother had always been a couple of cutups. Traveling with their dad as he shod horses throughout the intermountain West, the Nelsons had a good feel for how real folk talk and what they talk about.

“We’ve been at this all our lives. Before we were ever in front of a microphone, when we were Scouts, we would put on skits,” Jim said. “We’ve been training for this for a lifetime.”

Those early shows were not promising, however.

“They were horrible. We were terrible,” Andy said. “Bob was brave.”

Bob is Bob Rule, owner of KPIN-FM in Pinedale. A handshake deal with the radio mogul had COW on the air every weekend. It now airs on more than 30 stations nationwide in addition to the accompanying podcast.

The brothers have explored wider syndication, but the upfront costs are prohibitive, and they are unwilling to relinquish control of their product.

“We sent a demo to one of the DJs on Willie’s Roadhouse. We didn’t hear back, but it wasn’t long after that he started using our music on his show,” Andy said.

“I guess he liked our show,” Jim quipped.

For 21 years, Andy and Jim Nelson of Pinedale, Wyoming, have been doing their radio show and podcast the only way they know how — the cowboy way.
For 21 years, Andy and Jim Nelson of Pinedale, Wyoming, have been doing their radio show and podcast the only way they know how — the cowboy way. (Courtesy Clear Out West)

Barkin’ At A Knot

With no formal training, the Nelsons saddled up for two decades of podcasting long before the media would ever become as mainstream as it is today.

“We announced the local rodeo here for 16-18 years. Just recently retired from that,” Jim said.

“Yeah, we decided it would be better to quit before they asked us to quit,” Andy shoots back.

The siblings developed a familiar rhythm with their bunkhouse banter. Like any of the great comedy duos like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, Andy and Jim complement each other effortlessly.

“It’s a lot more polished than when we started,” Andy said. “We don’t practice and we don’t script. We’ve gotten to the point where the editing is at a bare minimum.”

“We just take out the cuss words,” Jim added.

“I don’t know what he’s going to say. He doesn’t know what I’m going to say,” Andy said.

“If it was scripted there’s no way I could do it. I wouldn’t be able to read anything. It just has to flow,” Jim countered.

One story leads to another once the duo settles on a topic for the week. They record Tuesday nights at Andy’s chiropractic office in downtown Pinedale. That show will air about 10 days after it’s recorded.

Recipe For Ranch Radio

“Clear Out West” is one of less than a handful of cowboy entertainment shows in audio format. “Red Steagall and the Boys in the Bunkhouse” is probably the best-known of the genre.

COW began in radio syndication and has transitioned to the internet by way of podcast. The 55-minute show is “bartered” on radio, meaning stations airing the show have five minutes of their own ads to sell during the program in exchange for broadcasting it for free.

The show begins with a lush intro¬ (that’s Cincinnati Pops Orchestra pumping out its version of “Magnificent Seven,” by the way) which includes Babe Humphrey of Bar J Chuckwagon fame teeing up the Nelsons in his resonant baritone.

Andy kicks off the latest episode.

“I asked my wife to hand me the newspaper the other day and she laughed and said, ‘Nobody reads the newspaper anymore,’ and handed me her iPad. Well, let me tell you that fly didn’t know what hit him,” Andy jokes at the outset of their latest podcast.

Ugh, dad humor, right?

“Now it’s time for a ‘cowmercial.’ We’ll be right back,” Andy continues.

Maybe it’s the loosening standards of film and television. Yesterday’s R-rated films are PG-13 today. TV shows, satellite radio talk shows and podcasts are littered with F-bombs.

To discover COW’s wholesome entertainment is refreshing. Not that the brothers haven’t found themselves at the wrong end of an email a time or two.

“Unfortunately, sometimes our show will offend somebody. We’ll get an email saying, ‘That was rude and you shouldn’t say things like that,’” Andy said. “Our patent response is, ‘We are sorry you were offended,’ but we don’t apologize for what we said. And we try really hard not to be rude. And not to purposefully offend someone.”

The friction is usually the result of conservative Western values butting up against a more woke audience, but 99% of what the Nelsons do is preaching to the choir.

“We had one email come back saying, ‘I love the music and the poetry, but too much talking.’ I sent back an email with a smiley emoji that said, ‘It’s a talk show,’” Andy said.

Horseshoe Humorists

The show’s format includes a cowboy poem or two and a few Western songs. Poets like Baxter Black, Waddie Mitchell and Red Steagall are featured regularly. Songs by artists like Dave Stamey, Brenn Hill, Ian Tyson and Don Edwards are par for the course.

It’s unique material that is not heard anywhere on conventional broadcasts. And it’s the boys’ easy repartee, more ranch than raunch, that holds the show together.

“We’ll come out of a break and Jim will come up with this [quip] and I’ll start laughing, and that makes him laugh, and then we gotta cut that part out, compose ourselves and go back into it,” Andy said.

“I throw some in there for a little shock value,” Jim admitted.

“I tell you what, more often than not, if anything has to be recorded over or cut out it’s him,” Andy said, thumbing in the direction of his brother.

The pair of cowboys can be edgy in an ag kind of way, but their work is far from blue.

“We had a good mother that raised us with good values. I think that was it. And we had a father that was a rapscallion. So, that was the combination there,” Andy said. “I'm sure we’ve gone over the edge a time or two and have regretted it. But we learn, like anybody else. We really didn’t have any training.”

“I liken this show to cowboys sitting around the dinner table,” Andy began.

“With family,” Jim finished.

“With family,” Andy chuckled. “We are still telling stories, but we’ve calmed them down a little bit.”

For 21 years, Andy and Jim Nelson of Pinedale, Wyoming, have been doing their radio show and podcast the only way they know how — the cowboy way.
For 21 years, Andy and Jim Nelson of Pinedale, Wyoming, have been doing their radio show and podcast the only way they know how — the cowboy way. (Courtesy Clear Out West)

Famous In A Small Town

The Nelsons understand the importance of roping in the next generation. Andy, 60, and Jim, 62, don’t tailor their material to suit today’s short attention span screenagers, but they will sprinkle in a Colter Wall song and address current topics of interest to a younger audience.

“Absolutely, we are trying to draw them in. Where they get exposed to us is from their parents,” Andy said. “We’ve got some really good success stories of families that listen to the show together. These little kids that grew up listening to COW Radio are now young men and women in their 20s.

“And we kind of have the advantage of a captive audience. That kid that grew up on a ranch in Daniel. Some of these old ranches get K2 and that’s all they get.”

But don’t expect to hear Beyonce’s latest country effort “Cowboy Carter” on COW anytime soon.

“Is that how you pronounce her name? I always thought it was ‘Bouncy,’” Jim only half-joked.

In addition to being an in-demand performer and emcee, Andy is a member of the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame board and a former chair of the Sublette County Board of Commissioners. He is a known commodity in the area. Jim is an electrician working out in the oil/gas patch so he has more limited visibility.

Still, every now and then someone will recognize their voices.

“I have a vendor over in Casper we use a lot,” Jim said. “One of the guys, Matt, was coming over to look at a project and Matt says, ‘I'm going to Pinedale. I’ve got to see Jim Nelson about a project.’ One of their estimators says, ‘You’re going to Pinedale? And you’re going to go see Jim Nelson? He’s a celebrity, you know.’ In Casper, anyway.”

“People do recognize us, and they recognize our voices,” Andy agreed. “We have a nephew that’s a city kid down in Utah. I was down there and somebody recognized me. They came up to me and introduced themselves and shook my hand and all that.

“Then turned to my nephew and said, ‘You know, your uncle is famous.’ My nephew said, ‘W-e-e-e-l-l, in a very small area.’”

Watch on YouTube

The Show Must Go On

In all of COW’s 21-year run — the first show kicked off Valentine’s Day 2003 — the brothers have never missed a show, never had to air a rerun. That’s some 1,100 shows, each with a unique topic.

“We came close a couple times,” Andy said. “Jim had his gallbladder out one time and came straight from the hospital.”

“The show must go on,” Jim echoed.

COVID and the changing times have put a financial hurt on once-popular cowboy poetry events like the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. But like the Cowboy State’s economy, the popularity of cowboy culture goes through periods of boom and bust.

“As the popularity of cowboy poetry and music ebbs and flows, we just kind of stay with it. There is some new good talent coming up, but a lot of the old good ones are gone,” Andy said. “[Ian] Tyson is gone. Don Edwards is gone. My gosh, Baxter [Black] is gone. So many of the good ones.”

“And Waddie [Mitchell] hung up his spurs,” Jim added. “Everything’s changing. Used to be Jackson was a fun place to go. Not no more. I’d rather jump in a tub full of scissors than have to go to Jackson.”

In all the change, things stay the same for the farriers-turned-funny.

Jim lives on the Flying U cattle ranch in the tiny community of Cora north of Pinedale, with his wife Tina and four children — three sons and a daughter.

“We got six generations on the family ranch. Weekends are hectic,” Jim said. “All are married and everyone is close. Farthest away is my daughter, and she lives in Big Piney.”

Jim’s 12 grandkids are one more than Andy’s 11. Andy and Jaclyn have two boys and two girls. They live just south of Pinedale.

“They are all out of the house, all married,” Andy said. “Mine aren’t anywhere close. Furthest away is a daughter married to a Naval officer and they are stationed in Naples, Italy. Got a grundle of grandkids. Life’s good.”

Jake Nichols can be reached at jake@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter