Interview with Joe Starkey

[Did some necessary editing, 8/27/06. AJC]
Date [of interview]:
October 5, [1992], 10AM
This interview was conducted by Todd Wysuph during his morning break at Charles Schwab Brokerage Company in San Francisco. He spoke with Joe over a speaker phone, and taped the conversation with a Sony Walkman. The beeps occasionally heard in the background are indications that the company was also recording the conversation. By law, brokerage firms must do so in case there is a customer dispute regarding a quote for security purchases. Joe was at his home during the interview.

T: Did Bob tell you anything about the History Project?

J: Not a lot, no.

T: Okay, well basically its called the Cal Band History Project. They’ve actually made a separate organization to run this thing and its quite in-depth. They’ve got about 100 people doing various research projects, interviewing people, doing a lot of library research and that sort of thing. So, what they’re going to be doing is coming up with “100 years of the Cal Band,” a yearbook essentially, and on top of that, they’re just going to be compiling all this different research and putting it in the archives to be immortalized for ever and ever, so we’d like to include your comments in that if we could...

J: Okay.

T: By the way my name is Todd, I was the Student Director in 1988...

J: Oh, okay. Well, we probably met somewhere along the line.

T: Yeah, you actually interviewed me one time, so it’s, it’s an honor for me to get to do it the other way around. How long have you been announcing Cal games?

J: Since ’75.

T: Had you seen the Cal Band before that?

J: Uh, no. I’d never seen a Cal football game before I did one.

T: Oh really?

J: Na. No. Haha. Although I lived in Northern California at that time, it’d been about five years. I had never gone to any of the local college football games.

T: Oh, okay. How did you get started announcing?

J: Well, I was a banker for Union Bank. I was Corporate Vice Presidentfor Union Bank in San Francisco and was just interested in getting into broadcasting and although I did, ironically , one of the jobs that I did audition for was Cal football about four years before I got it. When I first moved up here, they were looking for an announcer and I sent in a tape, and I think they didn’t hire me cause I had no experience is the best I could figure.[It] was true, I had none, and when I did get into [the] business a couple of years later as a hockey announcer, I had no experience either. But I got Charley Finley to hire me off of some demonstration tapes I had done at games.

T: Oh, how ’bout that. That’sincredible. Okay so, what wasyour training then in?

J: Well, I didn’t have any. I mean I don’t have any formal broadcast training, but I do have an MBA I was president of a drama club in college so I was successful in speech class and drama class and things like that.

T: So sheer raw talent.

J: It wasn’t that hard of an adjustment although obviously I needed a knowledge of sports and then I had one advantage in that my first job was in hockey, and in California there aren’t many people who knew much about it, particularly thenin the early seventies. So the fact that I was from Chicago and had grown up with it and had played it and all that was a big factor.

T: Oh, I see, oh fantastic. What were your first impressions of the Cal Band.

J: I thought it was great. I can remember a couple of years on the broadcast I worked with a fellow by the name of Monte Sticklesand we always got a big kick out of the cannon. He actually had a miniature cannon that he brought to all home games and when the team would shoot off their cannon, he would shoot off this little one about the size a of a cigarette lighter and it would go a little pop.He would do that because he got such a charge out of the way it was done and the Band charging out on the field after the explosion. It just was very dramatic and very entertaining.

T: Fantas/.. so this was back in ’75 then?

J: Right.

T: I see. And, have you noticed a change in the Band since ’75?

J: Well, you know, it’s hard to say because when you see’em as often as I do, you don’t pick up things that are different about ’em. I mean, I’ve just assumed kind of a natural progression through the different music eras and the like. Obviously, the traditional songs are always there with the school songs and the like. They’ve stayed pretty traditional, it seems, to me. We’ve seen a lot of college bands that go off in left field and do different types of things, but I think Cal has always struck me as a very traditional type of college band.

T: Yeah, I guess that’s probably true. Do you have a favorite Cal Song?

J: Probably the Sturdy Golden Bear. Yeah, I think I like that the best.

T: That’s a good one. (more nervous laughter) What do youthink of the Band now?

J: I think it’s a great group and I can’t remember a time it wasn’t’. I’m just always impressed under the circumstances that you’ve always had to work with no scholarships, the difficulties, for example, of getting to road games.I’m constantly amazed no matter where we go with a football game...

[battery in tape player dies, Todd quickly replaces battery but 2 or 3 of Joe’s precious sentences are vaporized from existence I’m very sorry]

...(de)termination that somebody be there to represent the Band one way or another at almost every game that I’ve been at.

T: Oh, that’s fantastic. What is the band doing right?

J: I think that what I like about it is that I think college football is a traditional sport. I think that one of the reasons that it does so well is that the alumni,as each succeeding generation leaves school, they like to come back to campus to see a football game and know that things are going to be as it was for in some ways when they were in school and Ithink think that college bands provide that.I think the Bears do that very very well. I think that whether it be somebody whose an alum from 1950 or 1970 or 1990, he can go back in and he’s going to know the songs and the Band’s going to be performing its routine.It’s going to be in the traditional formations. It’s gonna put a little flair in it and gives a great entertainment. They’re gonna look disciplined. They’re gonna look like they’re having a heck of a good time and I think that’s a major attraction for a sporting event at the college level is that the Band be a a source of enjoyment as well.

J: Yeah, I guess that would be true for me. What isn’t the Band doing right?

T: I never see anything that bothers me frankly. I mean it’s hard to say that what they’re doin’ right is just in terms of uh... they always perform so well, I never see somebody drop an instrument or you never seem to hear a sour note and the cuts on the field and I always wonder how in heaven’s name they always get the moves just right. I think that year after year, that the hours that you have to put in to be effective at shows on the field or wherever the Band is performing when they show up at racing through a hallway during Big Game Week somewhere where they show up to put on a few numbers and the like. I think it’s always an absolute delight.

T: Fantastic. So the Band is turning 100 years old. What do you think the goals ought to be for the Band for the next 100 years? How would you like to see the Band evolve?

J: Well, I think, to a certain extent, that it is important to keep up with the current generation. I don’t thinkI have [a] problem withthe Band.I think we both agree that it has always been a traditional band and stays with certain basics, but I do think that adding a little of [what] makes it current is always important. I’m not talking about bringing in the major Rock ’n Roll songs or something like that, but music during their routines that reflects current tastes and interests on a broad planeis very important and I don’t think that a band that doesn’t stay up with that is going to succeed. I think that people will be less interested if they don’t continue to stay current. But I see no problem with that cause I see that Cal’s always done that.

T: How do you feel when the Band marches out onto the field ?

J: I love it. I mean, that kinda starts the day. Usually it happens about halfway through our pregame broadcasts. We’re starting our broadcast and somewhere after the first few minutes, here comes the Band massing in the tunnel, and they’ve got the high step, and the cannon goes off and they come out and you can see the crowd immediately react to that, and that, to me, really kicks off the day. I love it.

T: So you think the fans feel pretty much the same way?

J: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think that that’s absolutely a major attraction for people and it kinda gets them in the mood for the athletic event to come whether it be football or basketball. In fact, you know it’s really wild at Harmon. I think that Harmon is so very small, when the Band comes in there, the noise just is an incredible level, and it really charges things up. I think one of the reasons that the Bears have been so successful in recent years is that the Band and Lou Campinelli have exploited to the full extent the value of Cal noise in Harmon Gym.

T: Yeah, hahaha.

J: Haha, I think that really pays off.

T: No doubt about it, yeah.

J: So that’s real fun. That's a lot of fun.

T: Do you have any interesting memories of the Band?

J: I can’t say specific moments. I guess I probably enjoyed the songs the most after the’82 game [Mr. Starkey is referring to the Big Game against Stanford in 1982 when Cal won in the last play of the game due partially to the premature entrance onto the field of the Stanford Band] I mean after the Bears had been declared the winner,...

T: Oh yea, uh huh.

J: ...on laterals,...

T: Uh huh.

J: ...and then the Band went into their music,...

T: Uh huh.

J: really seemed to have kind of a special emotion to it...

T: Yeah.

J: ...and I think it was just tied up into the whole nature of the weird contest and all of the things that happened at the end of the game, but I think that when the Band comes back on the field after a game, win or lose, that, to me, is very significant. I think it says that whether the Cal Bears area loser or a winner today or no matter what the score was, we’re out here to continue the entertainment, we want you to leave feeling good and we’re gonna put on a little show for you to send you off out of the building with good memories of the afternoon no matter what the score was and I think that’s great.

T: Boy I wish I had been there for the play. I wasn’t...

J: haha

T: ...too bad. If there were a Pac 10 band tournament, where would the Cal Band place?

J: Well, lets put it this way... They’d certainly be nine levels ahead of Stanford.

T: Hahaha, good answer, good answer, haha. No seriously though. I mean how do you think we would do ?

J: Oh, I thinkquite well. I think that you know USC, for example, is so big.

T: Yeah.

J: And they have such majesty and drama, and all that. But you know, when you think about it, watch people react to the U$C Band who aren’t USC fans, its usually very negative.

T: Really?

J: They feel like they’re being overwhelmed,

T: Really?

J: ...that they’re dealing with a pompous, arrogant, musician group who, above all else, want you to look at them, and nothing else,...

T: Yeah,

J: They intrude on the game whether at homeor road. I think that things like that put people off so I think that the idea of the traditional style of band in the conference that Cal ranks as well as anybody. And I find it hard to believe that there would be many ahead of them.

T: When thinking of bands like UCLA and USC then, is the Cal Band too small?

J: I don’t know. uh I think it probably uh wouldn’t hurt it to be bigger because I think that by the nature of the way they operate a band with more members can be louder, if you want to put it that way, and fill a stadium a little bit better. But I understand the problems that Cal has in terms of numbers, of the terms of how difficult it is to get people when there are no scholarships involved and it’s their own time and their own money and that sort of thing.

T: Yeah.

J: So, I think that, under the circumstances, they probably exceed expectations without a doubt.

T: Is the band too quiet?

J: I would like to see it a little bit bigger just because I’d like it to fill the stadium a little bit more than it does. For example, we go up to Seattle this Saturday [The Bears, ranked #24 met the Huskies #1 on October 10, 1992 and lost, 28 to 16]. It’s a very noisy place and when that band starts going, because of the large numbers, it is an intimidating factor. As I said, Cal Band intimidates in Harmon. It has never been used though that way at Cal football games. Maybe that’s just as well.. I don’t want to see a band that gets to the point where it becomes a weapon of the team like US [Call waiting click] (C).

T: Yeah.

J: I don’t like that.

T: Yeah.

J: So I have no problem with the numbers, I really don’t.

T: Okay. fantastic. Should the Band be doing more of its own fund raising or should the state pitch in more?

J: Oh, hold on one second.

T: Yeah.

J: Got another call hold on.

[To historians of 2093 and beyond: telephone companies offer a “Call Waiting” service, which alerts the customer during a phone conversation of someone trying to call him. Joe heard the ’click’ on his line and knew that someone was trying to reach him. He told me to hold on, then he depressed the receiver button, and the line was transferred from my phone to the third party’s phone. When he was finished with the third party caller, Joe pushed the button a second time, and he was reconnected to my line so we could resume our phone conversation. And that’s the way it was in 1992.]

J: ...Okay. So where were we?

T: Um, yeah. Should the Band be doing more of its own fund raising or should it get more funds from the state?

J: I think it’s rather pathetic that they don’t get more help. I just don’t know of many schools that wouldn’t do more, well universities that wouldn’t do more for the band than Cal does. I think it’s a shame that you have to have all these fundraisers because I think that a band is as much apart of an academic institution as any other resource. I mean, it goes back to the very basics of what we’re doing to ourselves in the state of California by eliminating art classes, and drama classes, and music classes. This under the guise of “Well these aren’t important. They can be taken out of the budget” and I say absolutely not. We need all of these things that contribute to a complete human being. Everybody has different skills, and that these people should be appreciated and rewarded for what they want to do, and can do, and provide an asset to society and, as time goes on, even when they leave the college, as anybody else who gets a math degree, or a drama degree, or anything else, I i’m very disturbed, in fact, by the whole philosophy that says that, somehow, these are lesser, lesser pursuits than others. I don’t agree with that.

T: Someone wanted me to ask you, what is the significance of [what you sometimes] like to say “What a bonanza!”?

J: Haha, oh that’s just a kind of emotional reaction to something good that happens.It juststarted spontaneously when I first got into this business, and it just seemed to fit a particularly exciting moment. You know, a bonanza is a strike it rich phrase. Things went extremely well. You’ve hit the mother lode etc. “Eureka!” type of thing and so I always felt that it works very well in a particularly big dramatic play at a sporting event.

T: Yeah, so it’s a signature Starkey, Starkeyism. Okay, anything else you’d like to add? This interview is going to be transcribed and put in the archives, so if there’s anything you’d like someone in the year 2092 to know about the Band or anything else, is there anything you’d like to say?

J: Well, I’d just like to say that having had the chance to watch them perform for 18 years has been one of the real delights. To be part of Cal athletics is to see the Band in so many different events and to enjoy their music and enjoy the fact that they’re enjoying themselves so much that they that they not only entertain us, I have the feeling they’re entertaining themselves. I appreciate their effort, their intensity, their dedication to what they do, and I’m delighted that I’ve had a chance to be a part of some way.

T: Hey that’s great. Joe I really appreciate your talking to me today.

J: No problem.

T: Thanks very much

J: I’m on the way.