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Leading the Band

John Biester, the UW band announcer, explains how he does his thing.

March 30, 2015

Are you a band alum? Will you be in Madison for the UW Varsity Concert on April 18? Then you should join us for the Varsity Band Concert Cocktail Party!

John Biester has been the announcer for the Wisconsin Band since December of 1994. We've asked him to explain the routine for a typical football Saturday at Camp Randall. Here's the process in his own words:

IT’S SATURDAY!

My involvement with the UW Band began in the fall of 1973 as a freshman in the tuba section, followed by four years as drum major. Fast forward to the fall of 1992, when I was student-teaching with Bill Garvey and jumped back into the Band as a field assistant. After Jack Rane’s death in December 1994, I was given the honor of becoming the voice of the UW Band.

For the last 20 years, my Saturdays in the fall have been filled with the sounds and sights of Camp Randall. On game day with an 11:00 start, I am typically on the road from Janesville by 6:00 a.m. This past fall, I started to make time to meet the field assistants at Mickey’s [Dairy Bar] for breakfast before practice. It has become one of my favorite rituals. I can join my friends after a week or two, trade stories and laughs, and talk about the show and the upcoming day.

After breakfast, it is time for rehearsal.  I pick up my press book from Mike [Leckrone], and he and I discuss what he wants emphasized for that particular show. I actually get a copy of the script sent to me on the Thursday or Friday before the game. It gives me time to read it and make any changes to some of the things Mike has written. (And it gives me time to remember what year I might have done at least part of this show before).

Rehearsal is my one chance to get the timing down for my script and make note of Mike’s actions. It is where I get both musical as well as visual cues. Is it in, out, home or away? Where is the break? How many seconds do I have? Should I wait until later in the vamp to start? It used to be [that] I got two run-throughs at each rehearsal. This last season, each show was one time. Maybe Mike thinks I finally have the hang of this? Nah, he’s just messing with me…

Then it is off to the parking ramp on Francis Street and usually a nice long walk to the stadium up University Avenue, depending on the weather. I cross over and through Union South — a tradition of mine, or is it a superstition?

Even though I have been the latest version of the “Voice of the Badger Band” for 20 years now, no two times are ever the same. The weather changes, [or] there are different people at the security screening, at the elevators, or in the press box. Of course there are also a few familiar faces. Mike, the stadium announcer, and I have been friends and coworkers for the 20 years since Jack Rane passed. Kevin is in the producer’s seat getting ready to guide the music, the videos, and other things you see and hear in the stadium on game day. Several times a year he hands me extra things to read during halftime like W Club Day or Homecoming.

As I have no seat in the stadium, I just sit on the stairs in the [public address] booth for most of the first half and watch the Band through the glass of the announcer’s booth and through the glass at the front of the press area. I cannot hear the Band at al,l except through a three-inch speaker on the wall behind me. And that sound has about a one- to two-second delay. My timing has to be right.

Once pregame is done, I wait until the game begins to make my way down to the where the Band is seated in the north end. I always check in with Mike to work out any changes that may need to be made for halftime. He always asks, “How’d it look?”

After the talk, it’s back up the ramps, up the stairs, and up the elevator again.

After the festivities of halftime, my actual job is finished, and I am left to be a mobile spectator, taking my time to get back to where the Band sits. Time to talk to Mike and my friends about the Strieby Award nominee I saw or how [well or poorly] the game is progressing. The rest of the day is the usual “Jump Around” and Fifth Quarter. Somehow I became the center of a saxophone tradition during Space Badger (center of their circle of sound) and then had to lead a line of trombones around during the first chorus of the “Chicken Dance.”

The march out of the stadium and back to Humanities is still one of my favorite things — time to bask and laugh in the glory of a win or absorb the disappointment of another loss. Up the stairs to the railing above as the Band marches in. Skyrockets for us all, some magic words from Mike, and singing “Varsity” together.

I have been fortunate to announce for the Band in quite a variety of places, from high school stadiums on rickety bleachers to nearly 100,000 people in the Rose Bowl. I’ve announced in Lambeau and Soldier Field, just about every school in the Big Ten, and at 20 bowl games. I’ve been there for both wins and losses and some very magic moments. I feel so fortunate to have been with our Band to do these things and consider myself very lucky. I get to go places and do things not many get to do, all for the sake of the Wisconsin Band.”

Edited by: Kim Richter Rozum

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