An interview with the “voice of DCI,” Brandt Crocker

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

I’ve known Brandt Crocker since the week I was hired as editor of Drum Corps World in June 1973. We met at the Troopers’ “Drums Along the Rockies” in Casper, WY.

Our conversations have been numerous over the years, almost always at the DCI Championships, but sometimes at tour shows and DCI winter meetings. He’s been a good friend for more than three decades.

I was pleased to be asked to provide photos that were used in his recognition by DCI at the 30th anniversary championship finals in 2002.

Needless to say, I’ve wanted to do this interview for a long time. We finally connected.

Steve Vickers: I know you have never marched. What was your first job in drum corps?
Brandt Crocker: Business manager, Troopers.

SV: Give me a little history of what you did prior to joining the staff as announcer for DCI.

BC: While teaching and being with the Troopers, I had done PA work at high school football games, color commentary on radio for high school football games, high school basketball and all of the pre-game and half-time exhibitions the Troopers did at the college and professional football level.

I also did the color for the radio broadcasts back to Casper.

SV: What was it like working with one of the legends of the activity, Jim Jones, founder and director of the Troopers?

BC: Demanding! Only perfection was acceptable, but I learned so much, it was truly a labor of love. It was also a friendship for life. Truly a great man!

SV: What was that first DCI Championship like for you, sitting at that table on the sidelines of Warhawk Stadium in Whitewater?

Brandt Crocker: I was blown away! I had no idea what the future would be for DCI, but I thought if this thing is as good as the first corps off the line (Hawthorne Muchachos) at 8:00 AM in the morning, this was going to be a heckuva ride. We started in the morning on Thursday and ended at 5:00 PM and did the same thing on Friday. We didn’t see a corps twice.

At 6:00 PM on that Friday night, we started finals with the top 12. Oh man, what a show. I was also extremely nervous!

SV: I was there and remember a huge rain storm starting just as you began to announce second place and 10,000 people running for cover. Right before that you said something to the effect that “it never rains in Whitewater.”

BC: I’ve been told about that incident, but I don’t remember the details.

SV: There have been only a few times in DCI’s history that you weren’t at the microphone during finals. What years?

BC: 1974, 1975, the second year in Montreal (1982) and the first year in Madison (1985).

SV: I know you were part of a special group of people who worked together for 20 or more years. Tell me about some of them.

BC: Oh my! Family comes to mind. We became so close. Not in the beginning, at least for me. The entire contest crew except for me had worked with Bob Briske in the Illinois Drum & Bugle Corps Association for years. They were connected. I was the outsider, the cowboy from Wyoming. I only recognized two of the group, the rest were total strangers.

Bob Briske was demanding, loyal, fun, exasperating, but I love that man! Bill Evans, Bob’s right hand, knew what Briske wanted before he asked. He was hard to get to know. He was the city guy and I was the country boy. In the end, we were good friends and I found out he had relatives in Iowa that were good friends of my parents.

Ernie Zimny was a wonderful teacher. He tested us on the rules constantly. He had the patience of Job! He was always making sure the younger guys were putting enough away for retirement. He truly worried about each of us.

John Petersen-Hick was a Marine veteran of the Pacific. He could solve any structural problem, including how to get the sheets from upstairs down to the tab table. We were in some interesting stadiums that were a challenge.

Bob Wiles was my best friend in whole world. He came to us in Denver and returned to us the first year in Montreal. He and I shared so much. We were the company pranksters. If half of the stories people thought we did were true, we would still be in jail. I miss him terribly.

There were others. Betty and Jerri, our traveling nurses, who were with us from the beginning. Yes, we had our own medical staff. They took good care of all of us, including kids.

Harvey Wingo and I have shared some great times. He joined us in the later years, but fit right in. We bonded right away, both graduates of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

SV: You have had some interesting things happen as a result of your notoriety as a DCI announcer. Can you share a couple?

BC: I never thought anything about notoriety. From time to time, people would come down from the stands and want to shake my hand or want my autograph. That used to amuse me, because I didn’t think of myself as anything special and I still don’t.

People would mention my voice and ask if I was the DCI guy. That was strange, because from the beginning I was instructed by Briske and Zimny that the announcer was not the entertainment. The announcer was to do the job at hand and never, ever say your own name. No antics, no games.

That changed as the years went by and we began taking different approaches. It became less sterile and I could inject some personality into the announcing.

It was only years later, in the mid-1990s, in fact, that I learned of the meaning of my voice, especially at championships. Randy Isoda and my son Greg were talking with me about why I could never retire from DCI and I didn’t get it. They then shared the feelings of the kids in the corps, knowing when they heard my voice they had truly made it to championships and later on to finals. I have since read some interviews with various corps members speaking to that.

I had no idea. I was and am overwhelmed by that. I never would have guessed it in a          million years. I do what I do because I love the activity so much.

SV: Don’t you do some additional announcing outside the DCI major events?

BC: Yes and I seem to keep adding more and more. I announce some color guard and          percussion events for WGI at regionals and finals. I also announce local marching band                competitions in Iowa and Missouri; local shows where I am not contest coordinating; and this past fall became the PA voice of Marching Mizzou, the band at the University of Missouri. My summer part-time job is now my 12-month part-time job.

I might point out that the director of Marching Mizzou is Dr. Michael Knight, a former Madison Scout, class of 1996.

SV: One of the things you have also been involved in is the DCI show sponsors task force. What did that group accomplish while you were chairman and serving on the board?

BC: I served two terms for a total of six years, five of those as chair. At the start of year two, the      committee wanted to control more of our time and topics; pick what we thought we needed. I drove into the DCI office to chat, met with Sue O’Brien and we discussed the winter meetings.

We talked about the Directors College that was a year old and lo and behold, we looked at each other and out of that came the Show Promoters College. In an instant, we went from asking for being able to control half of our time to taking charge of all of it. Later that spring, the committee met in Chicago and put the first college together and it has continued to this day. That has to be the highlight.

SV: Over the years, you’ve also had an opportunity to travel with corps during their summer tours. Tell me about those experiences.

BC: It has changed. This came about after realizing that, for years, we (promoter committee members) had been asking our membership to take some time and travel with a corps for a few days to see how it works from their side. Most of our promoters did not march drum corps and had not traveled that way.

In 1999, it dawned on me that if I was going to preach about spending time with a corps, maybe I had better go back on the road. It had been 28 years since traveling with the Troopers.

At the 1999 Chicago winter meetings, JW Koester and I were sharing an adult beverage, talking about this idea, and he made the comment that if that was what I wanted to do, Santa Clara Vanguard would welcome me any time. I spent the Northwest tour with SCV that summer over July 4 — seven days on the floor.

I came home exhausted, but learned how to do it right the next time. I’ve been doing it ever since, once I get my contest coordinating schedule, to see if I can connect any dots.

Besides connecting the dots of what my coordinator schedule might be, several corps are always asking, “When are you going to travel with us?” It has been a kick. I have traveled with Santa Clara, Glassmen, Cavaliers, Blue Knights, Capitol Regiment, Colts and Phantom Regiment . . . several more than once.

What have I learned — wow — I look at everything concerning local shows differently than I had before. I now know what the kids are going through. I used to rely on Greg Orwoll (Colts) sharing things, now I had it firsthand.

I learned about rehearsal schedules and meal times, meal make-up, depending on demands. Also, about routing vehicles, fuel stops, potty stops and timing.

But the best — I have had the honor to meet some great people and they have allowed me into their lives. It’s great! I have already had my first request for 2005 and haven’t seen a schedule yet!

SV: Anything else you would like to add?

BC: I was surprised you wanted to interview me and I do appreciate it. I have loved this activity from the first moment I saw it in Fort Dodge, IA, in 1967. I think it is the finest thing going for young people.

I grew up in athletics and music both. I love both, but music has to have the advantage. You can do it your entire life.   I like being involved. It is a great life.

Every other year or so, I attend the Colts’ first public showing, “Spring Fling,” which features all of the groups they sponsor. When the Colts line up to play some of their new music, Greg Orwoll introduces the staff and has one of them talk about the program for that year. Then that staff member introduces the corps and Orwoll stops them because the intro is so bad. He makes some comments that anyone in the audience could probably do better. He then selects the old guy up in the corner of the gym.

I shuffle out, Greg hands me the mic and I do the DCI introduction. It brings down the house. What is even funnier, most of the kids don’t   realize that I live within three hours of Dubuque. It is a good time and we seemingly fool everyone every time we do it. It is great fun.