Remembering Former Big Red Broadcaster Bob Starr

Bob Costas called Bob Starr “the greatest football announcer I’ve ever heard.”

“He was a good baseball announcer, but a great football announcer,” Costas told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1998.

Starr was hired by KMOX radio in 1972 to become the radio voice of the Big Red and Missouri Tigers, a job he would hold until 1979. He later became the busiest broadcaster in town when he was hired by the baseball Cardinals to replace Jack Buck, who briefly left the team to host a studio show on NBC.

Bob Starr (R) and E.J. Holub pose for a photo in the Big Red booth in 1975.

In September of 1975, Starr called a baseball Cardinals game on a Friday night in New York, flew to Minneapolis for a football Cardinals preseason game against the Vikings on Saturday evening, returned to the Big Apple to call the Cardinals/Mets game on Sunday, and then flew to Birmingham, AL to broadcast Mizzou’s 20-7 upset win over Alabama on Monday night.

“Really, I don’t mind that sort of schedule at all,” Starr told the Post-Dispatch in a 1976 interview. “It’s sometimes irritating, or frustrating when connections are tight and the weather is bad.”

Starr was the proud adopted son of Harry and Elda Starr, who drove from their Oklahoma home to Kansas City to adopt Bob shortly after he was born on June 2, 1933. Harry Starr was a big football fan and one of Bob’s favorite stories was about the time he and his father drove 300 miles to Dallas to watch SMU vs. TCU in 1948. Bob had hoped to see his idol, Doak Walker, dash all over the field for the Mustangs on that day, but it didn’t quite work out as the Heisman Trophy winner was contained by the TCU defense. However, Walker did kick the game tying extra point in a 7-7 tie.

Starr excelled in sports as a youngster and earned an athletic scholarship to Kansas University where he played football, basketball and baseball. After a brief stint in the Army (1954-1956), he signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates farm team but a shoulder injury ended his career after only three weeks.

Starr’s broadcasting career began when his grandfather “suggested” that he audition for a radio job in Macomb, IL. As the story goes, Bob’s response was “I can’t do that.” His grandfather’s response was “Well, you can talk, can’t you!” Starr won the $40 a week job and would later work at stations in Bloomington, IL and Peoria, IL before heading east to Boston in 1965 where he became the voice of the AFL Boston Patriots and the Boston College Eagles. His football play-by-play talent was ranked by some in Boston as the best they had ever heard.

Bob Starr (L), Jack Buck, Jay Randolph, and Mike Shannon before a game at Busch Stadium in 1977 (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Post Dispatch)

KMOX lured Starr back to the Midwest in 1972 where he would become a sportscasting force during his stay in St. Louis. His peers were in awe over how he would call football games.

“He’s the only one I ever saw work without a spotting board,” Jack Buck told the Post-Dispatch. I was shocked when I saw him work like that. But he could recognize things instantly. He’d know the name, number and formation. It was simply incredible.”

“The first time I saw Starr doing a game, my jaw just dropped,” Bob Costas explained to the Post-Dispatch in 1998. “He’d be sitting there with the flip card (a roster) and that it. Phenomenal.”

“I’ve always worked that way,” Starr told the Post-Dispatch in a 1976 interview. “I don’t understand people who use those involved boards. Nor can I understand why I need someone to tell me who’s carrying the ball or making the tackle. Heck, I’m watching the game, too, and I have enough knowledge of football to see what’s going on. I can usually spot open receivers and, since I know the favorite offensive patterns of the teams, I can pick things up from there. I expect the analyst to pick up key blocks and things, and of course I need a statistician.”

Former Big Red public relations director Joe Pollack was Starr’s analyst his first two seasons in the booth. “He (Starr) was not tyrannical, nor does he run over the lines of those who sit alongside,” Pollack wrote in a 1976 Post-Dispatch story. “He is easy to talk with, to joke with, and when the other announcer has relatively little experience, Starr is an expert teacher.”

Not only did Starr call Big Red and Mizzou football and Cardinals baseball games, but he also called some Mizzou basketball games as well.

“Basketball,” he said, “is really the easiest sport to do. The action is going on constantly, and all you have to do is describe it.”

“Football is a little harder, but again, the action is there in front of you.”

“I guess baseball is the most difficult, since there is a lot of time to fill, and more talking is necessary.”

“But among the sports, I really don’t have a preference. I love doing all of them.”

Starr left St. Louis after the 1979 season to become the voice of the Los Angeles Rams and California Angels. It was an “opportunity he couldn’t reject” as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Starr would spend 10 years in California, return to Boston for three years calling Redsox games, and then back to Los Angeles to call Rams and Angels games before retiring in 1997.

Bob Starr had a 41 year career in broadcasting, including 28 in major league baseball.

“When he did baseball in St. Louis, Jack Buck was in town,” Costas told the Post-Dispatch in 1998. “In Los Angeles, there was Vin Scully. So, in a sense, I don’t think he ever got his fair due. But in football, they all took a back seat to him.”

Bob Starr passed away at his home on August 3, 1998 in Orange, CA of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 65.

Bob Starr called Big Red games from 1972-1979.

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