On Air: Meet Joe White

By Madhavi Athanikar and Susi Vogler

Joe and the dogs
Joe with Muddy Waters (who’s no longer with us) and Jelly Roll Morton.

He’s an original. If you live around the Lakeshore district of Oakland, you’ll probably recognize this familiar figure. With his eccentric style and perfectly coiffed mustache and beard, holding a cigar in one hand, a tumbler of his home brew in the other, Joe is often seen walking his black Scottish Terrier, Jelly Roll Morton, up and down the streets near Mandana and Grand.   

Speedy after a bath
Speedy — after a bath.

Most recently known for his part in saving the stray gray terrier that had been roaming the neighborhood from Grand Avenue to Crocker Highlands for days, avoiding capture. Sightings and near-catches were reported hour-by-hour and day-by-day, but nobody seemed to be able to lure the little pup close enough to look for a tag or information on his missing status.  Ten days after his walkabout, Speedy Gonzales (nicknamed by Joe for his quick getaway instincts) was found playing with Jelly in Joe’s backyard. He was finally nabbed. For a brief moment, the community seemed to come together for a common cause, to save an innocent pooch from the streets of Oakland. Long after the story broke, Joe continued to receive inquiries from strangers passing by, asking, “How’s Speedy?” We can all hope that he is safe and sound in a new home.

Joe in the recording booth

But dog rescuing hero is not Joe’s only claim to fame. He also happens to be an amateur radio personality who has recorded numerous shows on musicology across many decades and genres, using playlists and narration to tell the stories of artists and the times in which they lived.  His own back story is a colorful one too…

A native Canadian, Joe spent his early years in Toronto and Vancouver learning the ropes of character animation and working in the industry before moving to the U.S. in 1997. His introduction to the Bay Area involved driving a red Mustang convertible rental car over the Golden Gate Bridge during Fleet Week for a job interview at Lucas Arts. A jet airplane appeared dangerously close to his periphery and dove right under the bridge as he crossed it. The image was cinematic, like a scene from the movies he’d seen as a kid. He couldn’t help thinking that all that fanfare was just for him. “It was like a celebration that I arrived,” he jokes.

Joe eventually moved from San Francisco to the Grand Lake neighborhood.  Today he works as a video game character animator for a medical company that produces virtual reality products and equipment to assist patients recovering from a variety of injuries and strokes. Joe explains that his current role allows him to express his affinity for observing human psychology and helping people overcome mental and physical obstacles, an interest he developed as a young child.

Composing playlists and writing commentary is Joe’s outlet for his passion for music and storytelling.  After a nearly seven-year hiatus, he is going back to his recording studio to record his latest broadcast. This one will pick up where the last one left off: a retrospective on Soul and Rhythm and Blues beginning with a Dinah Washington tune from 1960 and ending with an Andre Williams song from 2008. The last episode, which aired in November of 2017, is a tribute to Oakland, celebrating the city with stories and songs about local musicians such as Sugar Pie Desanto. The set kicks off with a funky, forgotten treasure called “Foxy Girls in Oakland” performed by local resident Roger Collins circa 1970.

Here is an excerpt from his “White at Night” program to give you a taste of what’s to come.

“In a nutshell, this show is about life as expressed through the tales of our songwriters, our poets, and our musicians. Not from some marketing or otherwise canned factories. Whether I’m presenting a celebrated bassoonist from Vienna or an obscure blues picker from Mississippi, one of the most magnificent gifts we humans have created is music. Therefore my show aims to spread the goodness of music, elaborate on the stories behind the songs, and expound the myriad of human conditions that have shaped these tunes.”

It’s an intriguing introduction to the intoxicating power of the music itself. To learn more about Joe White’s radio shows or to join the SoundCloud community, “simply search for White At Night on that wonderful website called SoundCloud,” or visit this link.

By Madhavi Athanikar & Susi Vogler

Headshot: Susi Vogler

Susi Vogler, photographer and co-interviewer, moved to the Grand Lake neighborhood in 2003, having spent most of her life in the East Bay. She recently earned the trail name “Snapchat” since she enjoys snapping photos of things that catch her eye, and her curiosity encourages chatting.

Madhavi Athanikar, writer and co-interviewer, has lived in the Grand Lake neighborhood for 3 years and recently left her job in fashion and retail management to look for her next adventure.



2 responses to “On Air: Meet Joe White”

  1. Great Article! Thank you both for your enthusiasm and energy, not to mention, entertaining articles. What a gift it is to have the two of you seeking out and sharing the tremendous wealth of talent of our area’s interesting and talented neighbors.

    1. Susi Vogler Avatar
      Susi Vogler

      Thank you for the nice comment, Eve! We are so glad you like the articles. It truly is fun to get to know the wonderful people in our community and share their stories. Everyone has a story! Send them our way!

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