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Voices of the Auction

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BJ Auctioneers TCT PicmonkeyReady to roll: the Barrett-Jackson team, led by Joseph Mast (right), line up on the block prior to start of auction day.

TASTE News Service, July 26, 2016 - It’s a sound that draws you towards the auction arena almost as much as the powerful roar of a V12 engine. The continuous chant of the auctioneer takes you aback a bit if you’ve never heard it before, a repeating crescendo of seemingly unintelligible words leading to the climactic “SOLD!” as the gavel hits the podium.

Listen closely, though. What you are hearing is actually a carefully constructed and finely honed craft known as “bid calling.” In between the amount that is bid and the amount the auctioneer is asking for are “filler words” – perhaps something like “How many dollars?” or “Would you give?” It usually takes about six months to a year for an auctioneer to develop a bid call, according to Barrett-Jackson’s lead auctioneer, Joseph Mast, who in 2011 became the youngest male ever to win the prestigious International Auctioneers Championship and sits on the board of directors of the National Auctioneers Association.

It is helpful to know who does what in the auction arena to follow along with the action. For the Scottsdale auction, there is a team of between 50 and 55 people who rotate positions every half-hour or hour. These include bid spotters, auctioneers, tote board operators, clerks and ticket runners.

Up high on the main block is the auctioneer, flanked by a “color guy” to the auctioneer’s left and a “right guy” positioned … well, to the auctioneer’s right. The “color guy” reads the car descriptions, is well-versed in the car business and is usually a professional announcer in some capacity. “I’ve got one guy who is the voice of NASCAR radio,” says Mast, “and another who’s the voice of a college basketball team.”

The “right guy” is the auctioneer’s second set of eyes. He’s keeping track of time, which bid spotter is in or out, and also helps to correct any miscommunication. “We’re on live television, there are the regular Lots, timed Lots and charity Lots,” Mast points out. “We’ve got a whole schedule we have to keep up with. That second guy is integral in keeping that schedule together.”

The members of the auctioneering team on the floor, in the skyboxes and on the main stage are known as bid spotters or “ringmen.” These are generally professional bid spotters, although unlike auctioneers, they are not required to be licensed. The bid spotters also have their own distinctive calls, designed so the auctioneer can hear them; those positioned far from the block have whistles for that purpose. The size of the auction arena requires that bid spotters relay the bids from the back of the room up to the block. “In other words,” says Mast, “the auctioneer could be acknowledging a bid from the front of the room, but that bid has been passed through two or three bid spotters.”

1957 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz Conv Picmonkey and NL Pic1957 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz convertible will be on the block at Las Vegas auction in OctoberMast knows that, for Barrett-Jackson, he not only needs to bring his A game, but the A team. “Barrett-Jackson is the biggest and the best; the greatest collector car auction out there,” he says, “so we bring some of the best auctioneers in the world. This is not a training ground.” The continuous chant of the auctioneer takes you aback a bit if you’ve never heard it before, a repeating crescendo of seemingly unintelligible words leading to the climactic “SOLD!” as the gavel hits the podium.

Listen closely, though. What you are hearing is actually a carefully constructed and finely honed craft known as “bid calling.” In between the amount that is bid and the amount the auctioneer is asking for are “filler words” – perhaps something like “How many dollars?” or “Would you give?” It usually takes about six months to a year for an auctioneer to develop a bid call, according to Barrett-Jackson’s lead auctioneer, Joseph Mast, who in 2011 became the youngest male ever to win the prestigious International Auctioneers Championship and sits on the board of directors of the National Auctioneers Association.

It is helpful to know who does what in the auction arena to follow along with the action. For the Scottsdale auction, there is a team of between 50 and 55 people who rotate positions every half-hour or hour. These include bid spotters, auctioneers, tote board operators, clerks and ticket runners.

Up high on the main block is the auctioneer, flanked by a “color guy” to the auctioneer’s left and a “right guy” positioned … well, to the auctioneer’s right. The “color guy” reads the car descriptions, is well-versed in the car business and is usually a professional announcer in some capacity. “I’ve got one guy who is the voice of NASCAR radio,” says Mast, “and another who’s the voice of a college basketball team.”

The “right guy” is the auctioneer’s second set of eyes. He’s keeping track of time, which bid spotter is in or out, and also helps to correct any miscommunication. “We’re on live television, there are the regular Lots, timed Lots and charity Lots,” Mast points out. “We’ve got a whole schedule we have to keep up with. That second guy is integral in keeping that schedule together.”

The members of the auctioneering team on the floor, in the skyboxes and on the main stage are known as bid spotters or “ringmen.” These are generally professional bid spotters, although unlike auctioneers, they are not required to be licensed. The bid spotters also have their own distinctive calls, designed so the auctioneer can hear them; those positioned far from the block have whistles for that purpose. The size of the auction arena requires that bid spotters relay the bids from the back of the room up to the block. “In other words,” says Mast, “the auctioneer could be acknowledging a bid from the front of the room, but that bid has been passed through two or three bid spotters.”

Mast knows that, for Barrett-Jackson, he not only needs to bring his A game, but the A team. “Barrett-Jackson is the biggest and the best; the greatest collector car auction out there,” he says, “so we bring some of the best auctioneers in the world. This is not a training ground.”

Editor’s note: Several of us at Taste California Travel enjoy automotive shows on the Velocity Network, including telecasts of the Barrett-Jackson auctions. A few years ago we reported on our visit to one of their auctions conducted in Reno, Nevada on the same weekend as the famed Hot August Nights. Yes, that wasn’t a California event, strictly speaking, but Reno is pretty close to our state, as is Las Vegas, site of the next B-J Auction October 13-15, 2016. Having served as an alleged “celebrity” auctioneer at a few wine and food events, the publisher has substantial respect for talents of the Barrett-Jackson professionals.