By Darl DeVault
Bob Barry Sr. finished his broadcasts for University of Oklahoma men’s basketball in March as the last of a historic career bridging back 50 years to 1961, when former OU head coaching legend Bud Wilkinson selected him to be the “Radio Voice of the Sooners.” Barry had just turned 80 in February.
After wrapping his football-announcing career, he had called 566 Division 1 college football games, and more than 1,430 men’s basketball games, conveying the action to several generations of radio audiences.
Barry is legendary for creating memorable experiences and passing along his love of Oklahoma college sports by convincing his radio listeners they were experiencing the action first-hand.
“How you broadcast is important,” Barry said. “By making the person’s mind see what you’re saying, you paint a picture in the minds of listeners. To me, that lives.”
By calling the action with such accuracy and vigor, Barry invited his radio listeners’ imaginations to witness the scene, to “be there” in the action, helping fans visualize the plays. His phrases invoked the speed, action and ruggedness of major college football while his concrete words painted a vivid picture, often counting down the yard markers to a rushing touchdown – perhaps his signature phrase.
Barry points to sharing plenty of detail with listeners in his radio broadcasts as the hallmark of a successful announcing career. He spent eight hours per game preparing his football spotter boards from the information contained in athletes’ statistics and bios. Early on, he was his own on-site production assistant, talent statistician, spotter, researcher and stage manager to accomplish his mission of informing the listener. More recently, he had the help of a broadcast team.
Quick to give credit to the team that helped him put together broadcasts, Barry could hear the crew of five on his headset intercom – the spotter, statistician, color commentator, commercial director and sideline reporter all contributing to the program.
Barry broadcast OU football and men’s basketball games until 1972, when the school’s radio broadcast partnership changed. He was soon offered the same position at OSU, and also broadcast TU Golden Hurricanes’ men’s basketball in the 1973-74 season.
He then became even better known throughout the state and region as the voice of the OSU Cowboys’ football and men’s basketball teams for 18 years, from 1973 to 1990. He called the play-by-play during Barry Sanders’ 1988 Heisman Trophy season, when OSU head coach Mike Gundy was the quarterback.
Sanders’ 100-yard kickoff return to start his Heisman season opener is perhaps the best example of Barry’s signature yardage-countdown to a TD. Sanders caught the ball one yard deep in the endzone and ran so fast straight up the middle of the field that Barry struggled to announce the yard markers as OSU’s greatest running back jetted untouched to a score.
“I had a great time up there those 18 years,” Barry said. “They took me in and accepted me as one of them, rather than asking why’s this Sooner doing our broadcasts – that was gratifying at the time because I didn’t know if they would accept me.”
Since 1991, in his second stint at OU, Barry again brought games to life as the Sooner Sports Radio Network football and men’s basketball play-by-play announcer. He was the radio voice of the early Bob Stoops-era national championship in 2000. He called the action for OU’s Heisman winners Jason White and Sam Bradford, along with Adrian Peterson’s dazzling freshman season NCAA rushing record. He also may have had the most difficult job in college basketball – trying to describe the heroics of national Player of the Year Blake Griffin’s athleticism at OU.
“I was astounded by what some of the Sooners accomplished during my career there, such as Steve Owens carrying the ball 56 times against OSU to win the Heisman,” Barry said. “A special moment was when Jack Mildren told me if OU didn’t win their first game against Texas with their newly installed wishbone offense, they were never going to beat them.”
Born in Oklahoma City, Barry graduated from Classen High School; he attended OU to study business and pitch for the Sooners’ freshman baseball team. In 1951, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for four years.
Returning from the Air Force to live in Norman in 1955, Barry broadcast Norman High School football and men’s basketball from 1956 to 1961. During that period, Wilkinson’s sons Jay and Pat played football there, and Barry feels that may have earned him a tryout as broadcaster for Oklahoma football games.
In a foreword he wrote in 2006 to “The Oklahoma Football Encyclopedia,” authored by Ray Dozier, Barry says, “I was fortunate that Bud selected me over 13 other contestants to be OU’s play-by-play announcer in 1961.”
He clearly appreciated his long-time association with OU, which he terms “one of the most illustrious and colorful football programs in the country.” He readily shared historic insights into famous and infamous sports moments in the school’s programs, some of it gleaned from his role as a day-to-day working journalist in the Oklahoma City market.
“The notoriety of being the voice of the Sooners on radio got me the job at Channel 4 in Oklahoma City,” Barry said.
Barry joined WKY-TV (now KFOR-TV Channel 4) in 1966 as a television sports anchor, and became sports director in 1970. He went on to serve as that Oklahoma City NBC affiliate’s sports anchor for 43 years. He retired from anchoring sportscasts in 2008 after relinquishing sports director duties to his son, Bob Barry Jr., in 1997.
He was the 1993 recipient of the “Pioneer Award” presented by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters for his many years of distinguished accomplishments in radio and television. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and earned Oklahoma Sportscaster of the Year honors a record 15 times while becoming a statewide sports icon. For that, his peers elected him to the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 2009, OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism, Media Arts and Strategic Communications recognized him as a distinguished alumnus. In 2010, the OU Board of Regents and OU Alumni Association presented Barry its Regents’ Alumni Award for his dedication and service in a testament to his important role in the life of the university.
Fellow OU journalism alum Bob Burke and fellow broadcaster Michael Dean wrote a book, “Voice of Bedlam: The Life of Bob Barry,” published by the Oklahoma Heritage Association. They stated that with his 50+ years as a radio sportscaster, Barry has broadcast more major college sporting events on radio as the play-by-play announcer than anyone else in history. The book’s title refers to Barry having called every Bedlam football game between OU and OSU as part of that famous in-state rivalry as either the voice of the Sooners or Cowboys for a half century.
It was perhaps ironic that Barry’s last regular-season play-by-play call was a Bedlam basketball game. He broadcast that game March 5 from Lloyd Noble Center, where OU won its last game of the regular season to atone for their loss at OSU a month earlier.
In Barry’s honor, OU recently created a fundraising campaign to endow a student-enrichment fund to benefit Gaylord College programs for students interested in sports journalism. The Bob Barry Endowment for Student Sports Programs allows students to participate in educational enrichment opportunities, including travel to report on events away from campus, such as NFL and NBA drafts, out-of-town athletic contests and bowl and championship games.
“I am so amazed and honored that OU has chosen to establish the Bob Barry Endowment for Student Sports Programs,” Barry said. “I am proud of the idea that OU student journalists will get to attend important sports events away from the campus.”
The Sooners showed their appreciation for his long career by honoring Barry at halftime during his last football broadcast in November 2010 at Owen Field. The university announced they were naming the sixth floor of OU’s press box the “Bob Barry Broadcast Level.”
Barry’s play-by-play is over, but OU still appreciates its journalism icon by inviting him to continue his involvement in football broadcasts with pre-game and special segments.
“No one represents the Sooner spirit better than Bob Barry,” OU President David Boren said. “He is one of the most talented broadcast journalists in the United States, and has an unusual ability to transmit excitement and enthusiasm to his listeners. I am deeply grateful to Bob for his many years of service to the University and its supporters. We look forward to having him continue to be associated in a meaningful way with our athletic programs and sports broadcasts.”
Recently Toby Rowland, KWTV-9 sports reporter and anchor since 2000 and KREF-AM 1400 morning talk show host since 2004, was named as the next OU radio play-by-play voice. Rowland has been part of Barry’s crew as sideline reporter on the OU football broadcasts the past two seasons.
“I could not be more enthusiastic about Toby Rowland becoming the new radio voice of the Sooners,” Barry said. “He was my choice, he was Merv Johnson’s choice, and fortunately he was President Boren’s and Joe Castiglione’s choice. I am enthused for him as a good friend; he is such a good and talented person.”
Apparently, Rowland sees Barry’s tradition as something he wants to continue. “I am beyond humbled to be entrusted with a position that has such a rich and storied history at OU,” Rowland said soon after being selected. “I have the greatest respect and admiration for Mr. Barry, Mr. (John) Brooks and all the men who have held the microphone at OU. It is with tremendous enthusiasm and excitement that I look forward to carrying the torch forward in a way that will hopefully make them proud.”
Barry asked that this article reflect his appreciation for not only his 50 years of broadcasting sports to fellow Oklahomans statewide, but also the outpouring of honors and special attention in his final season at the microphone. He is thankful to the organizers and fans that made the events special at Owen Field and the hardwoods of basketball venues around the Big 12.
by Bob Barry
Having been fortunate enough to broadcast major university Division 1 football and basketball play-by-play on radio for 50+ years, I have now retired. The question most often asked is what parts of my long-time job will I miss the most. The answer is simply the act of broadcasting the various games. And what will I miss least of all? That answer is the traveling.
When I began broadcasting, the thought of travel relating to broadcasting the games never came to mind. One just assumes that will be taken care of. That attitude soon changes when one realizes there has to be a way to get to the away games safely and in plenty of time to prepare the broadcast. Did that mean flying? Do we travel with the team? Are we on a privately owned plane? How safe it is? Is the pilot skilled to fly in tough weather? Do we have to drive to some locations?
At the start of my broadcasting career on the OU radio network in 1961, the broadcast crew did not travel with the team. We traveled by commercial airplanes and struggled with the usual ordeal of commercial flights – delays, weather, etc. Over the years, we sometimes flew in small private planes, perhaps owned by University boosters. Sometimes, we could not fly because of bad weather. On one occasion, we drove from Norman to Lincoln, Nebraska.
There were times when I did have the chance to travel with the team, which seemed like the safest and best way to travel. But particularly in basketball, with so many away games during the season, safety is something one thinks about, especially when there is questionable weather.
After 50+ years, I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have survived without too many travel-related mishaps.
So how many miles did I travel to broadcast those hundreds of football and basketball games? I really don’t know. But one thing I do know – I’m still here to tell about those years thanks to safe pilots, airplanes and the grace of God.
And a note to all – please remember the legacy of the Oklahoma State Ten, who perished in a plane crash in Colorado while returning to Oklahoma after an OSU basketball game.