Florida Icon: Walter Lanier ‘Red' Barber
Sports announcer: born: Feb 17, 1908, died: Oct. 22, 1992
In September 1983, University of Florida professor Michael Gannon, now Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History, conducted an interview with Red Barber at UF that became part of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (oral.history.ufl.edu), UF’s official oral history program. Barber, who attended UF in the 1930s, was the announcer for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees and also called professional football games. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. After retiring, he lived in Tallahassee until his death.
When I got here in 1928, I think the student body, all men of course, was about 2,000. The school was so small that we knew everybody on campus. They had a tradition then, you had to speak to everybody … whether you knew their names or not.
Baseball is a completely orderly game. You have nine men on each side, and they stay in their same positions on the field. If there is going to be a change, it is announced … no problem with identification. You have time after every pitch, and you have time after every out. You have easily an opportunity, without any problem of name identification, of describing the ball game. Also, because the game is orderly and fixed, your listener on the radio understands when you say a high fly to short right field. In fact, a lot of people say they would rather listen to a ball game on radio, where they can use their imagination and participate, than be force-fed television pictures which the director controls. He sends the picture that he wants to send, not what the audience wants to see necessarily.
The University Club was in a two-story framed building on University Avenue directly across from the law college. It was for about a half-dozen bachelor professors. My job as janitor was to keep the place reasonably clean. They were not too particular.
There ought to be better uses of people’s free time than endless hours of looking at a television box. I say this as a person who has worked for years in television. I did the announcing of the first telecast of a Major League Baseball game. I did the first professional football game.
WRUF put on the farm program, which started at noon. It was up to (professor Ralph Fulghum) to run it. Fulghum walked in and he said, ‘Look, I have three 10-minute papers and all the profs who wrote them have left town. He said come on and go over to the radio station with me and read one of the papers (on air) … It won’t take you long, and I will buy your dinner tonight.’ I said, ‘I will read all three for that.’ He said, ‘No, one is enough.’ So I went over and read the paper. It was a very precise paper on bovine obstetrics. I can imagine why the prof left town and did not want to read it himself.
I came out of the (WRUF) studio and a gentleman came up and said, ‘Did you just read this paper?’ He said, ‘Wait a minute. I am Garland Powell. I am the new director of the radio station. Your voice registered very well and we need a part-time student announcer who we will pay 35 cents an hour.’
Life deals you so many cards. No one can say that you are selfmade. Take one person out of your life or one event out of your life and the whole thing is changed.
Football is just organized confusion. Today, the ball changes hands and you have 44 men change the field, and there is a big mess. The football coaches never knew what was going on with their teams until the development of motion pictures. Today a football coach cannot tell you very much about a football game until he gets the film. You do not have to wait for the film to see a baseball game.
The three New York teams — the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers — were so afraid of the effect of radio broadcasting. They were afraid that radio broadcast of games would keep fans from going to the park.
I had a course in education under Dean Norman. He used to always be talking about the difference between a static and an alive society. From the standpoint of the audience, you are alive when you are listening to the radio because you have to participate. You are given the chance to participate and you want to participate. You are participating whether you want to or not. In television, you as the audience are completely static. I personally am concerned with the enormous increase of sports on television and with our national static audience.
My life is a testament to an unbroken string of blessings.
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