NORMAN — After 50 years of broadcasting, Bob Barry Sr. is calling it a career.
The “Voice of the Sooners” from 1961-1972, then from 1991 to now, will retire as OU's football and basketball play-by-play man after the school year.
“In all seriousness, this is a great time for me,” said Barry, who will turn 80 in February. “I've been so fortunate over the years to have a career in broadcasting, doing what I love to do. And of course, broadcasting OU football and play-by-play for all these many years. I'm very much looking forward to this, my final year doing OU.”
Barry became the Sooners' play-by-play voice in 1961 and held the position until 1972 when OU radio rights changed. Barry called University of Tulsa basketball games during the 1973-74 season, then football and men's basketball games for Oklahoma State from 1973 to 1990.
He was hired back to OU in 1991, and has held the position ever since.
“I had been thinking about it for a couple years and kind of pointing toward this year as my last. The time just felt right,” said Barry, who will continue to work with the university in other roles. “You get older, and you've got to be honest with yourself; you're not quite as good as you were, perhaps, and it's just not fair to listeners.
“It's just time to step down.”
Barry spoke with The Oklahoman about how a two-story fall he nearly died from led him into broadcasting, and how he landed the plum job as play-by-play voice of the Sooners:
This was 1938. I'm 7 years old. Those days, pop was a nickel. What you would do in the summer, you would build a pop stand in your front yard. And my brother, four years older, still alive, he had a pop stand. You would go down to the Coke dealer and buy Cokes, and strawberry and orange and grape and sell them to the people on the block for a nickel apiece and make a little money. So I had a nickel, of course he made me pay, and I bought a strawberry pop. My mother wasn't home and I wanted another strawberry pop. So I called dad down at his office to see if I could borrow another nickel from the next door neighbor. He said, “Son, don't bother me at work with something like that. You don't need another pop.”
But I went to the neighbor's anyway and asked to borrow a nickel for the pop.
The neighbor came over later, he was good buddies with my dad, and jokingly said to him, “You owe me a damn nickel.” My dad called me in, and said ‘I thought I told you not to borrow a nickel.' I told him I didn't. He sent me upstairs without any dinner and told me I couldn't come out until I was man enough to admit what I had done.
I was crying, and I leaned up against the screen, and fell two stories on my head on concrete. I fractured my skull here and here.
My fall made the front page of The Daily Oklahoman. I bled through every orifice. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth. They were worried about brain damage, which there probably was a lot of.
The treatment was to stay in bed for eight weeks, without lifting my head off the pillow. And I'm 7 years old. And really, it sounds dramatic. But it was eight weeks. And there's no television.
So I became enamored with the radio. I wrote letters to the actors, and listened to the play-by-play, and really became interested in it. I thought, this sounds like fun. I listened to Bill Stern, Curt Gowdy. All the greats.
I had a dice board. I would make a card of all the major league baseball players. And I would play a baseball game with them. And I would announce the play-by-play of the game I'm playing. And of course, no air-condition, the windows are up, the neighbors thought I was nuts. I'm yelling, “And it's a base hit to left field!” Then I put out a little newspaper every day of how my game went. For awhile, my dad thought it was kind of cute. Then he thought, “This kid has problems.”
That never left me, that desire to do play-by-play.
I flunked out of OU. They call me, and said, “Son, you're wasting your money and our time. Goodbye.” That was around the start of the Korean War. My dad said, “What are you going to join, son?” So I joined the Air Force. Guess what they made me at the Air Force? A teacher, for supply and procedure in Cheyenne, Wyo. Teaching how to look up airplane parts in catalogs. My professors must have thought, “That guy is going to be teaching our troops?” The reason they had me teaching is they saw I had some college. They didn't realize I was a horrible student.
Then I got the job at KNOR when I got out of the Air Force. At first I was a salesman. I've always been able to sell. I sold advertising. Then Jack Ogle was out there. He went to WNAD, which was the university station. All of a sudden, the station manager didn't have a play-by-play man. So Jack asked me, ‘Can you do play-by-play?' And I said, ‘Sure I can.' That's how I started doing play-by-play for Norman High.
Things were so limited in those days. Few radio stations. The Norman High games were at Hardy Field, a mess. They also played them at Owen Field.
Bill Bryan was doing play-by-play for OU. But the group running things didn't like how he was doing it. So they decided to have tryouts. In those days, the spring game was a football game. The NFL allowed players to come back and play in a real game. And Bud would tell the alums all the plays he was going to run, because he wanted the alums to beat the varsity, because that was the only time he ever lost. That's the truth.
So in 1961, there were 14 of us trying out. Each one of us in a separate booth in the press box. We each taped a quarter. I'm proud to say there were guys like Ross Porter, John Henry and a bunch of others that tried out.
I do think to this day that I had an advantage, because Bud used to listen to me at Norman High where his two sons, Jay and Pat, played when he couldn't go to the games. Talk about a thrill.
Bob Barry’s five most memorable OU games he called:
Sept. 30, 1961: Notre Dame 19, OU 6 (South Bend, Ind.)
Said Barry: “Just because it was the first game I did.”
Nov. 18, 1961: OU 14, Army 8 (New York)
Said Barry: It was in Yankee Stadium, and OU won on a trick play.”
Nov. 25, 1971: Nebraska 35, OU 31 (Norman)
Said Barry: “The ‘Game of the Century,’ it was just unbelievable.
Jan. 3, 2001: OU 13, Florida State 2 (Miami)
Said Barry: “I didn’t think we could beat Florida State, so that was something.”
Jan. 1, 2003: OU 34, Washington State 14 (Pasadena, Calif.)
Said Barry: “Just because it was at the Rose Bowl. The most beautiful stadium in the entire country.”
By Jake Trotter