The Norman Transcript

October 31, 2011

Voice of the Sooners dies at 80

By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Legendary Sooner radio voice Bob Barry Sr., one of Norman and Oklahoma’s most well known broadcasting personalities, was found dead Sunday morning.

Barry’s Norman neighbors became concerned that he had not picked up his Sunday newspaper. He was found dead inside his home.

Services will be 2 p.m. Thursday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman, under the direction of Primrose Funeral Service of Norman.

Barry, 80, retired from his OU broadcasting duties in spring 2011 and was active in the Norman community where he lived for more than 50 years. He had only recently rejoined the Norman Rotary Club and was scheduled to lead Norman’s Christmas Holiday Parade on Dec. 10.

“Bob Barry represented the best of the Sooner spirit,” OU President David L. Boren said Sunday. “With his contagious enthusiasm, he was one of the best sports broadcast journalists in the entire nation. He was loved by Oklahomans all across our entire state and will be missed by all of us.”

Barry, an Oklahoma City native, began his career in broadcasting in 1956 at Norman radio station KNOR as a salesman, disc jockey and sportscaster calling Norman High games.

When he was 7, in June 1938, he had fallen from an upstairs window and his injuries forced him to stay in bed for eight weeks. He had a radio to keep him company and he listened to dozens of baseball games. That led him to seek out a career in broadcasting, Barry was quoted as saying in the recently released book “Voice of Bedlam: The Life of Bob Barry.”

In 1961, OU football coach Bud Wilkinson selected Barry to call football and basketball games. Barry stopped calling games for OU when the radio rights changed in 1972. He called games for a season at Tulsa University and then for a several years at Oklahoma State University. He was also a sports anchor and sports director at KFOR until 1997.

Barry returned to OU in 1991 doing play by play for the Sooners. He held onto the position until he retired after last year’s basketball season. OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism honored him during homecoming festivities on Oct. 22. A fund that student sports journalists can use when covering out-of-town games was dedicated to Barry.

Gaylord College Dean Dr. Joe Foote, who helped Barry in some early OU basketball broadcasts, noted that Barry’s warmth and charisma carried through to listeners.

“Bob would have been a special person even if he had never ventured into the OU sporting world,” Foote said.

The two had a special connection.

“He was my hero growing up as a child,” Foote said. “It was as close to hero worship as I’ve ever come.”

He said Barry used a time-tested method to prepare for and call games.

“Fans were able to follow because of his method. He had this way of keeping track and he had a rhythm to it. I think Bob’s intensity and focus on the game matched the fans’ focus on the games,” Foote said. “He was a fan’s announcer, not a casual person’s announcer. He was a creature of radio, and he clearly understood how radio was different.”

Broadcaster Michael Dean worked with Barry for 20 years as producer-engineer of OU football and basketball radio network broadcasts. He listened to Barry’s Sooner football broadcasts as a child in Kansas and when he visited relatives in Norman.

When he got the chance to work with him in 1991, it was a “dream job” for Dean. He later co-wrote the book on Barry with Oklahoma City attorney Bob Burke.

“Of all the guys I ever worked with over the years in radio and knew in television, he most was the most genuine, regular kind of guy,” Dean said. “He was just doing what he loved.”

“Every morning, he’d get up and was thankful he was doing play-by-play for OU and the same thing when he worked for OSU,” Dean said.

Dean said Barry never thought of himself as a celebrity, even thinking there was not enough in his life to merit a book.

“In that 20 years that we worked together, he became as much a part of our family as any one else in the family,” he said.

Dean saw Barry at the weekly OU football press conferences and, only this week, said how much he was enjoying life and felt great. OU had given him a press box seat next to his son, Bob Jr.,

“It was really the first opportunity he had to watch games with Bob,” Dean said.

OU Football Coach Bob Stoops said Barry was loved by fans throughout the country.

“We send our condolences to Bob’s family and thank them for sharing him with us for so many years. I know this is a difficult time for them, but hope they can find comfort in a life well-lived and the love of countless fans all over the country,” Stoops said.

Barry was awarded Oklahoma’s Sportscaster of the Year by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters and was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. In 2008, he was recognized as a distinguished alumni by the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

OU recognized him as a distinguished alumni in 2010.

Barry graduated from Classen High School in 1946 and studied journalism at the University of Oklahoma before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1951.

He and his late wife, Joan, had two sons. Frank Barry is a teacher in the Norman public school system and Bob Barry Jr. is sports director at KFOR TV in Oklahoma City.

Sports reporter Michael Kinney contributed to this report.