At 82, Red Barber Still Knows the Score : Announcer: Veteran sports broadcaster is a hit to millions who tune him in Friday mornings on National Public Radio.


Millions of Americans tune in weekly to hear Walter (Red) Barber on National Public Radio, 24 years after he signed off his final broadcast of a New York Yankees game.

"I don't enjoy getting up at 5:45 on Friday mornings, but I enjoy doing (the show)," he said. "It's something I look forward to."

Although Barber usually discusses sports with NPR "Morning Edition" host Bob Edwards, he is comfortable with nearly any subject.

"Listeners like to know what the weather is in Tallahassee and what's in bloom," he said. "Basically it's what I want to say, and it gives me pleasure. That goes back to radio in its beginning days."

Barber, 82, also likes to bring listeners up to date on other old-timers, often noting the death of former players, umpires or journalists along with a personal comment on his association with them.

Barber's relationship with NPR began in 1980 after the death of Elston Howard, the Yankees' player. Since Barber had broadcast Yankees games during most of Howard's career, he was a natural.

"They asked for two or three minutes of my thoughts about Howard," Barber said.

A month later, NPR asked Barber if he was interested in a weekly taped program. He insisted on a live format and refuses most interview requests that aren't live.

"The thing about the show that is attractive is that it's completely spontaneous," said Barber. "As I sit there, the pleasure I get is being myself."

The show, Edwards said, has become the most popular on "Morning Edition," generating thousands of letters from listeners.

"The biggest complaint we get about the bit (a 3 1/2-minute segment) is it's too short; Red can't really tell a long story," said Edwards. "He is the star of the show, the network."

Last month, Barber and Edwards broadcast the show together for the first time in a fund-raiser for the public station at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

"This will be a little easier for me because I'm a little hard of hearing, and now I can read your lips," Barber told Edwards.

Their Friday show on "Morning Edition" has always been through a telephone hookup between Edwards at NPR's Washington studios and Barber's home.

"We just fit," Barber said. "He's a great professional broadcaster. A wonderful interviewer and very sensitive. He doesn't put his ego first."

Barber prepares for his weekly show with the diligence with which he approached the thousands of baseball games he broadcast during the heyday of radio.

"I don't want Bob to trip me up," Barber said. "Bob makes it easy," he teased. "He throws the big fat pitches to me."

"I have an idea of what I want to ask him," said Edwards, 43. "I have no idea what kind of answers I'm going to get."

And Edwards marvels at Barber's wit.

"On opening day we're doing a call-in show and someone is on the line from Washington," related Edwards.

"Hello, Washington. Washington? I guess they're gone," Edwards said.

"You're right, Bob," Barber said immediately. "They moved to Minnesota in '61."

Barber finds television sometimes too enamored with sports, often at the expense of news.

He cited a weekend in early September when Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Bush met in summit during the Persian Gulf crisis.

"With all of this tremendous news, television only had tennis and pro football," Barber said. "I want somebody to tell me what this means about our society."

Barber follows the fortunes of protege Vin Scully and Detroit Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell, who moved into a big-league job when Barber fell ill during the 1947 season.

Two years later, Barber hired Scully--longtime voice of the Dodgers--right out of Fordham University. "He's my boy," Barber said proudly.

Barber, who turned author, naturalist and homemaker in retirement, seldom travels anymore so he can spend time with his wife of 60 years, Lylah.

"If I had a so-called career, she made it possible because I'd be gone six months of the year," he said. "She raised our daughter, ran the house and was lonely."

Daughter Sarah, a college professor, lives in New York City.

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