Red Barber (1934-1966)
April 8, 2013
Walter Lanier Barber certainly knew about WLW before he became the Cincinnati Reds announcer in 1934. In fact, “Red” Barber had auditioned several times at the station that boomed into Gainesville, Florida, where he attended the University of Florida and somehow got a job reading news on the school's own radio station, WRUF. But WLW was fairly adamant about keeping regional accents from its announce staff—until the winter of 1934. The Cincinnati Reds went into receivership and nearly moved from Cincinnati until entrepreneur and industrialist Powel Crosley, Jr., ponied up $240,000 to buy controlling interest in the team from a bank and kept it in Cincinnati. Powel owned WLW and WSAI but discovered that none of his radio announcers knew the art of baseball “play by play.” They did remember Red, the relentless-auditioner from Florida, and decided to give him another consideration when the team went to Florida for spring training workouts. Red, who had broadcast UF baseball, won the job—however the first professional regular season game he ever attended was his first Reds' Opening Day broadcast on April 17, 1934 at now-renamed “Crosley Field.” The Reds lost that day and ended up finishing in last place, 42 games behind the Cubs. Barber wasn't the only broadcaster in the stands that season, either, as Harry Hartman continued to broadcast over WFBE and C.O. “Oatmeal” Brown was heard over WKRC. But it wasn't long before Red won the hearts of listeners and the admiration of his co-workers. He was a very popular member of the staff and in the off-season announced several programs including “Moon River” and the Modernaire's musical program. Red announced the first night baseball game in 1935 and also was heard during the 1938 All Star Game. He developed several of his popular colloquialisms in Cincinnati, including “tearin' up the pea patch,” “a Rhubarb (fight)” and “Catbird seat” (a term he picked up during a card game with neighbors at his Clifton apartment building.) Red Barber remained in Cincinnati a little less than five years (1934-1938) before accepting an offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers. He left the Dodgers for the Yankees after the 1953 season where he stayed until he retired in 1966. Red was inducted in the Cincinnati Broadcast Hall of Fame in 1992.
Find more biographies from this series: Cincinnati Reds Broadcasters