Tuesday, January 06, 2009

North to Jackson

I'm staying over tonight in Oxford Mississippi, home off the mighty WUMS. Mississippi is also the home state of my favorite boxer Sonny Liston and a huge number of iconic musicians: R.L. Burnside, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Arthur Crudup, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Skip James, Junior Kimbrough Fred McDowell, Tommy McClennan, Jimmy Rodgers, Ike Turner, Bukka White, Howlin' Wolf and many others. Wish I had time to stop in Senatobia.Also home of the famed sportscaster Red Barber. Barber grew up in Columbus, MS. The strangelst thing about Barber is that he never intended to become a sportscaster, or a radioman of any kind. He was a janitor on the Gainesville branch of the University of Florida. An agriculture professor failed to show up to read a paper on the air at campus station WRUF. Barber filled in, changing the course of his life away from the mop, into radio.

He held his position at WRUF for the next four years, eventually landing a job broadcasting on WLW and WSAI with the Cincinnati Reds when Powel Crosley, Jr., purchased the team in 1934. What made barber great is that he wasn't a cheering appendage for his home team. He was a fair sportscaster in his calls and coverage.

Problems started in 1964 when CBS bought the Yanks. After commenting on the poor attendance at a Yankees game in 1966 he was shit-canned by CBS Executive Vice President Mike Burke. The exact words that got him the hook were "I don't know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game." In fact there were only 413 people in the 65,000 seat stadium. as always, he'd just been telling the truth. Burke's previous experience was in running a circus, and as you'd exfrom the completely unqualified, he continued to be an incompetent twat until Steinbrenner brought the team in 1973.

After that Red Barbers career quieted down, He wrote a few books, including an autobiography, and he began doing commentary for NPR who genuinely appreciated his sense of fair play. he received the Ford C. Frick award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978, and was it's first recipient. He died in 1992. The microphone he used at WRUF is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.