RED BARBER
By: Christina J. Johns

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I learned to really love radio when I spent ten years living in Scotland. BBC Radio is probably the best radio in the world. Every day is a feast of national and international news coverage, poetry, plays and intellectual discussion about current events. I thought I'd miss it terribly when I came back to this country. I didn't, because of NPR.

The first year I was back, I lived in the Adams Morgan area of Washington, D.C. and like every other professional woman in D.C., I spent a lot of time commuting in "the uniform", i.e., a business suit, sneakers, and a walkman. That year, the NPR coverage of the Iran/Contra hearing absorbed the city.

There were so many people wearing walkmen and listening to the hearings, people would say to each other on the street waiting for a light to change: Did you hear that? Referring to something going on on the radio.

It was that year I heard Red Barber for the first time.

Now, let me tell you, I'm not a sports fan and generally, when the sports come on, I turn off. Besides I had been out of the country for ten years. I didn't even know who these people were.

The extent of my out-of-touchness was brought home to me when a student in one of my classes remarked one day that something had happened to Daryl Strawberry. The first thing that came out of my mouth was: "Who is Daryl Strawberry." They stared at me with disbelief. "Who is Daryl Strawberry?" They mouthed at each other as if to say what my friend Hilary says to me all the time: "Where have you been?"

Needless to say, it took something more than an interest in baseball scores to get me to listen to Red Barber, but listen I did. I listened to him in Washington, D.C. and later in Anchorage, Alaska, then in Alabama, and finally in Michigan.

I had no idea who he was, or why I liked him, but I did like him. I liked him very much indeed. And I, like a lot of other people, was deeply saddened when I heard of his death

It never occurred to me that I would one day be listening to NPR radio in his city - Tallahassee. But, here I am, and I was delighted the first time I went to the WFSU radio station and found out that there was a Red Barber Lane. .

I think for me, and a lot of other people who weren't particularly interested in sports, the appeal of Red Barber had something to do with the fact that he seemed like the kind of person that people used to be - fine, decent, gentle, not above stopping to appreciate flowers, or laughing and making a joke at his own expense. There was something about his voice and his manner that gave you the feeling that here was a person that wasn't for sale to the highest bidder, a man who knew who he was and what he valued, who wouldn't cheat or lie or steal to get advantage, a man who lived with integrity.

I think of him now so often in the spring when Tallahassee just blossoms. On more than one occasion, I have almost driven off the road admiring the azaleas, and the Camilla, and the red buds; the hydrangeas, and the wisteria, ahhhh, and the Japanese Magnolias. And you've never, TRULY seen a dogwood until you've seen one draped in Spanish moss as they are in Tallahassee. Every Spring, I feel like I'm driving around seeing them with Red.

I think it's a nice part of the Red Barber legacy - that people he never met hold his memory in their minds with fondness. I hold his memory in my mind every Spring when Tallahassee comes alive with color making every drive to work a delightful show and filling me, as it seemed to fill him, with the sheer fineness of being alive.

Red Barber was one of those people you miss without ever having known.


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