With the establishment of two sports radio networks in ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio, and the advent of two more just last fall, it’s actually easy to forget about the other sports radio network that’s been around the block awhile.
And I’m not talking about Yahoo! Sports Radio, which actually predated ESPN Radio by a year when it launched as One On One Sports in 1991.
I’m talking about the Sports Byline USA Radio Network, which launched in October of 1988. That’s right: it’ll be marking its 25th anniversary this year.
It’s hard to believe they’re withstanding competition from the likes of Mike and Mike and Jim Rome and Steve Czaban.
All Sports Byline USA does is interviews, and interviews, and… even more interviews.
Yes, while the bulk of talent on the other sports radio networks is behind the microphone, many of the big names heard on Sports Byline USA are on the other side of the mic – usually the one belonging to Ron Barr.
Starting with his very first chat with Willie Mays on his first show, Barr has racked up an impressive 10,000 interviews – and counting.
It’s almost as if he needs his own Dewey Decimal System to organize his guests.
Lo and behold, who should come knocking for Barr’s 10,000+ interviews but the U.S. Library of Congress, located in his birthplace of Washington, D.C. They believe this quarter-century-long body of work possesses so much historical value in the sports world that they will be adding it to their vast media catalog. And the tally will only get bigger, as Barr conducts more interviews over the next few years.
“The sheer magnitude of the coverage makes it an audio encyclopedia of sports figures,” says the Library’s curator, Gene Deanna. “Just about everyone you can think of is in there. And the interviews themselves are insightful, candid and often poignant.
“There is the importance of preserving and sustaining these voices that are so much a part of their own time, for ours and future generations of listeners. Since we received the collection, two greats — Stan Musial and Earl Weaver — have both died.”
You might think that Barr has put in a great deal of time in compiling questions that he would ask his tens of thousands of subjects over the years. But the truth is, he really has no idea until he cracks the mic.
“I just don’t have a clue what questions I’m going to ask until I do it,” he admits.
And to think this collection of interviews all began with an appearance by Mays that Barr feared wouldn’t go well – like the time Sparky Anderson hosted a show on WKRP.
“I didn’t know if anybody would call. But I knew even if they didn’t call that I could always interview.”
25 years and 10,000 guests later, Ron Barr has redefined the art of the interview.
The sports radio network field might be crowded, and granted, Sports Byline USA might not be the most visible.
But so long as you won’t find “Tiki Barber Stops By With Booger And Rich” in the U.S. Library of Congress’ archives, Americans will know good sports talk when they hear it.
And Ron Barr now has the Library card to prove it.