In many places across the country, especially late at night, Ron Barr's interviews on the syndicated SportsByline USA radio network have been the soundtrack and the touchstone for hundreds of thousands of sports fans. Even in this day of localized, regionalized and satellite radio, Barr and his guests are a throwback to the way radio used to be, when Sunday night on stations from New York to Los Angeles meant Costas' "Coast to Coast from the famed Runyon's restaurant in New York." Those great interviews that Bob Costas held each week are gone, but luckily for many, SportsByLine still exists in many markets, over 200 to be exact, as well as in podcasts and online.
For over 20 years Barr has been interviewing the biggest and some of the most unique names in sports, and his archive of great interviews is probably second to none amongst sports talk show hosts still consistently on the air. Need an archive of sit-downs with and about George Steinbrenner on his passing? SportsByline has the list for a day of interviews. Need to hear all about Whitey Herzog, check with SportsByline. Maybe they are not the first call for superstars in this day and age, but their presence and reach remains consistent.
Another thing that has been consistent is Barr's connection with the military. His support for the men in uniform, and the large following SportsByline has around the world on Armed Forces Radio, have worked together hand in glove, and as a result have brought some of the most in-depth interviews with sports stars of today and of the past directly to those whose one strong connection to home may be sports talk, thousands of miles away.
Over the years Barr has developed long-lasting friendships with a host of sports stars as much as he has with the fans who listen and follow across the country and around the world. However one of the stars who bridged his passion for sports and his devotion to the military was Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman. By now everyone knows Tillman's heroic story... left the NFL, joined the Armed Forces, killed by friendly fire -- a legend and a legacy that is ongoing.
Following Tillman's passing, Barr continued on balancing his passion for work and devotion to the military, even as the business market became more muddled and the digital age drove so many long standing shows into the dust. Hosts scrambled for airtime, local shows came and went, and SportsByline continued on. Part of that continuation was a commitment by Barr and his team to not just provide content to the military, but to go abroad and visit as well. So several times, the host has pulled along bold face names like Brian Billick, Randy Cross and Spencer Tillman for trips to meet the troops and experience what they are doing first hand, from Iraq to Afghanistan and many stops in between. He will be making his next trip to visit the troops and broadcast live later this summer.
While it is not unusual for luminaries of any level to head abroad, especially those in the media, it is unusual for a host to make so many trips to such exotic locales and not worry about being in harm's way. Barr's trips have took him to the farthest reaches and the most troubled spots, not just the base camps. The results have been life changing both physically and mentally.
He has twice been injured in his travels, both times rather seriously, once in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. He has seen the lives of those protecting us snuffed out by roadside bombs and enemy fire, but like those troops who are listening he goes back for more out of a sense of duty and support that is both admirable and a little bit questionable. Yes journalists have put themselves in harm's way before, especially those covering conflict. However few have been injured more than once, lived to tell the tale and will go back once again, with others in tow.
SportsByline continues on each day, although much of the time is filled on smaller stations that need programming as opposed to larger markets where time can be filled and dollars brought in with local teams and voices. They have diversified over the years to find niche spots like MMA and other sports, but their library of great guests, pulled in by Barr and his team, continues to be the gold standard and has tremendous value.
However what is even more valuable is the work Barr is doing to continually support those in harm's way, and how he put himself in their shoes and will again. It's certainly a unique way to build listener loyalty, but to be sure, his work abroad will pay dividends in many ways that sponsors may never see.
There are those that call SportsByline a dinosaur service, one that filled a need for years and has been passed by because it is not hip enough or loud enough or local enough. However as long as the network is on the air it will serve a need for those communities outside of the limelight, and for those listeners in the dark corners of the globe who need to hear that connection to home through the magic of sport.
Ron Barr and his team fill that need admirably and diligently, and go above in beyond to deliver a quality product to all who will listen. His commitment to craft is admirable, and his commitment to people is legendary. Just listen.
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