LITTLE ROCK — Arguably, the most prolific recruiter in the history of Razorback football was a part-time salesman and part-time broadcaster with a full-time job.
At Arkansas, a sports publicity director was the prequel to sports information director and the first man to hold that title was Bob Cheyne in 1948. Two years later, athletic director John Barnhill asked Cheyne to organize an Arkansas sports radio network.
Selling and growing the network and the influence of the Saturday broadcasts on athletes who had been oblivious to Razorback football provides the groundwork for a review of the men behind the mike in a book to be published by Butler Center books. From Bud Campbell to Paul Eells to Chuck Barrett and those in between, the 109-page “Voices of the Razorbacks,” will be available Sept. 1.
Faithful to the Sunday show with Campbell and Frank Broyles, friends with Eells, and a fan of Barrett, details about the network’s infancy were new.
Cheyne says there were 34 radio stations in the state when he set out to accomplish Barnhill’s directive in 1951. In those days, the broadcast of a game from one city to another involved the purchase of time on the telephone line between communities. The more stations on the network, the cheaper the broadcast, so Cheyne got behind the wheel and toured the state. Jennie, who was from North Little Rock, accompanied her husband on the state tour.
Using Little Rock as a home base of sorts, they headed northeast to Paragould and Blytheville, and then returned. Next was Helena and Forrest City in the Eastern part of the state. Then, Crossett, El Dorado, Texarkana and Camden.
The whirlwind tour took the better part of a week. Often, Cheyne arrived unannounced but the local station put him on the air to talk about the Razorbacks. At the end of the tour, all of the stations were interested, including two each in four markets. Cheyne figured he could include the stations in the network for $25 a game, with Little Rock stations paying twice that. Even at a time when $1 bought five gallons of gas, that was a mere pittance.
As part of the deal, Barnhill said it was OK for Cheyne to offer each station two complimentary tickets to every in-state football game
“I’m sure that these stations at that time sold the games (to advertisers) for at least $100 or maybe $125 a game. so they were all making a profit, a good profit, and Arkansas finally was totally covered by Razorback football,” Cheyne said.
Prior to that, interest in Razorback football was limited, a factor that Cheyne and others believe led Arkansans Paul “Bear” Bryant, Ken Kavanaugh, and John “Kayo” Dottley to play at Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss.
Integral parts of Arkansas’ success in the 1960s, Jim Lindsey, Ken Hatfield, and Barry Switzer are among those who have said they developed an interest in Razorback football because they listened to the broadcasts growing up. Lindsey said he got hooked hearing the play-by-play of Arkansas 6, Ole Miss 0 in 1954. “Every Saturday thereafter we were glued to the radio, listening to our beloved Razorbacks,” he said.
They all heard Cheyne, and Wallie Ingalls before him. Ironically, Cheyne enthusiastically touted Charlie Jones for the job when Ingalls took a marketing position in 1959. For five years, Jones pursued the job, annually updating Barnhill on his work from the previous year. Spurned, Jones went on to a 38-year career as a play-by-play announcer in professional football.
Barnhill told Cheyne he was a natural fit because he knew all the people involved, including the coaches.
Quoting from the book: “Years later, Cheyne said that when he had recommended Jones to Barnhill, the athletic director asked him where Jones was from. When Cheyne said that Jones was from Fort Smith, Barnhill replied, ‘We’re not hiring any outsiders.’”
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.