Tuesday, August 4, 2020

R.I.P.: Ralph Barbieri, Longtime Bay Area Sports Talker

Ralph Barbieri
Ralph Barbieri, a Bay Area radio sports-talk legend, and one of the “founding fathers” of KNBR 680 AM, died Monday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74.

The Mercury News reports Barbieri spent 28 years at KNBR, where he was a bulldog of an interviewer and projected a highly opinionated, abrasive approach that rankled some listeners. But that style also attracted a legion of fans and, over his final 15 years at KNBR, Barbieri teamed with former NBA player Tom Tolbert in a highly rated afternoon show called “The Razor and Mr. T.”

“He was one of a kind. He was special,” Tolbert said on KNBR Monday afternoon. “… He could be frustrating. But I loved working with him. He kept you on your toes.”

Barbieri, known for his raspy delivery, was dubbed “Razor Voice” early in his career by fabled San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. It, along with his pugnacious demeanor, set him apart.

“You knew when you flipped that dial and heard his voice, there was nobody like that,” said Gary Radnich, a former KNBR mainstay.

In 2005, Barbieri was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He didn’t disclose his illness to KNBR management and his audience until 2011.

Six months after his announcement, Barbieri was fired in April 2012. He sued KNBR’s parent company, Cumulus Media, alleging discrimination based on his age — then 66 — and his illnesses.

At the time, the station issued a statement that said, in part: “Ralph refused to honor some of the most basic terms of his contract. As a result, KNBR exercised its right to terminate the contract.”

Barbieri didn’t land his first radio gig until he was 33 years old, when he began working for a small 5,000-watt station in Honolulu for $3 an hour. By the time he departed KNBR, he reportedly was making $400,000 a year.

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