Tompkins and Hughes are not a song-writing team, a double-play combination or even two guys who run a body-and-fender shop in San Bernardino. They are the working force behind Weekend Sports, a program that goes out over NBC radio 15 times a weekend to some 160 stations. Barry Tompkins is the voice of Weekend Sports, Mike Hughes its producer, and if you heard any of their shows last weekend you caught them coming from NBC's home base, New York—an unlikely place for them to be.
Normally they are on the road, living in Sheratons, Hyatts, Hiltons and Executive Houses and doing broadcasts from locations that would fulfill any sport buffs wildest fantasies. Since January they have been on the air from the Super Bowl; the NCAA basketball semifinals; the Hope, Citrus, Doral, Tucson, Dinah Shore and Masters golf tournaments; spring training camps in Florida and Arizona; and Hialeah, Santa Anita and Gulf-stream Park racetracks. By Labor Day they will have been to three 500s—Indy, Pocono and California; the WCT tennis championships, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes as well as the U.S. Open and PGA tournaments, plus most of the NFL camps. They will have on tape an interview with virtually every baseball or football player whose words are worth transcribing.
The tapes prove especially valuable when Tompkins finds it necessary or worthwhile to bulk out a news bulletin. Unlike many interviewers, he listens to what a subject says, rather than rushing into another question. "A good example," he says, "is Chris Evert. She wins almost all the time, and we have her on all kinds of tapes. If she wins by rushing the net, we can play the rushing-the-net tape."
Come fall, Tompkins and Hughes will be doing football games from colleges on Saturdays and at a pro stadium on Sundays. "The college thing has not been done in years," says Tompkins. "It's a lot more work but it will be worth it."
Weekend Sports comes at the listener in fast bursts that somehow manage to relate who is leading whom at the moment, or who has already won. And the program covers all sports. The final wrap-up at 7:35 p.m. Sunday is the best way to get results you might have missed on weekends when the number of sporting events is overwhelming.
Actually, radio has always been the best way to keep up with weekend sporting events because network and local television sports shows are now so self-serving that they have become virtually useless for this purpose. They seem compelled to show footage of events that have run on their own network only moments before, or the announcers fall into the old hometown-team trap: "The Knicks are at home tonight and the Rangers are on the road." And, folks, that's supposed to be news.
Pete Flynn, director of programs at NBC radio, says, "The idea of keeping a guy like Barry Tompkins on the road 45 to 48 weeks a year is not a new one but it tied in with a desire on his part to do it. This is the third year the show has been on the air, and now it is not only flexible, it has impact. Tompkins knows sports, he knows broadcasting and—with Hughes—he can do a knowledgeable commentary on almost anything. He can do things in what we call 'quick bites.' When the show first started we had too many bites—too many little pieces of news in too short a period of time. Now we have it down to the point where we don't do everything, but you still won't miss much listening to Barry."
Tompkins, 36, and Hughes, 29, normally arrive at a location two or three days before an event and establish a beachhead. However, they are not compelled to lead with a story of that event just because that's where they are. The NBC staff back in New York keeps in touch with the team by phone about what is going on in other events across the country, and Tompkins has now developed such a reputation that he can interview the winner of virtually any event on the phone almost immediately.
"Most network sports shows are too New York-oriented," says Tompkins. "I want to be out where the action is, see what is going on. I don't want to sit in a studio and read stuff off a wire. I want to be where it's happening. I have to be there. It isn't the easiest way to do it, but it's the best way."
Tompkins started at San Francisco's KCBS radio in 1965 as a writer of promotion copy. "He was an excellent writer," says Sports Director Don Klein, "and I was impressed with his knowledge and imagination. It wasn't that he was just writing that Ebbets Field had been torn down and that an apartment house was standing in its place. Barry could paint the ghosts for you. But, like any writer, the change to going on the air is very difficult. Short sentences must be used. He was able to make that change rather smoothly. Now he gets right to the point."
Tompkins says, "If I had to make a living out of the quality of my voice, I'd starve. Klein helped me a great deal. When I got a chance to do television in San Francisco I encountered this almost unbelievable problem for an announcer. I was running out of breath. I was writing too long."
Often Tompkins will sit at a typewriter and bang out an outline for his commentaries, but he edits himself when he starts talking by adlibbing and compressing. There are also all those tapes. Last week, for instance, Hughes and Tompkins sat down and decided they had too many tapes logged in the NBC library, so they threw out some 2,000 of 4,000 interviews. This week they started building toward 4,000 again.