A man of ceaseless impersonations
Nationally recognized broadcaster Bill Barrett offers up a multitude of characters for Radio Redux performances
Bill Barrett "has an extraordinary ability to sound like different people without sounding like himself," says Radio Redux founder Fred Crafts. “In addition, Bill is one of the nicest and hardest-working guys you could ever meet. That’s a dynamite package.” Photo by Scott Kelley.
If you’ve been lucky enough to catch Radio Redux performances in the past year or so, you may recognize Bill Barrett’s voice. Then again, precisely because he’s so skilled at creating new characters, you may not.
As a performer with an inordinate stockpile of voices, accents, inflections, and dialects at the ready, Barrett is regularly cast as a multitude of characters within the show itself, or as an announcer delivering Radio Redux’s quirky commercials.
In one scene from It Happened One Night, he played chin-in-the-air aviator King Westley, fiancée of Ellie Andrews; in another scene, he played smarmy Oscar Shapeley, who flirts with Ellie on the bus with pedantic stories of selling office supplies.
Barrett, whose voice is the hallmark of his career on radio and freelance narration work, first joined Radio Redux in The Thin Man. Since then, along with character roles he’s played narrator in shows and announcer in some very memorable commercials often custom-penned by Radio Redux founder Fred Crafts.
“I really am amazed by Fred Crafts and his ability to pull these shows together,” Barrett said. “I am amazed at his dedication. He is remarkable.”
In It Happened One Night, Barrett played eight characters in all – each with a distinctive voice. This sometimes required some scenes in which Barrett would be talking to himself. In one sequence, Barrett was both a gruff army general and a German doctor alternately discussing the condition of the metal on the flying saucer that lands in Washington, D.C.
“Bill has an extraordinary ability to sound like different people without sounding like himself. That is a rare talent, and Radio Redux is so lucky to have him,” Crafts says. “In addition, Bill is one of the nicest and hardest-working guys you could ever meet. That’s a dynamite package.”
As a kid, Barrett drove his family and classmates up the wall with his ceaseless impersonations.
“I used to make my cousins crazy,” he said. “One time I just wouldn’t stop doing impressions; they threw me in the closet and said I couldn’t come out until I was quiet.”
n It Happened One Night, Barrett played eight characters in all – each with a distinctive voice. In one sequence, he was both a gruff army general and a German doctor alternately. Photo by Scott Kelley.
He mimicked friends’ voices and did impersonations of teachers at Junípero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. As a football player, Barrett was defensive tackle and played with Lynn Swann, who later went on to be wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Barrett also provided pep rally entertainment prior to the game, offering impersonations of movie stars like John Wayne and Cary Grant, along with two or three teachers.
“They didn’t appreciate that,” Barrett recalls. “The students howled, but the teachers, afterwards, were (clears throat), ‘Mr. Barrett, that was not very respectful.’ ”
He wrote and staged a comedy variety show with the school (which also got him in hot water) and wrote satirical articles for the school newspaper. In the yearbook, he was voted Class Comic.
He attended the University of Wyoming and started with the campus radio station within a month of his arrival.
Two months after he got started, someone from KLME in Laramie, Wyoming, heard Barrett on the radio and invited him to apply for a job.
Barrett graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. His forte was in news, but his comedic tendencies soon veered his career into that of disc jockey.
“I’ve been on the air for 47 years and it started right there at school,” he said.
Barrett moved to Eugene in 1976 and has worked as a freelance voice talent for forty years. He’s lent his voice to numerous products,
Barrett has been on the air for 47 years and worked as a freelance voice talent for forty years. He’s provided voice work for PBS, Nike and "The Bourne Identity" video game. Photo by Scott Kelley.
including Shark infomercials for blenders, steam mops and vacuum cleaners. He’s provided work for PBS, Nike and "The Bourne Identity" video game; when Matt Damon was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel, Barrett was commissioned to spoof the video game for a sketch that aired on the show that same week.
“Jobs like that just pop up. I’ve worked for anybody you can mention,” he said, who recalls once being in the car with his kids when a radio ad that he’d narrated began to play. “I’ve had family call me from Hawaii, ‘I can’t get away from you!’ ”
Although he never formally studied acting, he’s become quite well known within Eugene theater circles, with his first show at Very Little Theatre in 1979 and other performances at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.
He first performed with Radio Redux during its 2015-16 season.
“This is the kind of radio I grew up on. I love old-time radio,” he said. “We used to put on radio shows at the university. We’d write and produce radio dramas in school. Radio Redux brings back radio’s Golden Age. To be able to be a part of it is pretty fascinating.”
Professionally, Barrett also works as a co-host of the morning radio talk show “Barrett Fox Berry,” with his colleagues Tim Fox and Tracy Berry, on country station KKNU in Springfield. The program, the No. 1 morning show in Western Oregon for the past 21 years, has won a bevy of national broadcast awards, including National Radio Personalities of the Year five times by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.
If Barrett’s calendar weren’t full enough, he’s the father of 12 children, through birth and adoption. Six are still at home.
“I’m Mr. Mom,” he said. After he gets off the air from the morning-show gig, “I finish the laundry, do the shopping, do the cooking, do the Dad taxi. I get it done.”
When he’s not on stage or lending his voice to a broadcast, he’s likely to be found fly fishing rivers around the Willamette Valley.
—Story by Emerson Malone