Penguins fans may not know his name or his face.
But, they certainly know his voice.
After all, John Barbero’s words echo throughout Mellon Arena’s public address system before and during games.
Now in his 35th season as the public address announcer for Penguins games at Mellon Arena, Barbero took time to reflect on his tenure from his perch in the press box.
“There are a lot of tremendous moments, really,” he said. “Just the chance to see all the great players that have come and gone here, I don’t think fans in a lot of cities realize how fortunate we are to see players like Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux and Pierre Larouche. Just some really outstanding hockey players and nice guys.”
Barbero, who retired from his long-time job as Waynesburg High principal in 2004, has missed only a handful of Penguins games since he began his job announcing at Mellon Arena in the 1972-73 season. One of those came this season.
“I’d say probably in my career, I’ve missed five games. I pride myself on being here,” he said. “As you get older, sometimes you need to put your kids ahead of your job and I did that this year.
“I have had nights where I was barely able to talk and I wondered if I’d be able to get through the game,” he continued. “But, they usually take good care of me – they turn the microphone up high and help me out. I have been pretty fortunate.”
While it may just be a part-time job 40-some nights a year, Barbero puts a lot of time and effort into it.
“I really take it seriously and take great pride in it. If I get a compliment from someone that I’m doing a good job, it really means a lot to me because I do take pride in it and I want to be professional at all times,” he said. “There are so many good PA announcers. I try to listen to all of them with my Center Ice package to hear the things they do and pick up little things from them. I still think probably the best all-time is Art McKenna who used to do the Pirates games for years. I got a chance to know Art pretty well. He was, to me, the ultimate professional. I try to model myself to a great degree after him. Hopefully, someone will say that about me sometime.”
Barbero was interested in broadcasting and got a job with WESA in Charleroi while he was in college at California University of Pa.
“It was a small station, but it gave me a lot of opportunities. I got to do the Cal Vulcans football games, so that was nice,” he said. “I liked it so much I thought it was what I wanted to do.”
Soon, he got his first chance to broadcast professional sports.
“WESA teamed up with WEEP in Pittsburgh and started carrying the Pittsburgh Piper basketball games. So, I became the voice of the Pipers then and got to travel with the team, which was my first real experience as a sportscaster,” he said. “I found out in a hurry that that is not what I wanted to be because I did not like the travel. Just going out, spending all that time in a hotel room, it got to be pretty boring and it wasn’t ideal for family life.
“In the meantime, WESA would get complimentary tickets to Penguins games because back then, they weren’t drawing a lot of people and we always got free tickets. So, my wife and I always came to the games. I really enjoyed them and I really got into hockey in a big way,” he continued. “So, I wrote a letter to Terry Schiffhauer, who was the director of public relations for the Penguins then, and I told him I’d like to do the public announcing. To my surprise, he wrote me a letter and told me to send a tape. So, I did and he hired me on the spot. It was kind of a fluke thing. I had never met him and he had never met me. He took a chance on me, so that was really the way it started.”
The story is still unfolding and Barbero has developed his own style over the years with his name pronunciations.
“It’s funny. I started fooling around with the names and the first guy I tried anything with was John Chabot. He wasn’t a very good player, but his name would lend itself to a little bit of me getting crazy with it,” he said. “I would announce his name in kind of a unique way and it was funny because, after a while, he got embarrassed because he wasn’t doing anything and he asked me if I would not do it anymore because I think the players would get on him a little bit about it. The only other one I think didn’t care for it too much was Zarley Zalapski – he got a little embarrassed by all the attention he was getting by the way I was announcing his name. But, for the most part, I think the players like it and enjoy it.”
His favorite all-time name?
“Mario, probably,” he said. “I kind of like Jarkko Ruutu now. On opening night, he scored that goal and the fans immediately started with ‘Ruuuuu-toooo’ and that caught on real quick. Sometimes, I wish the Penguins would draft more players who had names I could do something with. It’s tough sometimes with some of the names we have.”
Barbero enjoys pumping up the crowd with his goal announcements.
“I am a fan, there’s no doubt about it. I find, for example, in a playoff game or a really tense game if the Penguins were to score a clutch goal or a really big goal, I really have a hard time trying to control my emotions – almost to the point where it probably shows to a degree,” he said. “In a way, I take that as a compliment when people tell me I really get excited when the Penguins score. It’s not an act; I am truly excited most of the time, unless they are getting blown out and score a meaningless goal, then maybe it’s not quite as exciting. But, I think that’s one of the big things – you want to make it exciting for the fans and I think they enjoy the fact that I do get excited because they really seem to get into it. When I would announce one of Mario’s goals, all the fans would join in and they seemed to like it.”
If he could, Barbero would announce Penguins games until he couldn’t speak.
“Truthfully, I think I would. As long as I have my health and as long as they’d have me, I certainly enjoy it enough,” he said. “I can honestly say in all my years of driving to Pittsburgh, and it’s about an hour drive, I have never minded coming here whether it was snowing, raining or whatever. If I know there is a Penguins game, I am just happy to be here. I enjoy it that much.”