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Houston Chronicle

Jan. 28, 2001, 11:59AM

Former sportscaster turns defeat into a career

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle


Barry Warner has worked 25 Super Bowls, but today he is nowhere near Tampa, Fla.

This Super Bowl Sunday he will be at Reliant Arena to celebrate the Tet Festival, bringing in the Vietnamese New Year while enjoying traditional music and dragon dancing.

The man who earned the nickname "Sports Mouth" on the AM dial will be with thousands of Vietnamese-Americans. He'll pass out crisp $1 bills tucked inside red envelopes, which like black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck.

"It should be wonderful," Warner said a few days ago. "It's our celebration. It's our new year."


The outgoing Buffalo, N.Y., native doesn't have a drop of Vietnamese blood in him, but he is all wrapped up in his current enterprise, and he sometimes gets carried away.

Warner is in his second year as president of Asian Southwest Media, a company that connects Asian media to the general market. He works frequently with Little Saigon Radio, KREH 900 AM.

For decades, the Houston public knew Warner as a brash sports talk-show host. He worked at seemingly every radio station in town and a few TV stations. His in-your-face style got him fired a few times, and for a while he couldn't find steady work.

Some people might have been discouraged by all the job changes and the loss of the celebrity spotlight, but Warner is approaching his current livelihood with great energy and passion. He is a man who keeps bouncing back.

"You never give up," Warner said. "The most repulsive word in the dictionary next to `hate' is `quit.' "

Warner's resilience is remarkable, said his friend Barry Silverman, president of a marketing-management firm. Silverman has seen Warner go "from job to job to job to job."

"He's just constantly charging forward," Silverman said.

Warner has survived the downturns in his career by drawing on reservoirs of persistence, resilience and adaptability.

When things haven't gone well in his professional life, he's used sports metaphors to explain his predicament. He once told Silverman years ago: "It's 21 to nothing in the fourth quarter, and my quarterback just got hurt."

A few years ago, his quarterback was knocked out cold.

Between 1992 and 1994, after KPRC Radio fired him, Warner couldn't find a full-time job. He started to wonder if to all the world he was just an unemployed 45-year-old loudmouth.

He recalled sending out 103 résumés and getting four responses.

"You talk about ego deflation," he said. "I got a tidal wave."

When he would run into executives he knew, he'd tell them he needed a job. They'd invite him into their office but would only want to talk about sports for 15 minutes before dismissing him with something like: "You're a bright guy; you'll land on your feet."

"It was a rough time, standing in line at the Texas Employment Commission with people who have listened to you for years," he said.

Soon after those dark days, he began selling on-air advertising for KGOL, an AM radio station specializing in international programming. That experience would give him the idea of forming Asian Southwest Media.

Dr. Scott Sindelar, a business psychologist based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the author of Fear Free Selling: How to Become Absolutely Fearless Selling Anything; Products, Services, Even Yourself, noted that resilient people are able to handle failure. They don't take it personally and they learn from it, he said.

"In sales, the two traits most predictive of success are resilience and optimism, and both traits are teachable," said Sindelar, who observed that "actually, we're all in sales," no matter what our line of work.

Sindelar said that, in sales, a person faces constant rejection.

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Warner currently is selling Asian radio and print advertising to general-market advertisers. He said his previous life as a talk-show host gave him good training.

While working years ago on the 10th floor of a building overlooking the Katy Freeway, he recalled "seeing thousands of cars going by, and not one of them was calling me to talk about sports."

Warner is a fountain of energy. Ask him a simple question, and you will probably get a long answer.

When asked his age, he replied: "Fifty-seven, still playing hockey twice a week after 14 surgeries: four backs, two necks, a nose, two shoulders, an elbow. ... "

Then he recalled the time he suffered a skydiving injury.

From his Galleria-area office inside his condo, Warner recently was making sales calls in a smooth, booming radio voice that projects authority.

In any profession, it is important to market oneself, said Sindelar, who noted that most people are afraid to do that.

"The most successful people are able to sell their selves, their character and ideas," he said.

Warner isn't shy about selling himself.

"You are sitting in the presence of one of the nation's foremost Caucasian experts on the buying and selling of goods and services to reach the Asian community," he said.

Warner hasn't totally abandoned the bravado style that used to get him in trouble. Reflecting on the broadcasting career he left behind, he said: "I'd rather do roofing work in 100-degree heat than talk to some of the morons that call sports talk radio shows."

Houston City Council member Gordon Quan said that behind Warner's gruff exterior is a "heart is as big as all outdoors. But his worst enemy is himself. He can't keep his mouth shut sometimes."

Warner recalled the time he was banned for two weeks from broadcasting Southwest Conference games because, during a game between Arkansas and the University of Houston aired on HSE, he disparaged the people of Arkansas. The wife of a high-ranking Arkansas school official overheard his comments.

"Who is that idiot?" she complained to HSE executives.

Doug Harris, a marketing consultant who works with Warner, said, "Unquestionably there are some elements to his personality that will keep him from being named `man of the year.' He can be abrasive and a bit long-winded and very opinionated. His manner does put some people off. "

Warner also is self-effacing. He joked about the number of times he's been fired from radio. In Buffalo in the mid-'60s, he worked at WYSL for broadcaster/owner Gordon McLendon, who eventually let him go. Warner returned to the station -- and someone else fired him.

"After I shaved my beard, (McLendon) came up to me and said: `You're a lot better than that hippie we used to have who was always ripping Notre Dame.' " He was referring, of course, to Warner, who would later get a third pink slip from WYSL when it changed formats.

In the early 1990s, Harris worked with Warner at KLOL. Warner was a fish out of water at the rock station and "ruffled a lot of people's feathers," Harris said. "But he'd bring in fresh bagels every morning and always have a hearty smile on his face.

"Even if he got on your nerves, you had to admire his perseverance."

Along with his work in radio, Warner has been a stockbroker, wholesale floor-covering distributor, the manager of the Lamar Tower condominiums, a research and site selector for a local real estate developer, and a part-time scout for the American and National Football leagues.

Such adaptability is an asset, Sindelar said. "The willingness to take risks is what stops a lot of people dead in their tracks," he said. "They're afraid to acquire new skills."

Sindelar said today's young professionals may change their careers several times in their lifetimes.

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Even during his radio sports talk career, Warner proved himself adaptable. From 1992 until 1996, he worked part-time at the black radio station KCOH. He called his show "Honky in the Hood."

Patrick Fant, former general manager of KLOL, offered a theory on Warner's adaptability. "He's more afraid of failure than of overcoming his limitations," Fant said. "That's the sign of a strong personality."

It was Fant who, after firing Warner from KLOL, suggested he try sales.

Quan recalled what Warner said to him a few years ago.

" `My calling in life is to see the Asian- American community have a seat at the table.' It wasn't a passing fancy," Quan said. "He's taken it really seriously and continues to preach that."

Quan said Warner adds a spark to the local Asian community. Asian people are typically modest, he explained.

"We're so respectful," he said. "But Barry comes in guns ablazing."

Warner's representation of the Asian community, Quan said, "expands the way people look at us."

Warner said he admires the Vietnamese. His professional survival is nothing compared to what they've endured, he said.

Warner has served as a link between corporations and the local Asian community to promote voter registration, cultural heritage events, mentoring programs and scholarships.

Vu Thanh Thuy, chief executive officer of Little Saigon Radio, recalled working with Warner recently on a promotion with the Houston Comets. It was before a game at the Compaq Center, and several members of the station were there.

Warner began talking to Thuy in his typically loud voice.

The other staff members looked on in disbelief.

"Barry, don't talk to me in that tone of voice," she told him.

"But this is how I always talk to you," he said.

"But we've never been in public together," said Thuy, who explained to Warner that in Vietnam when a person talks in a commanding voice, it means that he or she is either a figure of authority or head of the family.

Thuy said Warner thanked her for the lesson. The next time they did a promotion in public together, Warner barely spoke.

Warner has started a sports talk show on Little Saigon Radio, but he is not the host. He trained two young men to be the Sunday afternoon hosts: Alex Wu and Luong Khanh, both natives of Vietnam.

Wu is a computer engineer and Khanh a pharmacist at Methodist Hospital. Khanh often wears his lab coat while working in the studio.

The main focus of the show is soccer, but they also discuss local professional teams.

Along with Asian Southwest Media, Warner is busy with other work. He does public relations for the Westside Tennis Club, marketing and consulting work for Le, Ju and Tran, a venture-capital group, and gives motivational speeches and sales seminars to retailers.

Warner has met countless celebrities and has counted among his friends the late Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali, Earl Campbell and Nolan Ryan. Many of the famous call Warner by the nickname "Super."

Among other celebrities, the April 7 opening of Enron Field lured then-Texas governor George W. Bush. The stadium was teeming with national and local media, Warner recalled. Out of nowhere, Bush yelled out to Warner: "Hey, Super. They still let you in here?"

In the late 1960s, Warner and Bush met over pickup basketball at local YMCAs and became friendly. Later, Warner would hang out with Bush poolside at the Houston apartment complex the Chateau Dijon. Warner and the future leader of the Free World played water volleyball and enjoyed the single life in Houston.

Warner, who is divorced, noted that the late Alan Shepard was the best man at his wedding.

He pulls a chain from his neck. The gold pendant says "Apollo XIV," along with the Hebrew symbol for life.

"Three guesses where that's been," he said.

To the moon.

Warner idolizes American astronauts. He also reveres his mother and late father.

From his mother, Hilda, who lives in Houston, Warner said he learned his people skills, vocabulary and "whatever is good about me."

His father, Ed, was a Fuller Brush salesman in Buffalo -- one of the best in the country, Warner said.

He learned from him that "every `no' is one step closer to a `yes.' You never quit. You always make the extra call."

As a boy, Barry Warner worked for the Fuller Brush Co., delivering catalogs and merchandise to homes.

"Who's going to slam the door on an adorable 9-year-old all bundled up like Frosty the Snowman?" he asked.

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