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“My wife heard it,” Barker says of his high-school sweetheart, Dorothy Jo Gideon (who died in 1981), “and when I got home, she said, ‘That’s what you should do. You did that better than you’ve ever done anything else.’ She didn’t say I was good, mind you.”
So Barker and Dorothy Jo headed west, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where he began hosting an audience-participation radio show for Hollywood station KGFJ. It was that program that caught the ear of Truth or Consequencescreator Ralph Edwards when he was in the midst of a nationwide search for a new host for the daytime version of the series. Edwards then called Barker in for a series of interviews and, in December of 1956, the job was his.
“But don’t misunderstand,” Barker cautions. “When Ralph heard me doing radio, I’d been doing audience participation for years. When I first came to California, my wife and I did radio shows for the Southern California Edison company. We’d do two a day — we’d go to Pomona and San Bernardino, or we’d go to Oxnard and Ventura, or we’d go to Santa Monica and Redondo Beach. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. So, I had done hundreds of audience-participation shows before Ralph ever called me.”
Barker acknowledges that such experience is hard to come by nowadays, when most of what passes as “reality” television involves some kind of scripting or rehearsal and when even the game-show hosts he admires — Alex Trebek is one — work with pre-selected contestants.
“If you get a job in a radio station today, you’re not doing audience participation,” he says. “You’re playing records or, if you have a talk show, you’re talking with writers or actors or politicians, and that’s a whole different thing. You ask people like that a question and they’ll give you a whole speech. You start talking with some guy out of the audience and he might say, ‘Uh, well, I don’t know,’ and then you have to go from there.”
Unlike Edwards, though, Barker isn’t actively involved in seeking his yet-to-be-announced successor — rumored candidates include Entertainment Tonightco-host Mark Steines, Saved By the Bellalum Mario Lopez and possibly George Hamilton. But even with a new MC, Barker doesn’t expect The Price Is Right to change very much. If it did, the audience might revolt.
“You know, a question I’m frequently asked is why I still use a microphone with a cord on it,” he says, “and I always answer by saying that when we first started the show, the cordless mikes weren’t as reliable as they are now, and if you moved around as much as I do, a cordless mikes would cut out. So I used the one with the cord, and I continued to use one with a cord because I became so identified with it that I was afraid people wouldn’t recognize me if I didn’t have it! But I’ve been told that when they get a new man, he is going to use a cordless microphone. And when I told the audience that the other day, they cried ‘No! No!’ They don’t even want the guy who follows me to use a cordless microphone. Now, isn’t that wonderful!”
In the meantime, Barker is actively engaged in planning for his retirement. “I used to say that I was going to go into bodybuilding and would eventually become governor of California. But I think I’ve changed my mind now. I had a group here from Canada, and they had on T-shirts that read, ‘Bob Barker for Prime Minister.’ So, that’s what I may do, and I’ve promised them that no matter what problems they have, I will make them worse.”