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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 7 years ago

BACK TO SCHOOL 2010: The Smooth Operator: Bob Barnes

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

If you’ve called a Sarasota or Manatee County public schools in the past 10 years, chances are you’ve been greeted by a smooth baritone voice while you’re on hold.

This is the voice of Bob Barnes, a man who has been practicing that same crisp, clear radio voice since he first nabbed a job at WSEN in Syracuse, N.Y., as a 15-year-old high school freshman.

Barnes, owner of a production firm called The On-Hold Co., personally delivers to callers the dates of upcoming fundraisers around town; which school was recently ranked an “A” school; and when the FCAT is approaching so students can get a good night’s sleep.

“Callers don’t care if 1,000 other people are listening at the same time. I should be telling you one to one what’s going on at the School Board — same as if we we’re having a conversation over a cup of coffee,” Barnes says.

Barnes started recording announcements for local schools after an existing client, Margi Nanney, who then worked for Bill Graham Ford, informed him she was on hold for a lengthy time with her son’s school. She wondered if Barnes might be able to come up with a way to make it affordable for a school to have his company’s service. With a supportive employer behind her, Nanney volunteered to spring for the cost of the equipment; Oneco Elementary School P.T.O. covered the cost of the service.

From e-mails, faxes and letters from area schools, Barnes updates the messages every month — all 350 of them — for 45 schools. Each program, which he writes, records and edits, varies from two to six minutes. Even in person, his voice is unmistakable.

“I hadn’t thought of doing this for schools,” Barnes says. “But after the first one, I got a few calls from some of the others and saw it as a means of communication to parents that are calling. Sometimes I’ll walk into a school and say, ‘I’m Bob Barnes,’ and they recognize my voice and say, ‘Oh! You’re the guy who does On-Hold.’”

Today, Barnes records programs for 11 schools in Manatee County, 39 in Sarasota and a few outside the area.

A fun thing I encountered was when one of the schools was really hoping they had jumped up on their (FCAT) grade. I knew the results were out, but I hadn’t seen them. I called information and they told me the school did not get the raise, but next year I watched the same thing, made the call and they did! They were working really hard to get bumped up. A lot of the schools do congratulation announcements, and those are the things that make this fun to do.

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