Many Razorback fans may not have grasped the significance of an obituary on Monday — the death of Bob Cheyne at the age of 86.
He was one of the three key figures in the growth of University of Arkansas football, basketball and sports in general since World War II along with John Barnhill and Frank Broyles.
But Cheyne was content to operate behind the scenes, to let others take the limelight, the credits and — at times — the harsh criticisms. He was sports information director at Arkansas, the first in that position.
Cheyne took this job in 1948, one of a number of far-sighted innovations by Barnhill, another person who let others take plaudits and acclaim. Barnhill saw developments in the years after the end of World War II. He saw the advantages of the Texas schools in the Southwest Conference. He looked at forward steps in “getting the word out” at the University of Texas under sports information director Wilbur Evans and at Rice University under sports information director Bill Whitmore.
Cheyne was sports editor of the Fayetteville newspaper while he was earning a journalism and history degree at Arkansas. Basically, he took Barnhill’s backing and went to the media instead of waiting for the media to come to him. This is a bedrock firmly in place today by colleges large and small as well as other private and public entities.
There was no television in Arkansas in the late 1940s, but there was radio. Cheyne, again with Barnhill’s backing, drove about the state visiting dozens of radio stations and selling many on the idea of live broadcasting of Razorback games. Many stations told him, “OK, give it to us.” He did. For free. A play-by-play announcer was needed of course, so Cheyne did it himself — without additional cost to the college.
Cheyne broadcast Razorback football and basketball from 1948 to 1969, stepping down when television grew into a dominant medium, and Bud Campbell replaced Cheyne as “Voice of the Razorbacks.”
Another key part of Cheyne’s Razorback work was compiling the school’s sports records. None really existed before he became sports information director, and he labored at getting them assembled and accurate. Statistics remained vital to him, and writers and broadcasters covering Arkansas teams became dependent on the facts and figures Cheyne gave out minutes after games concluded.
Cheyne did not play favorites. A writer from a weekly newspaper received the same information and the same treatment that a nationally syndicated scribe got.
At times, Cheyne had less than adequate material to send out. Mediocre football teams under Barnhill faded to three lackluster seasons under Otis Douglas. One burst of success came in 1954 width coach Bowden Wyatt and the “25 Little Pigs” that won a conference title and a Cotton Bowl. More mediocrity followed until Broyles arrived in 1958.
Cheyne was more than an information source. He and Barnhill had a nose for determining what Arkansans wanted in their flagship sports program. Barnhill, with the help of a handful of Arkansas shakers and movers, created the string of Razorback clubs that attracted everyday Arkansans along with alumni of the university.
Cheyne had major accomplishments after giving up the sports information job. He joined Cooper Communities in marketing and promoting Bella Vista Village then Hot Springs village. And he went to work at Walmart, promoting the beginning of Sam’s Clubs.