Guest Speaker: Chuck Barrett
Chuck Barrett – quite possibly the most recognizable name and voice in the state of Arkansas. The “Voice of the Razorbacks” is a revered position in our great state of supporters united under one sports team. Arkansans love our Razorbacks and the voice that brings us play-by play action during battle. Although Chuck says he only dreamed of actually becoming the voice of the Razorbacks, he knew sports and radio were to be his future when he was only 16.
Chuck was born in Memphis and lived there with his parents until they divorced. At 9 years old, he moved with his mother to Clarksville, where his uncle was the pastor of the local Methodist church. His mother, single with two children, went back to work as a home economics teacher after many years at home with him and his sister. He worked at the Boy’s Club in Clarksville as a baseball umpire, staffing the concession stand or whatever was needed. “One night when I was 16, the guy who did the PA, and therefore the play-by-play, didn’t show up. I was on call and I got to do it. I always listened to the Cardinals’ games on the radio at night, and I just copied everything that I had heard. I got lots of compliments after that night. It was then that I knew what I wanted to do. So when I was a junior in high school I got a job at the local radio station, even working on weekends during the Razorback games.”
Chuck graduated high school in 1981, and then went to Arkansas State for a year. He says he wasn’t happy there, so he transferred to the University of Arkansas. “But the problem was, all I wanted to do was work at a radio station. So I became a college dropout. There’s no other way to put it. You couldn’t do that now, but back then there were no sports networks. All that mattered was that you were good and that you had experience, and I couldn’t get that in college at the time.”
Seeking experience, he took a job in Russellville at KARV-AM. He says, “I did weather radar, city council meetings, school board meetings, greased pig contests – you name it and I did it! I learned more there in one year than I would have in four years of college or even five to 10 years at a large broadcast firm. It was the best training I’ve ever had in my life. KARV was and is reputed to the best training ground for an up-and-coming radio personality.”
After that job in Russellville, he moved to Fort Smith and worked in radio news. He says, “I was in my 20s so I bounced around a bit. But in 1991, when I was 28, I got the call that the job would be open for the Razorback baseball team. I threw caution to the wind and interviewed. I went into my backyard and created a game in my mind and made an air check and recorded it.” He laughs and adds, “I was probably the only person who applied for the job!”
So in 1992, he began his career as the play-by-play announcer for the Arkansas Razorback baseball team. He started his sports talk radio show, Sports Wrap, in 1995, which became wildly successful within our state. That same year he also was hired by the U of A to host the scoreboard show that ran as part of the Razorbacks’ football broadcasts.
After a couple of years working for the U of A, he says, “I began to realize that I could live my dreams out right here at the university.” As a child, his mother made it a point each year to buy a few inexpensive end zone seats for the Razorback football games. He says she knew, as only a mother can, that she was nurturing something within him when she took him to those games. “I know there were many days she would have rather been anywhere else. But I also know we wouldn’t be sitting here talking if she hadn’t done that, and I will always appreciate that.”
During his time as producer for football broadcasts and scoreboard show host, he spent much time alongside announcer Paul Eells. Chuck says, “Paul was a gentleman. He was such a great guy. But he was a really good broadcaster. He had a larger-than-life persona and yet didn’t have the ego that came with it. The greatest lesson in working with him was, ‘This is not about you…it is about the Razorbacks.’ He was a great teacher and mentor for all of us.”
Sadly, in 2006 Paul lost his life in a car accident. After Paul had held the title of the Voice of the Razorbacks for 28 years, it was a bittersweet transition when Chuck took the most coveted seat of all in Razorback Stadium – at least for Chuck it was. “There was no passing of the torch.
Those first two years were the most difficult for me, professionally, of my whole life. I couldn’t replace him. I didn’t even try. Though the transition was not seamless, with every day that passed, it felt natural and it felt right…and it still does.”
After taking over football, Chuck did make the decision to step away from baseball after 24 years with the program. He says, “Some of the greatest days of my life revolve around that baseball program, and I do miss it. I miss being at the ballpark, but I don’t miss all the travel.” As for his sports radio show, he says, “I loved every single aspect of it, but I don’t miss it anymore. Back then there was no Twitter or message boards – I look at it now and the shows aren’t as good as they used to be, because people are afraid. You can’t say the really funny lines, because you get fired.”
When it comes to sports broadcasting, people always want to know about favorite games. For Chuck, he says his favorite football game was against LSU in 2007 – his first year as the Voice of the Razorbacks. “That game was like a heavyweight fight! The game got so good that for the first time that year my instincts just took over and I didn’t have to think about what to say next,” he says. “Though it’s hard to pick a favorite player, I’d have to say that there is no one like Darren McFadden. He was a once in a lifetime. It will be hard to find another like him.”
Things have changed a bit in how sports broadcasting works. So, instead of being employed by the university, Chuck is now employed by IMG College, a leader in collegiate sports marketing. He works as a broadcaster covering basketball, football and radio shows for the coaches. Before this position, he worked every day for the university. Since Chuck’s wife, Ginger – daughter of former longtime Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden – is a prosecuting attorney in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., this new role allows Chuck more flexibility to commute between Fayetteville and Florida.
Chuck is looking forward to the 2017 season with as much excitement as any Razorback fan and is honored to represent Arkansas as the Voice once again. “I am so privileged to do this. I grew up in a small town in Arkansas with no connections to anything or anybody. I can’t even tell you how this happened. I am so overwhelmingly grateful,” he says. “I look around and I can’t even believe it. I really want our fans to understand that every person who works here doesn’t take a single second for granted.” Now, it’s time to call those Hogs!