Chuck Barrett: The Man Behind the Microphone
Tyler Wilson takes the snap, then hands the ball off to Dennis Johnson. Johnson gives the ball to Brandon Mitchell. Mitchell finds Javontee Herndon in the end zone. Thousands of radios across the state of Arkansas echo the “Touchdown Arkansas!” so familiar to those of us who grew up listening to Razorback games on the radio.
Chuck Barrett, the man behind the microphone for football, baseball and basketball games, started out in a less prominent role — doing play-by-play over the PA system at Little League games.
Barrett grew up in Clarksville, Ark., the son of two Arkansas alumni. He played football, baseball, basketball and tennis, and when he wasn’t on a field or a court, he listened to Cardinals baseball games on the radio.
The years of listening to the Cardinals announcers had an impact on Barrett. One day, at a Little League game, the PA announcer failed to show up. Barrett stepped in, knowing then and there that calling games was what he wanted to do with his life. Barrett said, for him, there was no Plan B.
“I won’t say I knew what I was doing,” Barrett said, “but I was enthusiastic.”
At 17, Barrett found a job as part-time help at a local radio station, beginning his long career in broadcasting. He broke into radio in an era before call-in shows and ESPN.
“You started out in news,” Barrett said. “I only knew one or two people that did primarily sports. It was something you did in your spare time.”
During the day, Barrett had to cover drier topics or work as a disk jockey.
“I cut my teeth doing city council meetings and school board meetings for years,” Barrett said. “It was news all day, and then high school basketball games at night.”
He even covered the Fort Smith federal courthouse beat for a time. Slowly, however, Barrett transitioned to full-time sports broadcasting.
In 1992, he began calling Razorback baseball games. In 1994, Barrett hosted “Scoreboard Show” with the Razorback coaches. That next year, he began hosting pregame and postgame football coverage. Even with a full plate with the Razorbacks, Barrett found time to host “Sports Rap with Chuck Barrett,” a radio call-in show during rush hour.
In 2007, as everyone in the Razorback family remembers, legendary announcer Paul Eells died in a car crash. The Razorback family had lost its voice.
With a heavy heart, Barrett stepped in behind the microphone.
“You don’t replace a legend, and you’re foolish to try,” Barrett said. “You have to be yourself, and at first, for some people, that’s not going to be good enough. It comes with time.”
Barrett was now calling Razorback football and baseball games. He left his call-in show, but added basketball play-by-play in 2009 for good measure. Barrett is booked for 10 to 11 months out of the year, from the first snap in football to the last out in baseball.
“Last year, it was 61 nights away from home,” Barrett said. “Two months out of 12.”
Between traveling, preparing for games and doing coaches’ shows, Barrett’s weeks fill up fast.
Barrett ran through his preparations for the Auburn game. Monday, he watched the Tigers’ previous game footage. Tuesday, he prepared a spotting board. A spotting board lists every player’s name, number and stats two deep on the depth chart, as well as notes for many players. Barrett said making the spotting board is easily a four-hour process.
Wednesday, Barrett looked back over the opposing game film with his spotting board close by. Thursday, he made and edited sound bites for the broadcast. He also caught the Razorback practice to get a better idea of game strategy. Friday, Barrett flew to Montgomery, Ala., with the team and went to dinner Friday night with sponsors of the broadcast.
Barrett was up at 5:15 a.m. on game day and at the stadium in Auburn by 9 a.m. Barrett met with his Auburn play-by-play colleagues before the game, since Barrett says they are the only people who can fully identify with his job. He also took time to visit with fellow announcers Keith Jackson and Quinn Grovey.
Barrett called the game from kickoff to the last down, and it was a bit easier this particular week compared to weeks past. On the flight back to Fayetteville, Barrett said the team was having fun for the first time in four weeks.
Having grown up a Razorback fan, Barrett said it is sometimes difficult to keep his emotions in check while still accurately presenting what happens during a game.
“It’s important for a broadcaster to convey the emotion of the moment,” Barrett said. “What you say should reflect that.”
His heart sank when University of Louisiana-Monroe scored the final touchdown in Little Rock, and he tried to express the seriousness of what had happened. Barrett tries to remember, however, that the broadcast is the only part of the game that he can control.
Above all, Barrett remains a sports fan. He said one of his favorite parts of game day is getting to the stadium early, with dew still on the grass, and watching as the sun rises up over the sides.
Barrett still loves what he does. Spend any time listening to his broadcasts, and it becomes apparent that he is as passionate today as he was in the PA booth for his first Little League game.
“It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do,” Barrett said.