Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Barrett Begins 20th Season Behind the Mic
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, left, talks during his radio show with host Chuck Barrett Wednesday at the Catfish Hole in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE As is custom, Chuck Barrett will usher in a new season for Arkansas baseball fans this afternoon when the Razorbacks host Delaware State at 3:05 p.m.
Barrett, who is beginning his 20th season behind the mic for Razorbacks baseball broadcasts, is considered one of the best college baseball play-by-play men in the business. His seemingly effortless style of calling a game is reminiscent of longtime St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck, who Barrett said was often the last voice he heard before he went to bed as a child.
The Clarksville native began doing the broadcasts as a 28-year-old in 1992. He has worked alongside at least seven color analysts, but admits he could have omitted others who have filled in.
“I told a friend of mine the first time I did it that I’m going to do this three years,” Barrett recalled.
Instead, Barrett has had staying power. Though not directly because of his broadcasts, Razorbacks baseball has taken off during his years behind the mic. Arkansas moved from George Cole Field to Baum Stadium in 1996, which following a series of renovations has become one of the largest ballparks in America.
The Razorbacks’ winning has caused the growth in their popularity. Arkansas is one of the winningest programs in college baseball over the last decade, with two trips to the College World Series since 2004.
“I can remember going that first year to Georgia and we played a doubleheader on Saturday. I remember walking into their park thinking if we could have something half as nice as this, baseball might really take off at Arkansas,” Barrett said. “Now, with all due respect to Georgia, Baum Stadium is so much better than what Georgia has and at least the equal of all the other schools in the league. I never imagined it’d be like this.”
The growth has been more impressive considering college baseball doesn’t get as much TV time as football and basketball. Barrett shyly admitted the radio broadcasts have been part of the growth in the fan base, but credited the state’s radio stations for stepping to the plate in recent years.
“You’ve got a 100,000-watt FM station in Little Rock this year that is going to carry 50 to 56 games,” Barrett said. “Five years ago you couldn’t get an AM radio station there to carry 30. You have a 100,000-watt station in Fort Smith carrying games now. Those are also sports talk radio stations, so the baseball team has become part of the every day conversation among Razorbacks fans in the spring. That has been the biggest thing that has made it viable statewide.
“I think because of radio, it has reached some people that might not have been fans before. When you listen to a ball game on the radio, I think some people have an emotional investment in the outcome, but I think a lot of people are just listening to a ball game. If it’s a good broadcast they’ll come back and listen again, and over time they might develop an emotional investment in the team. I think over the years we’ve had pretty good broadcasts and I think that’s helped attract people. It certainly helps that the network has grown and we’ve got on in other parts of the state, and it’s certainly helped that the team has been good. I remember some of the old games when it was on one or two stations and I didn’t know if anyone was listening at all.”
Like the game he cut his teeth calling, Barrett’s job has evolved since that first year. Formerly the host of Sports Rap, a daily statewide call-in show on the Arkansas Radio Network, Barrett has served as the University of Arkansas’ director of broadcasting since 2007 and is the play-by-play man for football, men’s basketball and baseball, which occupies more than 100 nights out of the year.
That number doesn’t include travel days, hosting a pair of TV coaches shows, voice-over work for the athletic department’s website or the dozens of emceeing responsibilities he holds through Razorback clubs, the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club and Swatter’s Club.
Signaling his career growth, Barrett won’t call all of today’s game. He’ll duck out some time around 5:30 p.m. to board a plane to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the basketball team will play Saturday night.
“I don’t mean this to sound flippant, but right now basketball is my favorite,” Barrett said. “When we get into the spring, baseball is my favorite and in the fall football is my favorite. That’s the way you’ve got to do it. I think people associate me with baseball more because I’ve done it 20 years, football for four and not even a full year for basketball. It’s certainly understandable people think of baseball because I’ve done it more than anything else.
“Before, my life revolved around doing my talk show. The baseball games were really second on my priority list. Now when you do all of them it kind of becomes your priority. This is different for me this year because I’m still in basketball mode and it will probably be when basketball is over that I’ll completely shift over to baseball. This has been the time the previous 19 years when I was getting ready to do all the baseball games.”
Phil Elson, the play-by-play man for the minor league Arkansas Travelers, will fill in for Barrett and color man Rick Schaeffer at least seven times this season, including today. Kyle Kellams, the former play-by-play man for Arkansas women’s basketball, will fill in at least two times.
“Phil is a baseball guy that I think our fans are going to enjoy listening to,” Barrett said. “There is some recognition there with Kyle because of his work here in town with KUAF, his broadcasts of the women’s basketball games and then he has filled in for us on the baseball broadcast before and did really well.”
Signaling even more growth in the baseball program is the fact the Razorbacks will appear on TV at least 17 times this regular season. While more fans might elect for the TV broadcast over radio more times this season in the past, Barrett said he’ll still approach every game the same.
“One thing I can say without any reservation is that I’ve treated every broadcast of every game I’ve ever done the same way, whether I knew there were five people listening or whether I knew every station on the network was on,” Barrett said. “I can honestly say that. I am conscious of the fact that there are certain games where you have more listenership. Sunday afternoon games you have more listenership than probably any other game.
“If you’re really going to impart the the ball game on a listener – say to someone in El Dorado who has never listened before – you’ve got to find a way to impart the emotion in the stadium to that listener, and the way that’s done is through your voice. When the game is going on it’s you and the mic, and the ball game. That’s all you think about.”