Watching the Wheels – Freeze Frame

Chuck Adkins’ journey to the Jug meant more to him than words can say

by Mike Tanner, USTA Executive Vice President and CEO

EVERY PICTURE tells a story. It’s just that sometimes the story isn’t immediately apparent, at least not on the surface. Sometimes you must dig a little to learn the significance.

Here’s one of my favorite photographs from 2019, which was taken in the announcer’s booth at the Little Brown Jug in September. That’s Roger Huston, the iconic, Hall of Fame track announcer on the left. You likely recognize him. On the right is a gentleman named Chuck Adkins.

Allow me now to do some excavating for you.

You don’t know Chuck, who has been in radio for 45 years, the past 40 at VOICEcorps, an amazing organization that records and broadcasts the written word to the visually disabled and impaired throughout central Ohio. Chuck, who has been blind since birth, works as an audio engineer, manning the control board and doing the occasional on-air report and voiceover, and I met him in 2018 when I started there as a volunteer reader. When he found out that I worked in harness racing, he wanted to know one thing: did I happen to know Roger Huston?

It turns out that Chuck is a huge sports fan and an exacting connoisseur of sports announcers in particular. When he was 13 years old in 1967, he stumbled upon the radio broadcast of the Little Brown Jug and was mesmerized by the passion and cadence of the race caller. It was Roger Huston’s first Jug.

“I ran around the house for weeks imitating him,” Chuck said. “I probably drove my parents crazy doing it. But I just thought that he was so good, so distinct. He reminded me of Clem McCarthy and his Kentucky Derby calls. It was like you were there. You could just feel the excitement.”

Chuck would go on to graduate from the Ohio State School for the Blind in 1972, work for a number of radio stations in the Columbus area, get married, and start a family. He’s one of the most relentlessly positive, inspiring people I’ve ever met. And he’s never missed a live Jug broadcast since he first heard Roger, although that streak almost ended in 1977.

“I was out of town,” he explained, “and called a friend who was kind enough to put the phone receiver against the radio so that I could hear his call.”

But back to the story. Yes, I told him, I know Roger. He’s a great guy. And when Chuck went on to explain his admiration of him, I casually suggested that if he and a friend wanted to attend the Jug, I would be happy to provide tickets, and that I could probably even arrange a meet-and-greet with Roger. Chuck immediately said that, yes, he wanted to do that if I was serious. I was serious, I told him. We’ll make this happen.

And then I promptly forgot about the offer for five months until the day before the Jug when a colleague at VOICEcorps reached out to ask how Chuck’s Jug tickets would be relayed to him.

I immediately made two phone calls. The first was to my assistant, Sally, asking her to reach out to T. Thomson, the sponsorship manager at the Delaware County Fair (and a thoroughly nice guy), to see if we could arrange for another pair of VIP tickets. She did and he could, and so I drove up to the fairgrounds to collect them. The second was to Roger, who readily agreed to meet Chuck and suggested that I bring him to the booth prior to the fourth race on Jug Day.

Perhaps, Roger suggested, Chuck would enjoy hearing him work.

And so it came to be that on Jug Day, I found myself walking across the racetrack toward the infield with Chuck, and his good friend, Doug Johnson (also a reader at VOICEcorps), in tow.

It’s funny, the things we take for granted or overlook. Chuck was positively amazed that we were walking on the actual track where the Jug took place.

“It’s firmer than I imagined it would be,” he said. “And I didn’t realize that it was that much higher on the outside than along the inside.”

Oddly enough, until then I hadn’t either.

I escorted Chuck and Doug up to Roger’s station and told them that I would come back after the race was over. Roger and Chuck talked and traded stories, and then Roger called the fourth race. As soon as the field hit the finish line, I made my way back upstairs. Chuck was smiling.

That’s when Roger asked me if I could take a photo of Chuck and him, the one that accompanies this story, and so I did.

Later, I thanked Roger for providing the access and giving Chuck an incredible memory. He said the privilege was his, and then he provided some remarkable background:

“In 1960, I was just getting started out as an announcer and living near Cincinnati,” he said. “And one day I was watching Ruth Lyons’ ‘The 50/50 Club’ on WLW. It aired at noon and was kind of like an early talk show—very popular in its time. Anyway, on this one particular day, there was a blind man sitting in the second row of the audience. I don’t know why I noticed him; I just did.

“So, I’m calling at the Urbana fair the next day, and a gentleman I knew there asked if he could bring someone into the booth to meet me. I told him sure, that would be fine. And he comes upstairs and with him is the same man from Ruth Lyons’ ‘The 50/50 Club.’

“I call the race while he stays with me in the stand, and when it’s over, he thanks me, saying that that was the first time that he ever saw a race. I was blown away. It just about brought me to tears.

“That was 59 years ago. I’ve called about 180,000 races since then, and that scenario never repeated itself. And then it happened again on Jug Day with Chuck. It really got to me, when you find out how much your work can mean to people.”

The day after the Jug, I received a text message from Chuck.

“All I can say is thanks,” he wrote. “You have no idea how happy Thursday made me. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a little kid again. I know it seems like such a small thing in comparison, but all I can say is a great big thanks. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I’m framing the photo and putting it in my office. It’s a story that I need to remember.

 

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