RANTOUL, Ill. — If someone sounds familiar at the Half Century of Progress Show, that will be the voice of Chris Karr.
This is the 11th Half Century of Progress that Karr will announce. He also announces the Historic Farm Days show in Penfield and has done that for the past 27 years.
Karr’s voice is instantly recognizable and seems tailor-made for the job of announcing.
“I know that people will recognize my voice, but I don’t think it’s that unusual,” he said.
In over three decades of announcing everything from the vintage farm shows to the open and junior swine shows at the Champaign County Fair — and being a 10-time Illinois State Fair hog calling champion — Karr has learned what it takes to be a success at the microphone.
“I stop and pause, speed up and slow down. I don’t want to ramble on. I think when you are announcing events or whatever you are doing, you have to pause and let listeners think about what you just said. You can’t talk at the same speed all the time. I think you have to enunciate words and I am able to do that,” he said.
Karr said another secret to successful announcing is not fearing the microphone.
“I think part of it is that I enjoy it. Some people, when I hand them the microphone, they turn into an ice cube. A lot of people don’t want anything to do with announcing. I love to announce the events,” he said.
During his days at the Half Century show, which usually start at around 7 a.m. and continue through the end of the day’s events, Karr serves as both announcer and information provider.
“I announce the daily activities. It’s an information and announcing booth. We try to help people find the different things that they like or they have things that they are looking for and we help them find those,” he said.
Karr still has a hand in farming and the vintage equipment world. He and his wife farm 2,000 acres with their son and Karr’s tractor collection includes a Massey Ferguson 44 Special, an International Harvester 504, a John Deere B, a John Deere 4020 and an Economy garden tractor.
“I think it’s important to tell the story of agriculture. I hope that people who aren’t directly tied to agriculture can attend shows like Rantoul, as we show them what we did, what our fathers and grandfathers did and how we did it without modern technology or even things like tractor cabs,” he said.
Hog calling even got Karr onto national TV. In 2009, Karr and a hog calling champion from Idaho were featured on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, to predict the winner of Super Bowl 43.
The skit featured a live pig released on stage. Karr wore a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and the Idaho caller wore an Arizona Cardinals jersey. Each of them did their hog call.
“We called in front of 31 million people. The pig came to me and the Steelers won on Sunday,” Karr said.