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Q&A with Brad Carson

Demetri Ravanos

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Let me tell you about how I was introduced to Brad Carson. I hope it helps you understand why I wanted to speak with him and get inside his head a bit.

Last summer, Brad posted an opening for an executive producer position for one of his shows at ESPN 92.9 in Memphis. I put together a package for him and sent it off. In the cover letter, I mentioned a specific date that I would be following up. On that date, I sent him a silly video about my love of BBQ.

My phone rang right away. It was Brad. He started by telling me that I was not in his plans for the job, but he wanted me to know how impressed he was with my presentation and he gave me a few pointers on how to better position what I do. He told me I was talented and wished me well in my job search. We said our goodbyes and then he hung up.

I mean, who does that? We have all been in the position of sending out resumes and demos and never hearing back. I told Brad when we sat down for this interview that during what was a very lonely time, it felt like someone saying “I see you. You’re a human being.”

Brad and I share a background that includes long stints in music radio and he still has a passion for those formats. While he has turned Entercom’s ESPN 92.9 into one of the highest rated sports stations in the country, he has also looked for shifts he could voice for Entercom music stations around the country.

Just how high are ESPN 92.9’s ratings? Well, here are some numbers for you. In the fourth quarter of 2017, four of the station’s five weekday shows were in the top 3 with Men 25-54. Gary Parrish pulled a 12 share in afternoons. The other two sports stations in Memphis (one of which is also owned by Entercom and programmed by Brad) didn’t pull a 1 share with the same audience.

Our conversation touched on Gary Parrish’s assent to superstardom, how radio shows are similar to sandwiches, and the rivalry between Memphis and Nashville. Enjoy!

DR: What were you able to bring to a sports station because of your experience working in different formats?

BC: We tend to compartmentalize radio a lot. Like you have said “I came from rock radio.” I literally started part-time reading farm reports and obituaries. And you can laugh about that, but people listened like crazy. They were sponsored by local funeral homes. I would do county fairs or go out to the sticks to call a Macoupin County basketball tournament. I think that really helps, but in today’s world so much of these guys’ development is linear. Our new talk hosts and producers were either journalists here or they started here and worked their way up and now they get to stay in Memphis. That used to be really rare.

I’m not saying one or the other is better, but guys like you and I are in a good position. We can do a lot of things. It’s like being left-or-right-brained. Music radio is so much about researching the music, getting the imaging on, doing your best with the talent and if you find someone revolutionary, you can take good to great. Great talk or sports stations have to have people that are good right-brain and left-brain all the time.

When they hired me, I was excited because I didn’t need to hire an imaging director. I could produce opens. I could coach talent. I knew the sound I wanted the station to have. I guess I could have hosted a show if I needed to, but didn’t really want to. All of that prior experience was very helpful.

DR: Correct me if I am wrong, wasn’t Gary Parrish part of CBS’s tournament selection show last year?

BC: Yeah. He was on with Barkley last year.

DR: So he was the first talent you hired and now he’s one of the faces of your station. Have you thought about the contingency plan for when he takes over the world?

BC: I mean it is not something I like to think about, but you always have to have a contingency plan as a program director for all situations or you aren’t thinking the situation through enough. Having said that, Gary has been my consultant since he came on board. There isn’t a thing I do, across the board, that I don’t run by Gary. I think he is remarkable.

I have a lot of respect for him and I think that runs both ways. I have learned a lot from him and Geoff Calkins too. We moved Geoff to a 9-11 show and that helped things a lot with Gary’s travel. It added a new dimension to the radio station and paved the way for us to expand where we have 4 local shows now and we’re the flagship for the Memphis Grizzlies. So, we have that contingency plan but we’re in a good place.

DR: Like the athletic director that keeps the list of five names in his desk in case he unexpectedly loses his football coach.

BC: That’s very true. I’m a Mississippi State fan. They just hired Joe Moorehead, the offensive coordinator at Penn State. I thought it was awesome, because it wasn’t reflexive or “Holy crap, what are we gonna do?” Mullen was leaving. They vetted everyone, hired Moorehead, Moorehead did the press conference and then hit the ground running hiring staff. That is awesome to me. That is impressive management.

DR: You have a lot of Memphis lifers. Is that the number one thing you look for in making a hire? Someone that not only understands the Memphis sports scene, but the town in general?

BC: I think it is really important. I don’t need a lifer per se, but just last year we hired John Martin. He was 24 when we hired him. He had only been doing radio for 2 years, but he was a journalism major at the University of Memphis. He understood Memphis sports. I think that is very important. Now, that’s not everyone. Eric Hasseltine is from California. He does a two hour show for us. He’s the play-by-play guy for the Grizzlies. He adds a different perspective.

The local connection though is so important, and I really got that when we started with just Geoff and Gary. It was the end of Calipari, going into the Pastner era. The Grizzlies hadn’t gone on that 7 year playoff run yet. Those guys would do two straight hours on Tigers basketball and I just would think “this is really good.” It wasn’t what they were talking about. It was how they were talking about it. They had all these stories about the hobos, heroes and street corner clowns, you know? Crazy recruiting stories about runners and agents. Gary would interview Cal while Cal was in the shower.

I would find myself drawn in. People would ask “you’re still a Cardinals fan, right?” and I would have to explain “yeah, but basketball is everything here” and those guys really encapsulated that. Basketball comes first here and football is second and everyone on the air here understands that.

The other thing I like is we have journalists. We have great thinkers on the staff and they are entertaining. That has helped us.

DR: So do the Grizzlies smother everything about sports talk in Memphis?

BC: I think Grizzlies and NBA you can certainly talk about year round because the league has made itself into a year round enterprise. But we’re fortunate that college basketball is also important in Memphis. Right now the Tigers have just gone through another coaching change hiring Tubby Smith. We have so many storylines to work with. They are 1a and 1b frankly.

DR: What is the breakdown between the Memphis Tigers, the Tennessee Volunteers and the Ole Miss Rebels? Not just the way they are covered, but the way they are supported in town?

BC: Memphis is the big cat. When Justin Fuente came in and turned around Tiger football, it changed everything. What we used to have were people that were Tennessee football fans or Ole Miss fans that then LOVED the Tiger basketball program and their attitude was “Oh yeah, I guess they have a football program too,” but then it became “Oh wow! Did you see what Memphis football did?”

DR: The timing of that turn around was weird too, because it wasn’t so long before that Tommy West got fired and was ranting that Memphis as a town would never support football and the administration at the school didn’t understand how to win. It reminds me of Duke when David Cutcliff was hired in the middle of the school going to court to prove they are the worst college football program in the country.

BC: That is a great analogy, but it is so weird here, Demetri, because those fans were so passive. As a city we kind of had a chip on our shoulder, which makes sports talk here fun because it kinda gives things a little more zip. There are passive markets when it comes to sports, right? Like Las Vegas. Very passive sports market. I mean they have the Golden Knights now, and yay. Whatever.

They aren’t breaking down trades or talking about the intricacies of the expansion draft. The conversation here was “How bad was Larry Porter?” and “Tommy West is right” then all of the sudden it was “Wow, we’re in the top 25!” It was a literal 360. But of course, we have a chip on our shoulder, so the topic was also “Oh crap! Fuente is going to leave us,” but then we got another awesome coach and another awesome quarterback. All of that stuff is as fun to talk about as the SEC stuff is.

DR: But not as fun for listeners as talking about basketball.

BC: Well, we have competition here and I tell our guys we have to own every story we cover. To be a success in sports radio, you have to be a whore basically, so Tennessee coaching search, Tubby Smith recruiting, the Grizzlies tanking, we have to own it. So it may be a light day with only two big stories and I will tell my guys “hit those two big things a lot!”.

DR: I’m glad you include the Tennessee coaching search in there. As someone that was in school at Bama when we couldn’t buy a win against Tennessee, that story brought me so much joy.

BC: Oh, it was tremendous radio, and let me be clear. I said Tigers and Grizzlies were 1a and 1b. When you have a coaching search that goes like that, it rockets right to the top of the A list, because it is the state’s team and we’re just the forgotten little city in the corner of the state, but right now we’re the forgotten little city with the great football team. It was like a gift from Heaven. That was a lot of fun. We can do a lot of great radio when we have months like that.

DR: Same with the Ole Miss story and Hugh Freeze I would imagine, given your proximity to the school.

BC: Again, gifts from Heaven. That is a good example of why it helps to have so many local guys. There are all these side stories they know. Hugh Freeze was a coach at a private Christian School here. He was the coach in The Blind Side story, so there was chatter about “What was going on at Briarcrest?” and then the fun of Ole Miss beating Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

All of this is compelling stuff. You can hear it in our conversation and this is what I talk about with other folks at Entercom. In Boston you can talk about the Red Sox or what is going on with the Patriots. Those are big conversations about big franchises, but here, if you know Memphis, you’re really digging into the subculture here. It’s the SEC guts and glory.

DR: So given how focused you are on being a Memphis station, how much air time is devoted to the Titans making the playoffs or the Predators making a run to the Stanley Cup? Are those teams perceived as strictly Nashville teams or is there enough bleed over?

BC: I think there’s some bleed over, but it is like C-level. It is the lettuce in the sandwich.

DR: I guess too, there is a major difference between the NFL and the Titans and the NHL and the Predators.

BC: Certainly. On top of that, there is a major difference between Nashville and Memphis. There’s a rivalry there. Maybe a little more on the Memphis side than the Nashville side.

Memphis is the chip on your shoulder, Memphis vs. everybody mentality. Whereas Nashville is the Los Angeles of the South. It’s “We have the NFL and we have the Predators. Look at all these cranes in the air! We’re building another condo!”. Let me be clear. I think Nashville is a great city, but I think many of our listeners perceive it differently than I do.

Gary Parish and I talk about this a lot. Gary is much more of an open thinker because he has to travel all over the place. People here, they support the basketball teams because they live on the streets of Memphis and they play hoops. Our listeners are invested in this story about Penny Hardaway coaching a high school team in East Memphis. That is a big, local, guts of the city story.

When the Predators are in the Stanley Cup Finals, yeah that’s our state. We do want to bring attention to that. The Titans make the playoffs? Of course we will talk about that. We carry their games. The Titans and the Vols, we carry them. They are worthy play-by-play, but Nashville teams will always be the lettuce in the sandwich.

DR: Can Memphis grow as a sports city? Is there room for a second major, professional league to move in?

BC: As a fan, I’d love for my answer to be yes. I’m just going to be honest as a business person. No, there isn’t room. There isn’t an economic base here to support doing so. Having one professional team here and the Tigers is perfect.

We’re lucky, actually Louisville is lucky Rick Pitino didn’t want the Grizzlies, because they still got the pro arena. Geoff Calkins was such a big part of trying to bring the Grizzlies here using the paper and writing columns about what it would mean. It rallied support for FedEx Arena. People really wanted to get that arena built and they did it and I think it is wonderful.

I think sports-wise the city is exactly where it needs to be. We’re fortunate to have been such a big part of the Grizzlies franchise. Now, let me be clear. We do have other sports things in town. We have a great Triple-A baseball team. We may not talk about them because they don’t have the mass appeal, but they’re there and doing just fine. You asked a good question, but my business opinion though is we don’t need too much more.

DR: Speaking of business answers, tell me as a programmer your thoughts on the change from Mike and Mike to Golic and Wingo.

BC: We’re really excited about it. This has nothing to do with Mike Greenberg, because I think he is great and has an amazing new opportunity, but for us I think things are going to be even better. Trey (Wingo) is very likable and really plugged into football, whether it’s his ties to the NFL or his understanding of college football in the South since he went to Baylor. That can only benefit us, so you combine Trey with Golic’s familiarity and I think it’s a tremendous opportunity that can only go up.

DR: Did you find your listeners were interested in the “palace intrigue” towards the end of Mike and Mike?

BC: Not really. I try as a programmer to look at it from a listener’s perspective and I think in our business, we tend to look a little too much at the guts of this. The truth is, you have to look at it from the perspective of my friend Taylor, who lives in Germantown just outside of Memphis. He’s not in the business. Does it even occur to Taylor that there is a feud between the two morning guys at ESPN? Probably not. All he cares about is that Tim Tebow is on at 7:15 to talk about Alabama and Georgia.

I see this with coaching talent. We get too caught up in details of when we recycle things and controlling narratives. Just put the radio show on and run it.

BSM Writers

What Tom Brady Needs To Know Before His First Fox Broadcast

“Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Tom Brady announced he is retiring from the NFL today. It happened literally a year to the day since the last time he retired.

The last retirement lasted just 40 days. Before the end of March of last year, Tom Brady had decided he was done pretending to be happy about embracing life off of the field and announced he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third season.

I guess we cannot rule out that that will happen again. The difference this time around, at least for Tom Brady’s professional life, is that he has a plan for his future. Now that his playing days are over, it is time for him to start his ten-year deal with FOX to be the analyst in the network’s top NFL booth.

Audiences do not know what to expect. No one can deny that Brady brings star power. He is the GOAT after all, but we cannot say for sure if he will be any good.

The pressure is tremendous too. Not only is Tom Brady embarking on a new career, but football fans seem to have taken a liking to the guy he is about to unseat. Whether Greg Olsen gets kicked back down to the number two booth or he is forced to share the spotlight in a three-man booth, plenty of people will look at Brady as the reason we hear less from the guy regarded by many as the best analyst on TV right now.

Brady does not have much room for error here. Since that is the case, I thought I would get some perspectives from people that can help him out. I asked three people to give me their best advice for Tom Brady.

Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.

THE PLAYER TURNED ANALYST: ANTHONY BECHT

In 2000, the New York Jets used the 27th pick of the NFL Draft to select Anthony Becht. He played for five different teams during his twelve NFL seasons.

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Courtesy USA Today

His broadcasting career began in 2013. Becht worked on ESPN for eight years as an analyst on the network’s college football games. He has since abandoned the booth to return to the sidelines. He will be the head coach of the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL starts its third first season this month.

I texted and asked him to look back on his broadcasting career. What does he wish he knew before he started? Here are the three pieces of advice that he had for Tom Brady.

1. Less is more. Folks want to watch the game and just know the “why”. Providing tangible information in a five or six second window is key.

2. Fans want to know about your personal experiences as a player – information and stories they can’t get or wouldn’t even know about because they never did it at the level we did. Share those when the time comes in a game.

3. Have a strong opinion about what you agree or disagree with, but be able to voice it without being demeaning towards players and coaches. It’s an art form and takes time to articulate that in a way that’s done right. I never bash any player or coach because a lot of work goes into be a professional athlete and coach. That needs to be respected but critiqued appropriately.

Anthony Becht via text message

THE PLAY-BY-PLAY LEGEND: TIM BRANDO

Tim Brando has worked with a lot of people. That happens when you have been calling football and basketball action on TV for as long as he has. When I called him on Wednesday to discuss what is ahead for Tom Brady, he drew on his experience with another Brady.

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Courtesy FOX Sports

Brando was working with Jole Klatt in his early days at FOX, but he and Klatt were not going to be an exclusive team. He remembers Brady Quinn coming in to their booth shortly after his NFL career had eneded. Quinn was about to make his debut for FOX. Before they were ready to turn him loose, the network wanted the former quarterback to get a feel for the pace and atmosphere of a broadcast booth.

I do think it’s important that you have a new talent understand what that workplace is like in the booth – the choreography that takes place, because there is choreography. If the ball is deflected, your spotter’s hands are coming together like a bad clap. If there’s a hit, who caused the hit? Who stripped it? So there’s a hand signal for stripping the ball and then recovering the ball with the arms closing together. So who got the recovery? Who caused the fumble? Those things are always helpful.

There are things that are going on frantically in the booth, but you as a broadcaster have to remain calm, understand it, and sound succinct and confident. That just takes time and it takes reps. 

That’s one of the great things I think that Greg (Olsen) probably had an advantage in, as do a lot of analysts that get better over time. They do games of lesser importance that maybe the whole world is not watching. 

Tim Brando via Telephone

Tom Brady won’t have the luxury of time or of reps under the radar. He may get to do a few practice games, but the first time he will be calling a game on live television, it will be one of the biggest of the week.

Brando says in that case, it is really important that Brady use his instincts to his advantage in the booth the way he did on the field.

I don’t know Tom well, but I know him well enough to know that he prides himself on preparation. I don’t doubt for one minute that he will be prepared. He’s obviously an incredible competitor. You know, this is a this is a business of competition too. 

If you’re a great player, just like a coach, you love the ecstasy of victory. You don’t want to admit it, but you love the agony of the defeat as well. That feeling of defeat is something we feed on to motivate you for your next performance. In television and sports television, you don’t get that in terms of winning and losing, but you do get it if you look at it as a great performance, 

I believe that all great broadcasters are performers at heart. It takes a certain level of of a theater. It’s live. It’s not scripted. 

I think some players that get in the booth that are looking to have that same, you know, euphoria that they have after playing and winning a game. Some of them get that and understand that in broadcasting and get out of that the same thing and others don’t.

Tim Brando via Telephone

THE BROADCASTING COACH: GUS RAMSEY

Plenty of broadcasters turn to Gus Ramsey for critiques and advice. The Program Director for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting at Full Sail University is also a broadcasting coach working with clients at all levels of the business. They trust his opinion because of his professional experience.

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Courtesy Full Sail University

In a prior life, Ramsey was the producer of SportsCenter on ESPN. He has worked with a number of incredibly talented people and been tasked with taking newbies to new heights, so I asked him what he would be thinking if it were his job to get Tom Brady ready for his first FOX broadcast.

Sometimes great athletes forget that most humans don’t know what the athletes know. Things that are basic or simple or even mundane to the athlete are incredible pieces of wisdom or insight to the average fan.

When I was at ESPN we had Tony Gwynn in for an episode of Baseball Tonight. In our show meeting, Tony was explaining why a hitter was slumping because we was cupping his wrist. He went on explaining it for 30 seconds or so. The room was in total silence, eating up every word. The greatest hitter of our generation was doing a deep-dive on hitting. It was amazing.

Tony suddenly got a little self-conscious, stopped explaining and apologized for “going on too long” and we were all like “No!! Keep going!” Tony thought is was boring. It was just the opposite.

Athletes can think things they’ve learned and repeated their whole lives are common knowledge so sometimes they don’t share that info because they think “everyone knows this.”

I want to walk away from a broadcast feeling like I learned something. Sometimes the ex-athlete doesn’t realize how much educating they can do in a broadcast.

The other thing I always encourage former athletes or coaches to do is to take the viewer where they’ve never been; on the field, in the locker room, in a contract negotiation, etc. If you can get that viewer to fully appreciate the feelings and emotions of what goes on in those places, you enhance the experience for us.

Terrell Davis was an analyst on NFL Network for a bit after his career. He once described Champ Bailey running back an interception 100 yards by saying as Bailey got to the 50 yard line “right here it feels like someone put sandbags on your ankles.” I’ve never run 100 yards in a football uniform in Denver’s altitude, but Terrell’s line helped me better understand what it feels like.

Gus ramsey via text message

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BSM Writers

Mark Packer Loves Reading Your Memories & Tributes to Billy Packer

“I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports.”

Tyler McComas

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It still stands today as one of the most iconic moments in the storied history of Arizona basketball. Three simple words said it all as the Wildcats celebrated an overtime win over Duke to win the 1997 national championship. “Simon says championship.” Those were the words of legendary broadcaster Billy Packer as Miles Simon fell to the floor with the ball in his hands. It’s one of many lines his son, Mark Packer, has been reminded of recently.

It was the perfect three words after the country just watched Simon carry Arizona to college basketball glory. Packer captured the moment perfectly, just like he did during every Final Four for 34 years.

Packer passed away last Thursday at the age of 82 but his legacy and impact in sports broadcasting will never perish. He was heard during every NCAA Tournament from 1975 to 2008 and was on the call for some of college basketball’s most iconic moments, including Michael Jordan’s shot to win the 1982 National Championship, Bird vs Magic in 1979, and even Kansas completing an improbable comeback to win the 2008 championship in his last broadcast. And the best part of it all was that Packer did it his own way, with his own unique style.

“It has really been remarkable,” said Mark Packer. “When Billy passed Thursday night we put it out on Twitter and it took off but I didn’t really know what to expect on Friday and Saturday as far as reaction. But the tributes have been fantastic and our family has loved it.

“I have heard from just about everybody and their brother. Folks I never thought I’d hear from, I’ve heard from them, such as commissioners, whether it be the NBA, whether it be other Power 5 leagues, I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports. To me, that’s been comforting to all of us. It just reinforced all the stuff we knew he was about and brings back special memories.”

Packer’s style of broadcasting has been well-documented over the years. He was honest about what he saw and always spoke his mind. Granted, that didn’t always sit well with college basketball fans, but Packer wasn’t concerned about that. He was honest because he cared. 

“He wanted the game of college basketball to be the best it possibly could be,” said Mark.  “When he saw things he did not like, the one thing he always did was speak his mind. He ruffled feathers and he didn’t care. His intent was to make the game the No. 1 priority. You realize now he didn’t have it out for your team, he was just speaking his mind.”

That style meant fans would often yell at games, ‘You hate Duke! You hate North Carolina!’ Packer’s honesty was often taken by fans as he hated their favorite team. He used to laugh at that, just as Mark does know when he thinks about those moments. That’s because Mark can remember feeling the same way as other fanbases as a kid growing up rooting for NC State. 

“When he was calling an NC State game I thought he was always out to get my team,” laughed Mark. “He’d be doing a game in Raleigh — we grew up in Winston-Salem — and the next morning after the game I would be eating breakfast before school and I would say ‘Man, Billy, you really got on so-and-so last night, what’s your problem with NC State?’

“He used to just laugh, because I thought he had an agenda against my team. Of course the funny thing is, we’d go on trips with him to other games and you’d hear fans say, ‘Billy Packer hates my team!’ It almost became a laughing joke, even amongst the family members, that Billy Packer was out to ruin your team’s day when he does a ballgame.”

Mark has always referred to his dad the same his television partners did. That goes for his two other siblings, as well. “Dad” was rarely, if ever, said in the Packer household. Instead, the legendary broadcaster was called by his first name.

“The fact they called him Billy on television, we never called him dad,” said Mark. “We just called him Billy.”

As you can imagine, ‘Billy’ had a lot of stories. That’s normally the case when you’re around the game’s greatest players and broadcast the legendary games we still talk about today. Packer was always quick to share those stories with his family, which made for an entertaining childhood.

Out of the hundreds of messages Mark has received since his dad’s passing, he says he hasn’t heard any stories he’s never heard before. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t been telling him stories about his father.

“We’ve heard them all, quite frankly,” laughed Mark. “Maybe the thing that was so funny about it was that it reinforced some that we thought were total BS when we heard them the first time.”

Packer will always be synonymous with college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. He was the voice of the sport during its golden era and helped bring the magic to TV sets across the world. If Mark had to guess what his dad is most proud of regarding his broadcasting career, he says it would be just that. 

“From a broadcasting standpoint, probably the Final Fours,” said Mark. “When you, I think the number was 34 I heard, and he did so many of them, for us, we kind of took it for granted. It was just something he did. It was March and Billy is about to go do March Madness. It was just fabric for not only him personally, but also the family. He just loved the sport and wanted it to be good.”

Mark has carved out an incredible broadcasting career of his own. He’s hosted both radio and TV shows with outlets such as the ACC Network, WFNZ in Charlotte, and ESPNU. Having a front row seat to one of the most iconic careers in broadcasting, undoubtedly helped shape his career. Mark is very forthcoming as to what lesson he took from his dad the most. 

“Oh, that’s easy,” Mark said. “That’s prep. He always studied. He was always coming up with notes and angles and facts. I have always done that with the radio and TV shows, that you constantly prep, you constantly read and make notes. You may not use but 10 percent of whatever you’ve been studying, but somewhere down the road you’ll use it again.

“When we were cleaning out his closet I ran into an entire box of old notes that he had from games from yesteryear. I kept every one of them and I can’t wait to look at them and relive those games and see his prep work and point of detail for all those games.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”

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Basketball and Doris Burke have been synonymous for many years. At the age of 7, she started to play the game that would eventually get her to the top of her profession. Along the way she’s recorded many firsts for women in this field which I’ll detail later. Burke has also become an inspiration to other women already in broadcasting and those thinking about a career in media. Pretty impressive. 

Burke was raised in Manasquan, New Jersey. She was the youngest of eight children, and started playing basketball in the second grade. She starred at Providence, where she was the team’s point guard all four of her years there and made an impact immediately. 

During her freshman year, Doris Burke led the Big East in assists. She was a second-team All-Big East player once and twice made the all-tourney team of the Big East Women’s basketball tournament. Burke held seven records upon graduation, including finishing her career as the school and conference’s all-time assists leader, a record that has since been broken. She served as an assistant coach for her alma mater for two years from 1988-90.

From there it was time to embark on a Hall of Fame career.

ROAD TO ESPN/ABC

Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990 as an analyst for women’s games for Providence on radio. That same year, she began working in the same role on Big East Women’s games on television, and in 1996 she began working Big East men’s games. 

Doris Burke has been working for ESPN covering basketball in different roles since 1991. It has also allowed her to do other things along the way that were unchartered for women in the business. In 2000, Burke became the first woman to be a commentator for a New York Knicks game on radio and on television; she is also the first woman to be a commentator for a Big East men’s game, and the first woman to be the primary commentator on a men’s college basketball conference package.  In 2017, Burke became a regular NBA game analyst for ESPN, becoming the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full regular-season role. 

If that wasn’t enough, from 2009 to 2019 she served as the sideline reporter for the NBA Finals on ABC. I mentioned it was a Hall of Fame career and it was officially deemed as such in 2018. Burke was selected to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the Curt Gowdy Media Award winner.

AS AN ANALYST

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.” Relying on her past experiences in the game as a player and coach, the information she brings her audience is relatable. Some analysts struggle to bring home a point in a way that a casual fan will understand. Burke has no trouble with this. Her ability to spell it out, concisely and conversationally sets her apart from most analysts, male or female. 

Burke attacks her job, knowing that some will question her authority when it comes to commentary on the NBA. She doesn’t mind steering into the skid.

“I am mindful of the fact that I have not played or coached in the NBA,” Burke said to Sportscasting.com last year. “It doesn’t mean that I can’t do a very competent job. I think I try to do that every single night, and I’m never afraid to ask questions.” 

It’s all about the information to Burke, and has nothing to do with the fact she’s a woman covering the NBA.

“If you enhance a viewer’s experience, it doesn’t matter what your gender is,” she said. “As long as you are competent and put in the work … you’re going to be accepted.”

Doris Burke learned the ropes so to speak from several women that came before her. In an NBA.com piece from January of last year, she outlined how much she enjoyed watching former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Gayle Gardner. Early on in her career at ESPN, Burke got to work with Robin Roberts on WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts along with Ann Meyers Drysdale and Nancy Lieberman. Roberts was Burke’s inspiration as she started her career path. She admired the professionalism that each displayed. 

“Working alongside Robin Roberts … the one thing I would tell you is the most powerful means to change or impact somebody is by your actions,” Burke said. “She was the epitome of professionalism and competency and garnered the respect of the people around her because of the work habits she had. Watching Robin early on let me know that the basis for everything is the work you put into something.”

While Roberts may have been influential to Burke, Burke has been a beacon for other woman that are getting opportunities in broadcasting.  When asked about their role model, YES Network analyst Sarah Kustok, 76ers play-by-play broadcaster Kate Scott and former WNBA player and current Miami Heat studio analyst Ruth Riley Hunter all mentioned Burke by name.

“Burke is the best example for anyone — male or female,” Hunter told NBA.com. “I love the way she describes the game. She adds so much to every broadcast, and when I was playing in the WNBA I was always really inspired by her work.”

Burke is popular amongst her colleagues at ESPN/ABC, thanks to a tireless work ethic an ability to adapt to whichever sport she may be calling that day. Count Jeff Van Gundy among her biggest fans.

“She’s the best, most-versatile analyst and commentator at ESPN,” Van Gundy said of Doris Burke in 2017 via Deadspin. “She does it all—great interviewer, commentator, studio analyst—everything. And she is an expert at it all—women’s and men’s college basketball, the NBA and the WNBA. She’s the LeBron James of sportscasters. There’s no better broadcaster out there right now.”

Burke is equally a big fan of Van Gundy and the top broadcast crew for ESPN/ABC’s NBA coverage. That includes Mike Breen and Mark Jackson as well. 

“We are talking about three of the best to ever do it. Mark, Jeff and Mike have held down the NBA Finals for over a decade with commentary that is the best of the best. Hubie Brown is a living legend. All of those men have been nothing but gracious and supportive of me,” Burke told the Athletic. 

Doris Burke is considered one of the best NBA analysts around.  Her bosses at ESPN made sure to re-sign her to a multi-year deal and promised she will be involved in “high profile” NBA games in both the regular season and playoffs. Burke will also call finals games on ESPN Radio and appear on the NBA Sunday Showcase program on ABC.

Good for her and good for fans of the NBA on ESPN/ABC.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2010, she was featured as the new sideline reporter for 2K Sports ‘NBA 2K11’ video game. She has appeared in every version since, including the latest ‘NBA 2K23’.   

As a senior at Providence in 1987 she was the school’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year.  

Her basketball idols growing up were Kyle Macy, Kelly Tripucka and Tom Heinsohn.  

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