It doesn’t take long to get comfortable with Rodney Lofton. The 58-year-old is quick to chat about all sorts of topics, most notably SEC football, his playing days at Murray State, and his 32 year career as a firefighter. His voice is filled with life, love and pride – but he takes it to a whole different level when you bring up his younger brother Daryle.
“Daryle? He’s been an argumentative loud-mouth kid his whole life,” Rodney proclaims affectionately, as only an older brother could.
Today, Rodney is remembering the night that would change his brother’s life forever. It took place on a cool February 2012 evening at the Englander in San Leandro, not far from Union City where Daryle grew up.
That night the sports bar was hosting auditions for “Lucky Break” – a competition developed by 95.7 The Game to find hidden talent in the Bay Area. To say that Daryle loved sports radio would be a severe understatement – but he wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about getting involved. He was once on the cusp of a potential career in the business once before, and it only ended in heartbreak.
“We were just having fun watching people audition,” Daryle remembers fondly. “I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go up there, but my brother,” he pauses, shaking his head slightly as if he still can’t believe how the night worked out. “My brother looked me in the eye and asked ‘are you really gonna just let your dreams die?'”
Daryle’s dream of a career in sports was born 33 earlier in 1979 thanks in no small part to his grandmother and a paper route.
“My grandma gave me a transistor radio and I remember listening to the Pirates/Orioles World Series,” recalled Johnson, an excitement in his voice that would rival his 9 year old counterpart. “The day after each game I would always check the paper for the box score, and I saw Willie Stargell was from the East Bay just like me. He had an afro – just like me.”
To this day Daryle remains a Pirates fan, but his appreciation of Pittsburgh ends there. In the NBA it’s always been the Warriors, and he’s a diehard Cowboys fan as a direct result of his father’s annual road trips through Dallas on their way to see family in Mississippi. His fanhood might have been spread across the country, but it was as passionate as it was diverse.
“Growing up he would never shut about about his Cowboys crap, his Barry Bonds Pirate crap,” explained Rodney, his tone a healthy blend of nostalgia and real irritation. “He always had something to say.”
Outside of Rodney, no one was more familiar with Daryle’s unwavering opinions than KNBR’s Pete Franklin. Throughout the 90’s and his 20s, Daryle was working as a driver for Ikon Office Solutions. Spending the vast majority of his day delivering copiers and printers to clients all over the Bay Area, Daryle listened religiously to Franklin’s afternoon drive show, eventually calling in. In a matter of weeks, those calls became more and more frequent.
“I would come on to defend the Cowboys, but then he would just let me go on and on with all kinds of topics. Any time he disagreed with me, he’d flush me – play the toilet sounder and I’d be gone. My friends used to eat that up.”
The cadence of Johnson’s voice picks up when he discusses his call-in days, and gets especially warm when recalling Franklin. Through the countless calls, the loud disagreements and the abrupt flushes – Daryle and Franklin developed an unlikely bond, an accidental friendship forged over 50,000 watts. The kind of friendship in which neither party uses a first name.
“One time I was on a roll talking about something, tossing around a lot of facts and P just stopped me right in middle of the sentence and asked; ‘How do you know all this, are you some kind of Guru?'”
In that moment – Guru was born. Daryle Johnson’s alter ego. A man with no shortage of opinion, ready and willing to breakdown and discard any argument that stood in his way. Guru quickly became a favorite among other KNBR hosts and remained a consistent caller even after Franklin left the station in 1997. In fact, Guru became so popular over the years, it eventually lead to Daryl receiving a voicemail from KNBR General Manager Tony Salvatore, asking for a call back on his personal line.
“I played that voicemail for everyone,” chuckled Johnson. “I couldn’t believe it – like there was actually going to be some gold for me at the end of the rainbow.”
When he worked up the nerve to call back, Daryle couldn’t believe the conversation he was having with the top decision maker of his beloved radio station.
“He was asking me questions like if I thought I could do a show with Tom Tolbert and Ralph Barbieri – and I was like ‘Yes! Yes, I think I can!'”
Daryle’s eyes still light up as he thinks back to that conversation. Unfortunately for Guru – that particular rainbow yielded no gold. Despite waiting by the phone and following up several times, nothing ever materialized from that promising phone call that filled him with such optimism. The days turned to weeks and the weeks melted into months, and Johnson knew his dream of making a living on a microphone had just about died. Guru’s shot had come and gone.
“I gave up man,” Daryle sighs, allowing his shoulder to drop for just a moment before picking himself back up. “So I focused on my job, I focused on work.”
At this point in Daryle’s career, he had ascended from a driver to a sales role for Ikon. He was spending less time delivering product and more time dealing directly with clients.
“I figured if I wasn’t going to see my name on a radio show, at least I could see my name in bright lights high on the sales board.”
Daryle channeled the same charm and conviction that made him a part time celebrity on the air and focused on being the best salesman he could be. As the years passed he found himself making a nice salary working as an Admissions Rep for Devry University in Sacramento with his wife Mia and their three children. Daryle Johnson had found success in life, and Guru had become a memory.
“My job all day was hearing different stories from people, where they were coming from, where they wanted to be – and I would help them on their way. It was great, I loved meeting new people – but I couldn’t stop thinking about the Giants game the night before. I couldn’t shake sports from my head.”
It was that last ember of sports passion still burning in Daryle that lead him to the Englander that February evening. 95.7 The Game was the new station in town. It appeared to be an avenue for the blue collar sports fan, the passionate sports fan. A station seemingly made for Guru. A quick word of encouragement from Rodney was all Daryle needed to muster up the courage to compete.
“He walked up straight up there and they asked for his name,” explains Rodney, the pride rising in his voice. “He says ‘it’s Guru,’ and everyone there goes ‘WHO? Guru!?”
Present at the auditions that night was 95.7 PD Jason Barrett, the architect of the competition, who has no problem remembering his first impression of Daryle.
“When he got on the mic he started dropping opinion after opinion, and a number of clever lines and analogies on the Warriors and Hue Jackson. He was loud, colorful, passionate, knowledgeable and had the gift of gab.”
In a matter of minutes, Daryle had resurrected Guru.
“He went up there and he was just on,” Rodney laughs. “I wasn’t surprised.”
After the audition, Guru had punched his ticket as one of the final 16 contestants set to compete over a five week span on the airwaves in San Francisco. He was beside himself with excitement, but was faced with a significant logistical issue – one that he found a way to turn into his advantage.
“I was still working full time at Devry in Sacramento, so I would leave work a little early and drive straight to San Francisco. I didn’t have any time to change so I’d walk in wearing my work suit, and everyone else is wearing jeans and jerseys. Immediately I stood out as someone who was taking the role very seriously,” he smiles. “It was a total accident, but I just rolled with it. I played into the suit. I felt like Denzel or Puff Daddy.”
Ask Daryle about that phase of the competition and he’s not lost for words.
“I would walk in there pretty nervous. There’s maybe 100 people watching along with a camera, but I just used all of those nerves and turned it into confidence. Why not me? I would talk directly into the camera, I’d play to the crowd, I just did what I could to control the room. Quickly I realized how much my experience in sales was helping me. I knew people, I knew hot to connect with people. It clicked with me that working in sales I was hosting 6 different radio shows every day.”
In April, Guru received the news he had been hoping to hear since he was a kid. He had won Lucky Break. He would be paid to showcase his personality on a microphone.
“It felt like destiny. It felt like everything had happened for a reason leading up to that. Maybe I wasn’t ready to host a show when I was in my late 20s or early 30s, but now I had my chance.”
Following the competition, Guru’s boss knew he had the talent, but he needed to see something else.
“The questions I had were; was he coachable?'” remembers Barrett. “‘How would he respond to adversity and being challenged? Can he handle having his ego bruised by being seen as the ‘contest winner?'”
Walking into the office as the ‘contest winner,’ is a feeling Daryle remembers all to well.
“It was in my head for a while. I didn’t go to Syracuse to study broadcasting, I just won a contest and now I’m working here,” Daryle pauses as if Guru’s had enough of his humility and wants to steer the conversation.
“Then I realized I represent the fans, I won the competition because I know how to relate to the fans. I’m not ashamed of that.”
With that attitude, and the will to improve everyday, Guru began his grind. He started with a 2 hour slot every Sunday night by himself, gaining confidence week by week.
“I don’t know how good those early shows were,” Guru’s smile widens as he thinks back to the hours he spent cutting his teeth. “But Jason Barrett stuck with me, and for that I’ll always be loyal to him.”
“He was very green,” Barrett admits today. “I knew it’d take time for him to gain confidence.”
It was the small things Daryle was doing off the air that earned his boss’ trust over time.
“He was very invested in trying to be good at this, and genuinely cared about getting better. I saw him in the door early for shows and he wasn’t afraid to say ‘JB, be real with me, what did you think of the show?’ When I gave him tough love, he took it in stride and understood it was only to get him better.”
Perhaps most importantly, Daryle only worried about what he could control. A change in management can be stressful for anyone, let alone to the guy who got a show because he won a contest. So, when Don Kollins took over as Program Director in June of 2015, the Guru kept his head down and proved his value to the station. Soon, his role in the building began to grow.
So, when Don Kollins took over as Program Director in June of 2015, the Guru kept his head down and proved his value to the station. Armed with nothing more than his will to succeed and the unconditional support of his wife Mia, Guru made his impression. Soon, his role in the building began to grow.
“I was filling in for guys on the morning show, midday, and afternoon drive. It was great, but naturally – once I started doing that, all I wanted was more.”
Eventually, in addition to working Saturdays and Sundays, Guru found a consistent home opposite Matt Steinmetz Monday through Friday from 10 am to Noon. He was thrilled with his trajectory, but after years of building his reputation – one thing that eluded him was a contract. A full time agreement between himself and the station with which he had developed so much.
When Matt Nahigian came aboard as the station’s newest PD in late 2017, Daryle thought he might have to start all over again. Once more he would have to shed the “contest winner” stigma and prove he was more than just a fan on a free ride. He was wrong.
“When I got the job the first thing I did was call all the hosts,” recalls Nahigian today. “I spoke with Daryle for about an hour, and honestly – I realized I had a goldmine.”
As Nahigian saw it, Guru’s path via a contest wasn’t a blemish – it was an attribute.
“All I did was listen to the shows for two months and knew that Guru was exactly who we’re trying connect with – he can relate to the listeners. Yes, his path was unorthodox and out of the box, but I loved it.”
In October of 2018, Nahigian presented Daryle “Guru” Johnson with a contract. The young, brash, funny caller from the 90s had turned himself into a brand with which a major market radio station wanted to invest. In his own backyard. It was a humbling moment Guru still has a hard time finding the words to describe. Instead, he’s quick to rattle off the names of colleagues and mentors who credits with putting him in that position.
“Chris Townsend, Dan Dibley, Damon Bruce, Rick Tittle, Matt Steinmetz, Mychael Urban, Zakariah Slenderbrook. These guys taught me different things at different times – even if I didn’t want to hear them. They helped me tremendously.”
Nearly twenty years after he thought his dream had passed him by, and seven years after his 2 hour slot on Sunday nights, Guru finally has his name in lights.
Bonta, Steinmetz & Guru own 95.7’s midday slot from 10 am to 2 pm.
Nearly a decade after “Lucky Break,” Jason Barrett has nothing but praise for his contest winner.
“Guru’s earning a midday slot at The Game is a testament to his talent, personality, and presence. But it doesn’t happen without preparation, patience, sacrifice and continued improvement.”
As for Rodney? He’s far from shocked at his baby brother’s success.
“It’s incredible. He’s just a dude that got his shot in San Francisco of all places. But if it was going to happen to anyone, it should’ve happened to him,” Rodney pauses. It’s clear he couldn’t be prouder of his brother, but every kind thought seems incomplete without a slight dig.
“I’m glad everyone has a chance to hear his voice. I’ve had to listen to that voice his whole life.”
Jack Ferris writes feature stories for BSM and serves as an update anchor for iHeart Radio in San Francisco and as a freelance contributor for the PAC-12 Network. Previously he has worked as a sports anchor for KXLY-TV in Spokane and as the co-host of the Don West Show on KPQ in Central Washington. You can find him on Twitter @JFerris714 or reach him by email at FerrisJack54@gmail.com.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
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.”
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.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke
“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”
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.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.