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BSM Writers

Steve Czaban Will Go Until They Take His Guitar Away

“It’s tough to just be there breaking balls, backslapping, doing what is the normal course of sports radio when the whole world has gone sideways.”

Brian Noe

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Former NBA player Stephen Jackson once said on Howard Beck’s podcast that experience is the best teacher. Amen to that. The next best thing to gaining experience on your own is to pick the brain of someone else who’s experienced. Enter Steve Czaban — a sports radio veteran that has accumulated a few terabytes of knowledge throughout his career.

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Czabe has been featured on Milwaukee radio for nearly 25 years, and has hosted in Washington D.C. for over two decades. His resume also includes stops in Charlotte and Chicago as well as national experience at FOX Sports Radio and SB Nation Radio. The man knows what he’s talking about when he offers opinions on the sports radio industry. Thankfully he doesn’t share his knowledge with the feel of someone who is being fanned while fed grapes. He offers his insight like a guy drinking a beer while watching a ball game at the bar.

Like most great hosts, Steve has the ability to shift gears. He can have you cracking up one minute while describing his water polo broadcasting background; the next minute he can offer a thoughtful view about doing radio during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. His mantra for anyone who wants to get in the business is outstanding. The advice is so excellent that seasoned hosts can all benefit from it as well. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: How difficult is it right now to do a show without actual sports being played due to the pandemic?

Steve Czaban: At first I thought it was going to be about fun months of just going off the grid sports topic wise and just doing guy talk, movies, hanging out and beers to occupy us while this was dealt with. But as the severity ramps up, personally I have a hard time striking the right tone. Even though our job is to provide a diversion, we are real people with families and concerns and we live in the real world. It’s tough to just be there breaking balls, backslapping, doing what is the normal course of sports radio when the whole world has gone sideways.

BN: So how do you find that middle ground? 

SC: I don’t know. It’s a day-by-day, hour-by-hour thing. I don’t have a replacement content problem. I have a tone problem because I’m trying to figure out what is the appropriate tone.

BN: Does the tone that you try to strike differ at all between your shows in Milwaukee and D.C.? 

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SC: No, I think the tone is the same in both places. It’s more blue collar in Milwaukee and more white collar, professional, government in D.C. But people are people and the tone I don’t think changes because of it.

BN: This isn’t an easy time to be a radio host. With that in mind what has been your toughest, most challenging gig?

SC: I think the one thing that frustrated me was when I was on nationally with FOX Sports Radio. It didn’t matter if I was doing well in the kind of mid-markets that you want to thrive in like Richmond or Indianapolis. We were losing affiliates even though I was doing great numbers in those markets because they would change their syndicator affiliation. Then they would be required to carry the other company’s product so to speak.

I would get calls from PDs going, man, I am so mad about this. I tried to argue saying but this show works for us, it’s a national show but we get numbers, we can actually sell off of it, and they just tell me sorry the company line is you’ve got to carry this instead. That happened a lot. When you’re up every morning putting everything you’ve got into a show and that’s the case you’re like damn.

BN: Remember those old Army-Navy games where the broadcast would highlight a kid and just go through his daily — at 0700 he wakes up, at 0800 he does this — if you did that based on your radio schedule, what does your day-to-day routine look like?

SC: I get up at 6 Eastern; 7am start time for the Milwaukee show. I do it from my home studio so I don’t have to go anywhere. I do the show from 7 to 10, which is 6 to 9 Milwaukee time. Then there is usually an hour of mopping up and other coordination work, emails, and blah blah blah until about 11 ET. Then if the weather is nice I go out and play nine holes or chip and putt. Get some lunch. Come back home and get back in the cockpit about 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get ready for the show on 980 from 4 to 7pm. Then once that’s over from 7 to 8pm is when I record my podcast, which is a supplemental, additional 35 to 45 minutes called The CzabeCast. I call somebody up and shoot the shit with them and post it. By that time it’s about 9 o’clock and I’m ready to go to bed.

BN: Are you a good golfer?

SC: [Laughs] Depends on who I’m playing. I only negotiate strokes on the first tee. I’m an avid golfer let’s put it that way. I’m a weak 8 handicap, which some people go, oh you’re really good. I’m like yeah not as good as I want to be and not compared to the players I like to play with.

BN: How many years have you been at 980?

SC: Shoot, 20 years now. I came back in the late fall of ‘99. It’s been 20 years in D.C.

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BN: How many years in Milwaukee?

SC: Well I was on a morning show on another station from ‘94 until a year and a half ago. So that was 24 years. Then this new station started up and they wanted me to be the centerpiece and to be the morning show. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up and so I said okay let’s do this.

BN: It’s really unique, man. When they first approached you to do two shows in two different markets what were your thoughts about it?

SC: I was all about it. Milwaukee has lagged behind the rest of the country when it comes to sports radio. They didn’t really have a full-time sports radio station I don’t think in town until like maybe 2000. So now obviously they’ve caught up and there are three stations, which I think is a bit excessive, but we’re really not trying to be a sports station. We’re trying to be a station for men who know sports, like sports, but they’re not going to get in knock-down, drag-out arguments with you about reliever numbers unless it’s something appropriate. We want it to be a lifestyle, guy station as much as it is a sports station. 

BN: Sometimes bands forget which city they’re performing in. Have you ever forgotten which audience you’re doing a show for?

SC: [Laughs] That hasn’t happened yet. As I get older I forget more and more things but that is one that I’ve yet to encounter. My biggest check swing nowadays is — because I’ll use occasional profanity on my podcast I have to sometimes really check swing when I’m on the air because I’m talking into the same microphone for both the podcast and my shows.

BN: [Laughs] Oh, man. You haven’t slipped up yet?

SC: Nothing really bad has happened yet. It’s probably just a matter of time.

BN: Is it liberating to cuss compared to being buttoned up on terrestrial radio?

SC: It’s liberating but I’m always mindful of being gratuitous about it. It’s like the kid whose parents are gone and he can eat ice cream for breakfast. You don’t want to go hog-wild with it because it doesn’t add to the content. The content still has to be interesting and something people are going to want to come back for. You can’t just get on there and cuss.

BN: If you could choose the Packers or the Redskins to win a Super Bowl, who would you pick?

SC: Oh, the Redskins. It’s easy because my people have suffered the longest. My people have suffered greatly. The whole thing with fandom is interesting. When I started this new show I said for years when I was on this other FM morning show I was a friend of the Packers. I rooted for you guys on the side but I never considered myself a true fan. But now that I am doing a show every day that’s my own show, I feel like I have earned the right to apply for “probationary dual citizenship” I call it. I am not going to have to renounce my fandom of the Redskins while also being a Packer fan because it’s special circumstances.

People’s opinions on this vary greatly. Some say that’s impossible, you can’t do that. Others are like of course you can and that it’s okay to have two different teams depending on your circumstance. Maybe you grew up and your dad was a Cowboy fan and he raised you as a Cowboy fan. But now you live in Denver and so you go to Broncos games and you’re a huge Broncos fan. I don’t think that’s in conflict. I only think that you can’t be a fan of two teams that are traditional bitter rivals, and you certainly can’t be a fan of two teams that are in the same division.

BN: What is it about being a sports radio host that gets you up in the morning and fires you up to do more shows? 

SC: Well it beats working for a living that’s for sure.

BN: [Laughs]

SC: No, the world of sports is fascinating and interesting. There are more great, dumb, hilarious, fascinating stories all the time. When they started sports radio in ‘87 at WFAN, the common reply was, ‘Sports all day? What are they going to talk about?’ Now look at the landscape and you say to yourself I don’t have enough hours in the day for the stories that are coming across my desk.

BN: Going back to the very beginning of your sports radio career, how did it start for you?

SC: I went to UC Santa Barbara, the Harvard of the West as I like to call it. I just started going to the student radio station. They had a little set of equipment where you could take two headsets, a mixer and literally a handheld radio antenna — sort of like you broke it off somebody’s roof. Then you would set it up at the baseball diamond, you’d point it back at the tower in the middle of campus, you’d get the connection, and then you would call a baseball game that absolutely nobody listened to. We did that for just about any sport. Me and the guys in college — we called water polo games. Do you know how hard it is to call water polo where all you see are their heads? Do you know how little anyone cares about water polo? But we did it. We did it because why not?

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BN: Sports radio hosts are sometimes urged to appeal to a younger audience. Are you mindful of that, or is it like here’s my show, take it or leave it?

SC: I don’t think like ooh, what do the kids want today? It’s like OK, boomer. My one mantra always for anyone who wants to get in the business is simple; to be interesting — and that’s the goal — you have to be interested. You have to always keep an open mind. If you turn your nose up at certain sports whether it’s MMA or hockey or baseball or boxing, you’re not opening yourself up to the possibility of oh hey, this is really interesting. You know? You can’t be a picky eater. Some guys are. You get to a certain stage in your career and a lot of guys are like I just don’t talk hockey. I don’t know it. I don’t care about it. But I always try to stay interested in as many things as I can. I try to skew young even though I know I’m not young because in my mind I feel like I am.

Even if I don’t know anything about Instagram, I will still look at it and be curious about it and ask questions about it to people that might know whatever it is. It took me awhile to get my head around “Okay, Instagram. Why is this different than Twitter?” Then someone put it to me very succinctly; they said millennials don’t like to read. I said holy shit, that’s perfect. 280 characters is too long for them. Just give me a picture.

BN: [Laughs] Oh man, that’s funny. What would you say is your biggest weakness as a sports radio host? 

SC: What is this a job interview? I have no weaknesses. I’m impervious. I’m a 24/7 content machine. I’m indestructible. I’ll be doing this until I’m 90.

BN: Just cranking out the hits. I like it.

SC: The biggest weakness, I don’t know. The more laps you take around the sports radio track so to speak, the easier it is to get jaded and cynical — if not jaded, just to be sort of bored. The sports world has a routine and I like that routine. It helps guide me and other sports fans through the seasons. But it’s easy at some point to be like okay here we go again. I’ve watched 41 NFL seasons that I can remember or whatever the number is. I have to constantly remind myself hey for someone who’s 22 years old, they’re in the prime up their sports fanatic life. They are like so into this. They love this shit. I think that’s something that I constantly have to guard against.

BN: I love what you said about being interested. That’s awesome advice. When you break it down to what is most important to you to be a good sports radio host, what else would you have at the top of the list?

SC: When you tell a story, have a point. It makes it so much more interesting to the listener. Everything you say has to have some kind of a point no matter what that is. It can be a big, small point, you always have to think okay so what is the reason for me talking about this? What’s my endpoint of the segment? Whatever you’re talking about, think about it critically and understand okay here’s the point I would like to make about it.

My personal philosophy is I don’t try to force a point if I don’t believe it. I can’t fake it. I’m not a take artist. I know people will say that’s not true, everyone likes to criticize all of us as take artists, but I believe what I say. Unless I’m saying something while doing it with a wink of my eye, like you know I’m kidding you on this.

BN: When you compare the very beginning of your career to later once you gained experience, what was something important you learned about doing good radio? 

SC: Preparation is key. Learning how to write even if you’re not going to read your scripts. I don’t read scripts but I do write. I’ll write notes. I’ll write outlines. I’ll write certain riffs maybe. I’ll write bullet points to help guide me through what I’m going to talk about. Writing for your own blog is another good way to sort of focus your content. If you write a well-written blog about something, you’ve really sharpened the points that you want to make and the phrases that you’re using. By the time you go to “read” your own take on your own radio show, you’re not reading it, it’s just coming out of you naturally because you’ve already spent some time writing it.

BN: How important do you think it is to do a podcast in this day and age?

SC: I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do one. The cost to do it is virtually nothing. Especially for people that want to get into the business it’s something that I would do because then you can go show somebody — look at my product. I have product. I think it frees you up to do other things and it gives you another area to sort of hone your craft. It’s another boutique product that you as the host can own entirely. That’s valuable. It may be a little gift shop in terms of whatever revenue or free stuff you can get out of it compared to your regular employer, but you own the gift shop, which I think is a nice thing.

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BN: When you look at your future over the next 5-10 years, how do you think it’ll look and what do you want it to look like?  

SC: [Laughs] Glorious, employed, healthy, all those things. I can’t predict the future. I love what I’m doing right now. I’d like to keep doing it. I’d like to grow the Milwaukee show and give the Milwaukee market a really good, interesting, compelling show to come to every day. That’s the way I’ve been here in D.C. as well for the last 20 years too. Keep going, keep going until it becomes unbearable or I’ve got enough money and nobody ever has enough money. I guess you go until they take your guitar away.

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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