I’m a firm believer that anybody can learn something from everybody. It has never made sense to me why so many people close themselves off to others based on affiliation or differing beliefs.
Matt Jones is the creator of Kentucky Sports Radio. He hosts an entertaining show for 40 affiliates across the state. It wouldn’t make sense for listeners to steer clear of Matt based on his liberal views. It also wouldn’t add up for anyone in the sports radio industry to dismiss Matt’s philosophies simply because they vote red.
Matt’s approach to radio enables him to connect with people. One of his core philosophies is the belief that his job is to mirror the discussions that the audience is having. Matt also stresses the importance of relating to people and being authentic. If a host is authentic, relatable, and talks about the stuff the audience is already talking about, it’s impossible not to connect with listeners.
I walked away from our conversation thinking, man, this dude gets it. His approach just makes sense. Whether it’s sports, politics, Kroger Plus cards, or mostly anything else under the sun, Matt has a talent for finding what will interest a wide range of people. In the immediate aftermath of Election Day when tensions are high, if you dismiss Matt’s wisdom because he leans left, you’re only hurting yourself. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: You’re a very liberal guy in a very conservative state. In what ways does that help and hurt your show?
Matt Jones: I’m not sure being a progressive in a conservative state helps the show at all necessarily. My reasoning for talking about things other than sports — and just so you know I don’t set out to talk about politics on the show and I only do it occasionally — but my view is as a radio host your job is to mirror the discussions that your audience is having. So in Kentucky my view has always been what are people in Kentucky, specifically Kentucky fans, what are they talking about? Over the last four years, if you try to act like people are not talking about politics, you’re just fooling yourself.
I think most people talk politics in a disrespectful way that people don’t like. They say this is what I think and if you don’t think it, you’re an idiot. That’s what most political discussion is. But that’s not what I do. What I try to say is look here’s what’s going on. This is kind of interesting. This is how I think about it, but if you think about it differently, that’s okay. That’s the way we do it.
I don’t sit and try to convince people that Trump is this or that. I tell people what I think about him, but it’s very light-hearted. A lot of conversation in sports about politics is kind of preachy, like you should believe this. I don’t do that. I don’t think an audience wants that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it in a respectful way of what you believe and why. I think my audience for the most part appreciates that.
BN: Do you get feedback of hey I disagree with you, Matt, but I appreciate what you’re saying?
MJ: Oh, all the time. Probably 75 percent of my audience, maybe a little less, but about 75 percent are Trump fans. If they didn’t think I was doing it in a respectful way I would have lost them. I’m not sitting there saying “Okay, Trump’s immigration policy is wrong for this reason or that reason”. But what I might say is, “Trump has just done this, here’s how it might affect you”. That to me is a conversation worth having. I think people can do that in a way that’s entertaining and respectful.
There’s no doubt in my mind that doing this has caused me to lose some listeners. But it has also gained listeners. One of the reasons my show is so popular and sort of dominates our area in a way very few sports shows do is because we have people listening who don’t really care about sports. There are a lot of people that listen to my show that would never listen to another sports show because they know we’re going to talk about things beyond who’s going to win a game.
BN: It’s a broad question, but what are some of the topics that might get commonly discussed on sports radio that you don’t find to be very interesting?
MJ: Everything. [Laughs] I find most sports radio mind-numbingly boring. We all watch these games. How much can you really say about them? There’s only so much you can say. Especially a local show where you only cover one team. How much is there to say?
Six months out of the year they’re not even playing. I have very little interest in reviewing play by play of a game. Everybody watched it. They already know what happened. If there’s a compelling moment — I’ll give you an example — Kentucky got a commitment from a recruit. I talked about it. I talked about what kind of player they got. I spent two or three minutes on it. But what else is there to say? There’s no debate. My audience has never seen this kid play. What can I say? There’s really not much more to say.
What’s much more interesting is Lane Kiffin got fined $25,000 for tweeting about a bad call that the SEC then admitted was a bad call. Should you get fined for saying something that’s true? That’s a good conversation. That’s how I do everything with the show. Is it an interesting conversation?
I think people think I talk about politics all the time. I don’t. I talk about politics at most once a week. But what I don’t do is say well you can’t talk about politics because I just think that’s stupid. My view is the best radio hosts in America — for me the three most talented radio people of all time are Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and in sports I like Tony Kornheiser. What all three of those have in common, they are talking about their lives as a part of the subject that they’re talking about. That’s how you have success is doing it like that.
BN: Which presidential candidate winning would benefit your show more?
MJ: I guess on some level Trump is more entertaining and does more stupid things so it’s easier to have stuff to talk about, but it’s not about for me who wins or loses. It’s about what is happening that affects my listeners’ lives because compelling radio, in my opinion, whether it’s sports or anything else is just about relating to people and their lives. People who are good at radio relate to people in their lives. People who are bad at it don’t. I don’t care who’s in charge or what’s going on. Every person in America every day has something that interests them and that is affecting their life. My job is to figure out how to have that conversation on the radio.
BN: Is it a fair assessment to say your show is what it is whether it’s before the election or after it?
MJ: Yeah, my show is what it is every day. Our ratings during COVID when there were no sports did not go down because our show is not so much about sports, it’s just about life. Again you go back to my premise, what is the average Kentucky fan caring about right now? Well in March during the NCAA Tournament the average Kentucky fan is caring solely about basketball. But in May when no sports are going on around here, they’re caring about other stuff.
You want to know the biggest thing I had on my show this year? We had a bet between me and my producer that he couldn’t walk 50 miles in 16 hours. I offered him $5,000 if he could walk 50 miles in 16 hours. It became a month long of talk on the show. He ended up doing it and literally all across Lexington people stood on the sides of the roads and cheered him on. That was the most listened to show we had all summer and it had nothing to do with anything. But every person in the state could listen and go well I think you can do it, or I don’t.
BN: Did you say 15 or 50?
MJ: Fifty. JFK when he was president apparently had this thing called the JFK challenge. He put five different things and wanted every American to try to do one of them. The physical component was walk 50 miles in 16 hours. When I said that my producer was like well I can do that. I was like no you can’t.
BN: [Laughs] How did it turn out?
MJ: He got it. He finished it. He finished in about 14 and a half hours. The last two hours we timed it so it was during my show, so that we walked next to him as he finished.
BN: Aww, man. That’s a great bit. What happened with the Republican Party getting you pulled off the air last year when you were thinking about running for Senate?
MJ: Yeah, that was a bunch of bullshit. I was considering whether to run. As part of that I had created this committee so that I could raise a little bit of money to poll and stuff like that. The Republican Party of Kentucky filed something with the Federal Election Commission basically saying it wasn’t fair that I was on the radio while I was thinking about running.
It was complete nonsense. They were wrong and ultimately if the Federal Election Commission ever actually exists again that will be proven. But my radio station understandably didn’t want to worry about it. So I just went off the air until I decided officially not to run.
BN: How long were you off the air?
MJ: About a month. It was ridiculous. Mitch McConnell is on television every single day whenever he wants raising millions upon millions of dollars but it was unfair of me to have a sports radio show. That’s just so stupid. But McConnell is the master of cheating the system for his own gains.
BN: Why did you ultimately not run for Senate?
MJ: I ended up not doing it for a variety of reasons. Mostly just that it wasn’t the right time in my life and I thought it was going to be difficult to win because in the primary and the general election there was a candidate that had a ton of money. Amy McGrath in the primary and Mitch McConnell in the general. It was going to be tough to leave this thing I created. I created this whole enterprise kind of out of nothing and it was going to be hard just to walk away.
BN: What are some of the specific things in your own life that you incorporate into the show?
MJ: I just talked about experiences I have. I went to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t have one of those little Kroger Plus cards. I asked the woman behind me if I could borrow hers and she said no. It really annoyed me. We literally turned that in to a half hour of radio. It was me telling the story and being like why did she do that? That became one of our most popular bits. Little stuff like that.
Not everybody cares about politics. Not everybody cares about sports. But everybody has to go to the grocery store. Everybody eats food. That’s the way you connect to people on other levels.
BN: How big of a role does your supporting cast have on the show?
MJ: Huge. The three other people on the show — Ryan Lemond, Drew Franklin, and Shannon Grigsby — we’ve made it to where everybody knows who they are. We have our fill-in producer Billy Rutledge and people know who he is. I think the key to radio is authenticity. The reason why I genuinely believe KSR is more popular in Kentucky than virtually any sports radio show in America is popular where they are is because our whole purpose is to connect to the personality and community of the state.
To me the shows that work are about a sort of lifestyle or thought process rather than about a sport or even politics. The reason why most shows can’t do politics or shouldn’t is they believe their job is to preach the politics to the listener. I don’t think the listener wants that. I believe the job is to make the subject — politics or whatever — interesting. That’s a different thing than preaching.
BN: It’s interesting, Matt; talking to you I’m just thinking about some of the hot-take artists that try to stand out that way. Would you be of the opinion that you can stand out more just simply by connecting with people instead?
MJ: A hundred percent. This is not the way people do radio, but to me anybody can have a strong opinion on who should be the MVP. Who cares? But if you can get people to care about your lives and to care about what’s going on in your existence, that’s what talent is to me. I can’t listen to people argue is LeBron the GOAT. There’s not going to be one thing they say that is any more unique than anything I’ve ever heard.
Tony Kornheiser used to talk every day on his show about the Washington Nationals. I couldn’t care less about the Washington Nationals. But I did care about Tony caring about the Washington Nationals. When he would talk about watching the game and being frustrated, if the Nationals lost in a torturous way, the next day I wanted to hear what he said just because I cared about him. I think that’s what good radio is. When you think to yourself “I know this is going to affect this person and I can’t wait to hear what they say about it”.
BN: If you find something interesting regardless of what category it’s in, you want to talk about it. Could you thrive in a place that was strictly about sports and didn’t let you do that?
MJ: I don’t know. It’s a great question. Could I do a straight Mike and Mike morning show? I don’t know, man. I think I’d have to do a show where whoever was my boss trusted me to sort of — I’ll follow the parameters of whatever they want, but I’ve got to have the ability to sort of do it my way.
Would some boss let me do it nationally daily? I don’t know. But I do know this, the radio show hosts that are transcendentally good — Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Tony Kornheiser, Le Batard — they all do that. Those shows are all based on their personalities. I don’t know why radio executives don’t want that. Isn’t that what the goal is? To create shows that are sort of machines? To do that you have to base it around the personalities of the people that do it. The two best sports TV shows of all time in my opinion are the TNT NBA show and Pardon The Interruption. Why? Because they just let those people be themselves. I don’t know why that’s not what every show tries to be. You just have to let people be themselves.
BN: This might be a stupid question, but I’m interested in what your answer is. There are a lot of women that have to jump over hurdles because a lot of idiots say, “Ehh, you’re a woman. What do you really know?” Do you think you might face similar hurdles being from the South with a lot of people saying, “What’s this backwoods hick going to tell me about sports?”
MJ: Oh, of course. When people hear a Southern accent they think you’re stupid. I get that. The only times you hear Southern accents on the radio nationally is if they do a show that’s like look we’re Southern, sort of like Marty & McGee. That’s their thing; look we’re Southern guys. That’s fine. I like their show a lot. Those are good dudes.
There are a lot of people that know more about sports than me. A lot. Most people. But just be honest with the audience and be like look I don’t know. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.
I’m in Kentucky. Hunting is huge here. I don’t know any of it. I’ve never shot a gun. I don’t know. But my audience likes the fact that he may know about law and politics but he doesn’t know anything about hunting. I let them make fun of me for how little I know about it. Just be honest with them and I think people appreciate that.
BN: When you look to your future in broadcasting, what do you think would make you happiest?
MJ: I’d love to have a national show someday just to see if it would work. I think it would. But it has to be the right one. I’ve had opportunities to do some national stuff that I just didn’t think would work.
I’d love to have a chance to see if what I have done locally can transcend to a regional or national level. I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen to be honest. We’re very successful here so I can’t leave unless it’s the perfect opportunity. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but I would love to do that at some point.
Beyond that I wrote a book that was a best seller. I really enjoyed that. I’d like to do some more writing. I think the best thing in life is to try as many things as possible. Some things you find you’re good at. Some things you don’t. To me try everything and enjoy it whether you succeed or you don’t.
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.