In her radio life, Mary Menna only knows one place. A Jersey girl by birth, Mary has been working in Boston radio ever since she attended college there. She started as an original promotions assistant at WBCN. Now she runs Beasley’s six-station cluster in the city, which includes 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Everyone knows the Sports Hub’s track record of success: monster ratings, reliable revenue, and more than a few Marconi Awards. Since it’s launch, it has become one of the dominant brands in Boston let alone across the country. That’s why when Mary learned there might be a chance to bring the station into the Beasley family, she jumped.
In this latest edition of the Meet the Market Managers series presented by Point To Point Marketing, I chat with Mary about play-by-play relationships, the previous challenge of replacing Mike Thomas, managing a cluster through a pandemic on the fly, and much more. Check it out.
Demetri Ravanos: Tell me a little bit about what the conversations were like at Beasley when you realized that there was a legitimate opportunity to bring 98.5 The Sports Hub in-house.
Mary Menna: So that was in 2017. We were at an NAB Conference in whatever city it was in during that year. Caroline Beasley asked me to go to her suite for a meeting, which I did, and in that meeting she said “Normally I would make you sign an NDA, but you’re going to swear that you’re not going to say anything to anyone. And I said, “I promise.”. She’s my CEO! She told me, “There is an opportunity for us to buy a spin off from the Entercom/CBS deal. What would you want?”. I said, “the only station I want is Sports Hub.” She said, “that’s the only one you want?” I said, “that’s the only one I want.”
Then I think she went and talked to David. I think Entercom would have wanted to keep WEEI anyway, because WEEI was a cornerstone of their company at the time. It was the biggest station they had, and they had a lot invested in it, not to mention a lot of emotional investments in it as well.
We initially talked about perhaps doing a two station deal for two stations and in the end it became the Sports Hub for Magic 106.7 plus cash.
DR: Was it a situation where you and Caroline had the conversation and you had to be quiet about it until the deal was done? Or were you able to share the news and strategize in your building before the deal was announced?
MM: I was not able to share it with anyone, but a hurricane happened that year. I think the hurricane was hitting Naples at the time. After that meeting, I brought Caroline back to Boston and the joke was we were kidnapping her and not letting her leave. She worked out of our Boston office for several days, and during that time she brought in our VP of programming, Cadillac Jack. But it wasn’t up to me to bring anyone in. It was up to her. It was her secret.
She bought Cadillac in on it and then we strategized it. We didn’t want to give up Magic because that was our flagship in Boston at the time, the largest station that we had. But that was the deal. We had to give them Magic. So we did.
DR: So the station then comes into your building, and it was a really interesting dynamic because Phil Zachary ends up leaving Boston’s Entercom cluster to move to Hartford, and Mark Hannon, who had a major role in building the Sports Hub along with Mike Thomas as part of CBS Radio, now moves over to Entercom.
I would imagine that there were guys on the Sports Hub staff wondering what this change was going to mean for them and their options. How did you handle talking to them, making them feel welcome, and making it clear that Beasley had a vision for the brand’s future?
MM: When that happened, it affected four different companies in the marketplace. iHeart got some spin-offs, we got the Sports Hub, CBS and Entercom were merging, and people didn’t know which boat they were going on. Then it was all held up by the DOJ. You had people in conference rooms all over the city waiting for a tentative time of when we’d be able to announce it, and we were all going to announce it at the same time, but were waiting on the DOJ.
We thought we had a certain time all set but then the DOJ got held up. We took them out of the conference rooms because we thought, “well, we can’t let them sit there any longer,” but then once we did that, maybe 20 minutes later, we got them all back in and announced what was happening.
There was a lot of speculation going around the marketplace even before that. Nobody knew who was getting what or where they were going. Mark and I are friends, and Alan at iHeart and I are really good friends, because I worked there for a million years and we worked together. Some of the transition was made easier because of those relationships. We all wanted to do the right thing for our people because they’re the ones that were being displaced, and they didn’t know what was happening to their livelihoods, their families, their jobs, and all of that stuff.
I had already set up a meeting. I was going to be able to go into the CBS building and meet with The Sports Hub staff, and then come back here. Mark would then come here to meet with our people. I went to the CBS building with some of my key people. We did a meeting. Mark introduced me. They could tell that Mark and I had a good relationship and thought, “OK, well, let’s see if he likes her and she likes him, we’re going to be OK.” You know, it’s like parents are getting divorced and you want to make sure that the kids are OK, right? What we announced at that meeting was “we have a very limited amount of time here. We wanted to come and welcome you and introduce ourselves, and answer any of the questions that you might have that we might be able to answer now, and just tell you it’s going to be OK, but bear with us.”
I scheduled a cocktail party, because I do like cocktails, that afternoon at a bar/restaurant right near their office. So I said, “if anybody would like to get to know us better, we’re going to have a few other managers that aren’t here at this meeting, come over and join us. We’ll be there at 4:00. You can come by and have a drink with us.”
I always think that you can break the ice better in a social situation rather than in a big group meeting where people are afraid to speak. So we did that. We had a great time and rolled out the red carpet. I think that was really just a good way to deal with a really difficult situation, because we ended up not taking over the station for another month. They were in a trust, so that adds a whole other layer of corporate weirdness because when they’re in a trust, we’re not really allowed to deal with them. We were able to do small stuff, but we couldn’t make decisions. The trust makes decisions. They were still in the other building for quite some time because we had to build out studios. There was a little bit of lag time.
The sales people ended up coming over before the rest so sales and programming were disjointed because they couldn’t see each other. It was just a series of stuff. It wasn’t until July after the deal was done that the studios were completely done, and they are beautiful. They’re also TV studios. It’s not like you put up a couple of boards. There had to be a lot of cameras, lighting, more cable, and other technology because two of our shows broadcast on NBC Sports Boston.
DR: Particularly when you have the sales staff in the Beasley building and the programming staff not yet moved over, how important was it in your mind to connect with Mike Thomas and make sure he was able to sell what Beasley wanted to do with the station to his staff, or make sure his staff understood what Beasley didn’t plan to do with the station that some people may have feared?
MM: Mike had an office here too. He went back and forth a lot. So Mike and I were attached at the hip.
You know, here’s the thing. In 2021, we’re used to remote communication, right? But in 2017 it was a little clunkier. Now you’d say “What was the problem? We do remote communication 22 times a day.” But at that point it was a little different.
You had to be respectful. It was someone else’s building. It’s not like I could decide on the drive in “I’m going to pop in and see T&R this morning, and just sit in on the show.” It wasn’t my house. You had to be respectful. If I needed to have an insurance meeting there with people, I would go through the right channels because you can’t just show up unannounced.
Mike had a little bit more leeway because we had to have an office in that building. We had to be respectful of the boundaries between all of the companies. I think iHeart had some people in there for a while too. So it was just a really weird time. But like I said, if it was 2021 after a pandemic, it would be a little more normal. We worked through it though. You try to build relationships over the phone. You have in-person lunches with people. That was a great thing. You do a cocktail at the end of the day with someone. You go to games with them. If they’re broadcasting at games, you stop by the broadcast booth to spend a little time with them. We were able to build those relationships, we just didn’t see them every day.
It was great to finally bring them all together and welcome them into the building on a full time basis. I think we migrated different departments over that period of time and the last people to come over were when we flipped the switch on a weekend and brought the on air team over.
DR: I appreciate the detail on all of that. It allows industry people who follow Boston to get a sense of what that period of time was like. Let’s fast forward a bit though. Mike Thomas moved on at the end of 2019 to Chicago where he’s now the Market Manager for ESPN 1000. That meant you had arguably the most coveted PD job available in sports radio in decades. I’m sure your phone and inbox were full of messages and members of your corporate team were being hit up regularly. What was it that gave you the confidence that Rick Radzik could ascend to the top job and keep the brand thriving?
MM: Rick was the assistant program director for the entire duration of the existence of the station, so he has a lot of institutional knowledge. This radio station, as many sports stations do, has so many moving pieces: three on-air hosts in every day part, four play-by-play properties, live weekends, etc.. He knew how all those moving pieces worked.
We interviewed a lot of people, and I’ll say that the team really rallied for Rick. As a matter of fact, Marc Bertrand had bumper stickers made up for him. In addition, they started a write-in campaign and got signatures around the building. It was really heartwarming to see the team wanted him and was rallying for him. I did talk to people and made sure that they didn’t just want Rick because Rick was going to be easy on them or he was the person that they knew. I always say that when you have an open position like that, you have to interview a lot of people because you can’t do what’s easy. You have to do what’s right. When what’s easy and what’s right are the same thing, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
It became clear that was what was right and easy was the same person – Rick. When those two things come together you know you’re making the right decision that affects so many people. If you put the wrong PD in a situation like The Sports Hub, where so many big personalities are involved, it can screw up the whole thing.
Then I looked at Rick in his first year in that job and he gets hit with a pandemic. In March he gets hit with the end of live sports. We’ve got to punt, kick, and try to figure this all out. If there was somebody in that job that wasn’t familiar with the infrastructures of the Patriots, Bruins and the Celtics, and didn’t know the inner workings of our talent and scheduling, it would have been a disaster. But he had all that institutional knowledge.
If we had somebody from another market who didn’t know all of the personalities, sports teams, and simple things like ‘how do you get from TD Garden to here?’ and capable of making those lines work, it could’ve been rough. We’re really, really lucky, and I was very proud that in his first year in the job, Rick propelled himself onto your list at #5. Thank you for that. I think that’s a true testament to his abilities and what he’s done in this year.
DR: Anyone that I’ve had a conversation with about Rick is a true believer with him in that position. I’ve never heard from anyone where the reaction was “I can’t believe they’re going with the APD instead of, candidate X.”
MM: I think that if someone does a really good job and works really hard for 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, whatever the case may be, that person should receive extra consideration. Especially if they’re great.
You don’t want people to have to leave your organization to grow. You should be able to grow your own people. That’s what we do as coaches, right? We want to mentor our people and make them better.
What’s the message? Once you get great, you need to go to another market? That’s not something that you really want in terms of a really solid organization and keeping it going into the future.
DR: Speaking of Rick’s institutional knowledge of The Sports Hub, you guys had a moment last year where Fred Toucher needed to step away from the morning show for a period of time. That show is a powerhouse, not just in Boston, across the format, nationwide too. Everybody knows what ‘Toucher and Rich’ do. I wonder if you or Rick ever allowed yourselves to entertain or even sat down to make a plan for “what is our plan in mornings if Fred said he couldn’t do this anymore? What if he didn’t want to continue?”
MM: I never thought that that would happen, and I do want to say that I’m so proud of Fred for being able to make that determination and do what was necessary to get himself in a much better place. And he is in such a great place.
I am so proud of him every day. He’s doing a great job. His show sounds better and his life is great and his family is great. I’m just thankful that we were able to come to that point where he made that turn and he did it himself. I never planned for anything other than Fred coming back. I believed in him!
DR: I think a lot of people across radio, regardless of format, recognize that sports can be an expensive endeavor, particularly in a major market, when you have the kind of success that you guys do. When you told Caroline “this is the only Boston station that I want” and you factor in all of the expenses necessary to operate a brand of this magnitude, I imagine it isn’t cheap. Do you ever feel you’re under a microscope or certain things need to happen year in and year out to justify the amount it takes to run a station like The Hub?
MM: I think it’s a rate of return, but you’re right. Sports is expensive. Rights fees and personalities cost a lot. Live morning shows on music stations are expensive. Original compelling content is expensive. It’s not just repurposed content. It’s original programming and that costs money. So the rate of return has to be there.
Fortunately, we have a fabulous sales team and the station works, so it’s a lot easier to generate revenue using a platform that generates results for clients. The math on this station, even though the expenses are extraordinarily high, it works because the clients and partners are there and we do generate strong revenues. The clients come back because the radio station is a powerhouse and it works for them and helps them generate business.
DR: On the subject of math, you have three of the four major play by play partnerships in the city of Boston. You’ve have had all of them for a while too. Are we past the point now where you have to do the risk/reward math whenever these deals come up for renewal?
MM: Play-by-play, really is not a liquidating entity, especially in the days when you’re traveling to all the games. Now, I’d like to get back to being able to travel to away games. Going to Tahoe this weekend was terrific. I mean, it had some ice problems, but it was great. It was great to be able to call live sports live at an outdoor venue.
Maybe some stations do it differently where they actually make money on it, but I think play by play is a loss leader type of situation. It’s essential to the radio station to keep it vibrant and rich and have those teams as part of the fabric of the radio station. What comes with being the flagship station of those teams is you have access to other programming that’s outside of your regular play-by-play windows.
I think it’s an important piece to make the radio station compelling with content and be fully integrated with the local teams. I don’t think it’s ever something that’s going to work on a spreadsheet. If it can liquidate, that’s great. But sometimes it doesn’t liquidate. If you can break even, that’s a win because they don’t always break even.
It’s an important component to programming, you know what I mean? I don’t think we look at our personalities and say, “hey, what’s the rate of return?” It’s an art and a science. And part of this is art.
DR: I think about something like Tom Brady leaving town and the created content it produced in Boston for the better part of a year.
MM: It still does.
DR: Right, so is the payoff there the access you guys have that lets you follow every single step of the process with the Patriots because you are the partner? Or is the payoff to something like that less about what people tune in for with the games and more about what it brings people to hear Toucher and Rich on Monday or Felger & Mazz on Friday leading into the weekend?
MM: I think there’s multiple touch points in a relationship. I don’t look at it as it’s just a payoff. Our relationship with the Patriots is an incredibly important relationship that goes back to the WBCN days. I think BCN was one of the first stations that actually put football on rock radio. It was definitely an early adopter.
The Patriots are a dynasty here. Even if they don’t have a Super Bowl season like this year, people still care about the New England Patriots. It’s in our blood. We want them to win, but even when they don’t win we still love them.
The Kraft organization is incredible. One of the first things I did when we acquired The Sports Hub was extend our relationship far into the future. I added many, many years onto that contract knowing that Tom Brady would never outlast the length of our contract. Even if he stayed and didn’t go to Tampa, it’s still a contract that far exceeds a period of time where Tom would still be playing. I believe in the Patriots. I believe in their organization, and I believe in the Kraft’s. So I went for the long bomb on that one.
DR: Given what we just saw in the Super Bowl, are you confident that the contract length will outlast Tom Brady?
MM:Yes. It’s a loooooong deal!
Besides what it gives us in terms of the content and what it gives us in terms of stature and partnership, it also gives us something for our clients as well. It gives us access. It gives us the ability to entertain them in a luxury box. It’s the opportunity to have them on the field before a game or visit the broadcast booth to feel what a broadcast is like. It allows our major partners to touch, feel and get up close and personal. That kind of access is is gold.
DR: Analyzing your own career for a minute, you’ve ascended to an important position overseeing a group of highly successful brands. But everyone can get better at something. What are some of the things you feel you need to learn still in order to confidently take that last step in your professional life?
MM: I think acquired knowledge just happens. Don’t forget I was in the same building for 25 of 28 years. I took a three year sabbatical early on and went somewhere else, so I was always just a sponge and available if somebody needed something done. Even if it wasn’t in my department. If I could help, I did, and I learned something from that. I think I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve ever come in contact with. They all make you better as you create your jigsaw puzzle of experiences.
A lot of people aspire to someday be a market manager. Well, I always said that I wanted to be the market manager of Kiss 108, but by the time I got to that job, the job had changed and become a lot harder. I wanted the job when a gentleman named John Madison had it, like in the 90s. I think whatever you do to prepare is great, but on the job training is invaluable. Whatever you thought you needed to know, it’s great that you had that as a reserve, but you need to learn more everyday.
For instance, nobody could’ve prepared for April 2020, right? There was no manual. What are you going to do? How are you going to get all your people out of the building by March 16th? How are you going to be able to keep the place running and keep everyone safe while you still have people coming to the studios? And where do you find masks in March? And Purell when there’s a shortage? I thought “Oh my God! I’m going to call a record label, Big Machine, because they have a bar in Nashville that’s changing their vodka distillery into sanitizer. Great!” You know, “Hey, Big Machine, Can I get some of it?”
I think you have to be resourceful. We’re in radio. We know how to put things together with band-aids right?
When all of this started, I just made a list. What do we need? How do I wrap the building in Plexiglas when I have no budget? I learned that we needed MERV filters. I researched (Google is my friend) and figured out how many of them we had to have. Then, when it came to Plexiglas, I looked up the top 10 glass companies in the market. “Everybody gets to call one person, so go get an appointment with somebody to see if they want to be the official glass company of the Sports Hub or whatever. Go figure it out!”
People weren’t spending cash then, so we did a lot of trade. We upgraded a lot of our systems to make the place safer. That’s not something that’s in a “How to be a market manager” manual. That’s something that you just learn by having boots on the street.
DR: That’s something that never had to be in a “how to be a human being manual” until last year.
MM: Right, so you figure out. I didn’t have a manual for how to be safe in the workplace and deal with Covid, so I made one. The on air staff, those were the only people here for a few weeks. They were so used to not seeing anyone that I thought ‘how do I make them feel safe once the sales staff start coming in?’
We’re lean in people by nature. I’m Italian. I hug people. I kiss on the cheek. We had to teach our team how to be lean out people like, “hey, you’re getting too close. You need to move back two more feet.”
Everybody’s figured that out now, a year later, but in the beginning, when they first started coming back in, it was a learning process. In these type of situations, you just have to pay attention to what’s going on, think about what will help your people stay safe while working, and find different ways to get through it. And if need be, write your own manual if one doesn’t exist.
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.
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.