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John Kincade Only Wants To Do His Show His Way

” I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches.”

Brian Noe

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Philly is in John Kincade’s blood. The sports radio host grew up in Broomall, Pennsylvania, which is around 12 miles from Philadelphia City Hall. As he puts it, the only team John ever allowed himself to just be a stupid fan for is the Eagles. He once told his daughter, “You can root for whoever you wish in sports, but you will be an Eagles fan.” Gotta love that. It was an unforeseen path back to Philly for John after a quarter-century in Atlanta, but home never felt so good.

John Kincade (@JohnKincade) | Twitter

It’s always interesting to hear about the events that lead a big-time host to their current gig. John’s path, which includes cancer and coaching hockey, stands out especially. John talks about his deep respect for Angelo Cataldi, the radio term that he despises the most, and how Philly has drastically changed since the mid-‘90s. We also touch on his first 100 days back in Philly and John’s greatest feeling in radio. Oh, and hair. We can’t forget about that. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What’s your sports radio path that has led to where you are now? 

John Kincade: While I was in college and after college I worked for the Philadelphia Flyers doing video and statistics with their coaching staff under Mike Keenan. I also was coaching ice hockey at the time and thought maybe I wanted to be a hockey coach. That’s craziness. But I was working in the business world. When I stopped working for the Flyers, I continued my coaching career but was working in sales and marketing.

Then when sports radio took off, I got involved with Tony Bruno. He was kind enough to have me as his Flyers correspondent when he was at WCAU. That took me to an internship with WIP. My first air shift was awarded to me by Tom Bigby, God rest his soul. The man was just an absolute legend. I was going down to Atlanta with my business, but I wanted to work in sports radio on the weekends. Tom Bigby was kind enough, Tony Bruno, Angelo Cataldi — I did bits on Angelo Cataldi’s show for over three years before I moved to Atlanta. They all spoke on my behalf with Mike Thompson who was at The Fan in Atlanta. They said put this guy on weekends. Mike Thompson put me on weekends because I had a full-time job during the week. I had my foot in both pools.

Eventually I ended up getting cancer twice. I got cancer in ‘95 and then I got cancer again in ‘97. I said in ‘97 when I got sick again, I told my mom, I said if I survive this, I’m going to go work in radio because I was convinced I was going to die. I was like enough of this part-time crap. I’m going to die. I’m not going to see 40. I’m not going to see 45, 50. So why not do what I want to do? I left and I did radio and TV with the Atlanta Thrashers their first year in ‘99. I worked with Steak Shapiro and their crew at 790 The Zone. Then when they relaunched The Fan in 2000, we started Buck and Kincade and I did that for 20 years.

BN: How would you judge your first 100 days in Philly now that you’re back?

JK: I’m extremely happy the way the show has premiered and the way the show has been received. You’re launching something new and we are doing something that is completely foreign to the market as far as the kind of show we do. Thankfully it appears the younger sports radio listeners are flocking to it and loving it. That’s what I love to hear. I’ve been in the business long enough to know what works.

It’s an intimidating thing to come home because you want to do your best. The difference is, instead of an audience listening to me every day, I’ve got at least 150 people that actually know my cell phone number that are listening to the show every day. I have a huge extended family. Within a 10-mile radius I probably have 15 to 20 cousins. I’m constantly getting that immediate feedback. Sort of like you guys at Barrett Sports Media, you have your little focus groups, well guess what, I’ve got a focus group every day on my cell phone.

I came in the door and I told Beasley Media we’re going to create this show and I said we’re going to break some eggs. We’re going to do things differently and we’re going to resist the urge to do exactly what has been done in Philly sports radio forever. And hopefully the audience will be attracted to it, stick with us, spend more time with us. We are very, very pleased with how we’ve premiered.

BN: What’s the biggest difference with your show compared to other shows in Philly?

JK: We probably take around 15 percent of the calls that any other show in the market takes. I’m going to say 15 percent, maybe 20. There are great, successful hosts in this market, some people who are really legends of the game. Guys I compete with like Angelo Cataldi, Mike Missanelli doing afternoon drive on our station, Anthony Gargano who I follow. These are guys who have been here forever and they do their thing. They do what has worked for them and what this community has fallen in love with them for.

I felt I had an opportunity to come in and do something that I had done on the national level for years where I did not take many calls. I did seven years at ESPN Radio with The John Kincade Show and then eight years on CBS Sports Radio. For 15 years I did it and I said okay, I know this works. I didn’t have to be caller driven. I hate the term caller-driven radio. It is the number one pet peeve to me.

When I talk to young people about getting into the business I say look, the world is going toward podcasting. What do we all want to do? We all want to binge watch. We all want to watch a show on our schedule. My wife wants to watch three episodes of one show in one night. I do not. That’s not how I consume media. My wife loves that. I said, well radio is moving in that direction. And guess what you’re not going to have?

What you need to do is you need to entertain. You need to catch people’s attention and entertain. I think relying on caller-driven radio to me is an idea of saying, well I’ve got a show, and I’m asking people to come and listen to my show, but I have no idea what the content is going to be. It’s going to be provided by random people who pick up the phone and call. To me, and just for me, it’s sort of what sports radio was 20 years ago. I don’t believe it’s what young listeners want and I think the numbers are bearing that out.

BN: What’s it like for you to compete against your mentor, Angelo Cataldi?

JK: The respect, admiration, and flat-out love that I have for Angelo Cataldi will never change, has never changed. He was involved every step of the way when I left Atlanta unceremoniously, and was looking for a job. He flat out told me and I’ll quote, he goes, ‘If these people are dumb enough not to hire you, you go and do whatever you gotta do.’ I had other opportunities including satellite radio. Angelo flat out said it to me, he said whatever you got to do, you take care of your family in the way I took care of mine. You worry about your family. You worry about finding a job that works for you.

What I didn’t expect and I’ll be very honest with you, I did not expect that if you had told me the day I found out I was leaving Atlanta, that I was going to be on 97.5 The Fanatic, I wouldn’t have expected it. But I was blown away by their absolute commitment to wanting to shake things up and do some things differently. To feel wanted? Especially when anyone gets told you make too much money, we can’t afford you, so your contract is not being renewed. That was painful to me because I didn’t understand the concept. Buck and Kincade in the South, we had just celebrated our 20-year anniversary on the air in Atlanta. When you get told well we’re going to move on, we’re just going to put an unceremonious end to it, it’s a hit to the ego. It was like I can’t believe this is happening to me.

But to have people with Beasley Media, and Joe Bell who’s the market manager, and Chuck Damico who is the program director, they literally had the most low-key, highly effective sales pitch I’ve ever heard. What do you want to do? What do you want to create here? How do you see this happening? Everything was directed at me. And honestly every single other place I talked to was saying more along the lines of well here’s what we do, and we think you’d be a good fit for what we do. The blank slate is what drew me to The Fanatic. I give them a lot of credit for taking that chance of wanting to do things differently.

BN: Now that you ended up in Philly at a rival station, what impact has that had on your relationship with Angelo?

WIP's Angelo Cataldi was ready to retire. Then Marc Farzetta became a  competitor.
Philadelphia Inquirer

JK: It has not had any impact on it at all. From the moment that I began the job search, three different times during the process of deciding what I was going to do, he was one of my first calls. He counseled me along the way. I bounced some ideas off of him about who was talking to me. He was extremely supportive. The day that I decided to take the job with The Fanatic, my first call was to Angelo Cataldi. I picked up the phone and called him because I owed him that respect.

This is a man who helped me launch my career. He’s a guy who taught me and let me see the bag of tricks. David Copperfield let me backstage and I watched this man. I got to see how he performed some of his magic. I do things a lot differently than Angelo, but one thing I learned from him is that you have to have your vision, create loyalty, create connections with your audience, and nobody’s done that better in this market than Angelo Cataldi, period. Ang and I still talk at times in the five months I’ve been home. We were going to make plans to try to have lunch soon. Hopefully that’s going to happen now that all the COVID stuff has lifted.

I couldn’t be more proud to call him a mentor. I’ve had a few. Howard Eskin was a guy I interned under. Tony Bruno was a huge influencer on me, all these guys. I’m so honored that I ever just got to see them do their craft. But in a weird way, I don’t want to be any of them. I want to be my own way, my own image, my own portrayal of what I want to do and it’s because of seeing guys like that do it their way for so long that I have the ability to say, hey here’s what I want to do. Let’s go do it.

Ang couldn’t be any more gracious, any more of a class act. It’s a mutual admiration. I know he continues to kick ass. He knows I’m coming for him and he’s like okay bring it on, dude. [Laughs] I’m ready for it. It’s great because we refuse to play — Philly loves to play up a thing called radio wars. It’s because there have been personalities who’ve worked in this town who tried to create the radio war. It’s not the ‘90s. It’s not the era of Howard Stern. That’s trite. And more importantly, I don’t believe the audience cares if you like a host at another station or anything like that. That’s like high school lunch table crap to me. It’s something that never attracted me as a listener.

BN: What’s your reaction to Spike Eskin going to WFAN?

JK: Well Spike’s taking over a very prominent office; I’ll tell you that much. I had the pleasure with my network show to get to know Mark Chernoff a bit. Over the past two years, to have Mark Chernoff in my cell phone, and a few times to just be able to say, can I talk to you about something? He’d say, 2 o’clock work? 2:30 work? He always had time for me. Great kindness, great insight into the industry. He’s a freakin’ legend. To have the opportunity to have worked under him for a few years was my honor. He helped me also during the whole job search. ‘That situation might not be the best one for you. You want to work under this kind of management.’ I picked his brain. The guy is a treasure trove of information.

I’ve known Spike a long time. What I know about Spike Eskin is he’s a competitor. I think he’s going to bring a new juice to the network. He’s a guy that I think understands there’s different ways for different guys to approach things and to do their job. I think that CBS Sports Radio will be lucky to have him.

BN: Has Philly changed at all since the first time you did radio there?

JK: I know this town like the back of my hand, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s changed. That’s something that has been one of those fun parts of the first 100 days of the show, is learning that this fan base has changed since I left. It’s different than when I left in the ‘90s. I believe it’s a kinder, gentler fan base. I know anybody hearing that about Philadelphia; they’ll laugh at me. But I would completely disagree having grown up here, and having been a part of these fan bases my entire life. It’s a kinder, gentler fan base.

It’s a fan base where people really get up in their feelings about defending the athlete they love, defending the athlete from criticism. It’s interesting. I think it’s a more introspective fan base than when I left.

Conversations are different. The visceral reaction to things seems more civilized from what I remember in my youth. That has been the wildest part of the journey of getting back home here, has been getting to know my fellow fans again, and getting to know what they think, and how they feel, and how they react. I think it’s a much more relaxed fan base than it was when I left. And I never would have said anything about Philly sports was relaxed when I was growing up. It’s completely different.

BN: What do you think is the best and the worst part of Philly sports radio?

JK: The best part is I believe this market has had some of the greatest long-tenured figures sit behind microphones that have helped to shape narratives, discussions, and fan bases for generations. When you’re talking a Mike Missanelli, and a Howard Eskin, and an Angelo Cataldi; these are icons of the industry that are known countrywide. These are guys that have had major, major success. This is a hotbed of sports radio.

What I think is the worst part about it, I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches. I think that’s what I would tend to say.

BN: What do you think is the best and worst part of Atlanta sports radio?

JK: [Laughs] Boy, I have a perfect chance there. I think the worst part of it is, in Philadelphia almost every single person turning on their radio is an Eagles fan, Sixers fan, a Phillies fan. I tell the story when I moved to Atlanta in 1995, there were 2.7 million people. When I packed up to come up to Philadelphia, Christmas vacation of this year, there were 6.8 million people in Atlanta; 4.1 million people over a quarter of a century. That’s huge. But what happened is, they didn’t just give birth to four million Falcon fans. It’s Bears fans. It’s Eagles fans. It’s Giants fans. It’s Dolphin fans that come to Atlanta.

Atlanta is a melting pot. It’s a much more difficult place to do a radio show in sports. I can tell you that. People love college football in the South. That’s great. Unfortunately the audience has six or seven different teams that have fan bases in your market. So if you go too specific, it’s a tune out for the other fan bases. And if you go too broad, people don’t hear enough about their team or enough detail, they’re not into it. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk with the fan bases. Whereas in Philly, a Monday after an Eagles game, the show programs itself.

BN: Are you a guy where scripting teases or parts of the show helps you relax and have fun?

JK: No question. Preparation is what makes me relax and have fun. My wife and daughter call me Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. They call me Sheldon. And they say it lovingly. But those who have ever worked with me know that there’s a hell of a lot of Sheldon Cooper in me.

I speak my mind. I don’t have a filter. I tell you exactly what I thought about a call, a segment, preparation, whatever; I’m not very good at political correctness or mincing words. It’s probably what has helped me have a good career, but it also makes it hard because everybody that I work with has to work the way I want to work. Because it’s the only way it’s going to work. If I’m going to do the show, we have to prepare the same and we have to have a routine and a regimented approach to things.

BN: What has been one of your favorite all-time memories in your sports radio career?

JK: Oh gosh. I would tell you that I don’t believe anybody in the business has my resume of fill-in hosting. I filled in for Mike Greenberg, Scott Van Pelt, Dan Patrick, Mike Tirico; I filled in four and a half years for Colin Cowherd. I don’t do Mount Rushmore shows, but if you were doing one on national sports radio, you’ve got it right there. And I filled in for all of them.

To sit in their chairs, in front of their mics, do their shows, that will forever be to me the greatest ‘oh my gosh’ feeling of the entire thing. I didn’t start full time in a media career until I was 33. To have accomplished that is truly incredible and absolutely a blessing. Just to think of all those people, and I didn’t mention a bunch of others, I’ve been very, very fortunate to do that.

BN: With as much as you’ve accomplished, is there anything else you’d like to experience?

JK: I want to have just a share of the great success that my mentors have had. Honestly I have missed my national radio audience. For 15 years doing my own show, getting to fill in for all those other great hosts over the years, I’ve missed it. It’s only been five months but I’ve missed it. I think at some point I will venture back into doing a national radio show. That is something I would like to do. But I’ve got a job to do right now. Beasley Media and The Fanatic gave me the keys to a great vehicle and they expect me to drive. They expect me to drive ratings, they expect me to drive revenue, and they expect me to make the entire radio station better. That has to be my focus and that’s my desire. I’m going to teach too. Now that I’m back in Philadelphia, I would love to teach a radio broadcasting class to college kids at my alma mater Temple University. That’s something on my list of things that I want to do.

Students walk past Samuel Paley Library on the Temple University campus, where a student died of a drug overdose on Dec. 1.
Emma Lee/WHYY

BN: Before you go, you’ve got great hair, John. I need any hair advice you have to share.

JK: Redken products. I like the Redken products. When you use a moisturizer, what you’ve got to do, guys, you don’t wash your hair that day. Don’t use shampoo and then use conditioner. Just rinse your hair and use conditioner. You don’t need to shampoo your hair every day. And I would tell guys, embrace your hair color. One thing I will never do is have my fingernails fall off from clinging to my youth.

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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