It’s easy to like Mary Menna. I should know. I just talked to her last year for the first series of “Meet the Market Manager” columns.
A lot has happened since then. Her morning show has gone into syndication, her afternoon drive host has joined the Red Sox television crew, and she is in the middle of a lot of moves.
When we spoke on Monday, she was balancing getting her daughter moved, her parents moved, and moving Beasley’s Boston cluster to a new building one station at a time. A time like this, usually triggers feelings of nostalgia. Mary told me that moving the stations has involved “rifling through 32 years of history.”
Our conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, is all about looking forward though. We talk about Toucher & Rich’s future in the live space, how she is preparing for sports gambling to come online in Massachusettes, managing and creating new opportunities for talent at the top of their game and so much more.
Demetri Ravanos: Since the last time we chatted, ratings at the Sports Hub have stayed as impressive as ever. Obviously that changes a lot in terms of expectations. I wonder, does it change in your mind what is acceptable? I mean, after all of these 20+ ratings, could you foresee a day where something below even a 20 is unacceptable?
Mary Menna: Well, afternoon drive had a 25 in this last book. I’m really impressed throughout the very difficult past couple of years that we’ve had, with listening levels fluctuating for a lot of radio stations, not just in Boston, but certainly across the country, because listening patterns really changed that this particular brand excelled even more. I think it really speaks to the connection that they have with the audience. When things were very stressful in people’s day-to-day lives, they had companions to go to and our personalities were there for them.
So does it change my expectation? Of course. We want to continue to excel and beat our previous records. At some point, and we’re not there yet, but when you have 100% of the market you can’t go any further. I still think that we do have room to grow because we’re not there, nor do I think that realistically a brand could ever be at that level. But I think we still have some room to grow.
They’re all firing on all cylinders. I think every show is just really outperforming their past records. We’re very fortunate.
DR: So if Beasley looked at their portfolio across the nation and said that they saw opportunities to turn on new stations in other markets, how much of an adviser could you be? It stands to reason they would want to know what the Sports Hub is doing right and how they can get that elsewhere. How much guidance could you provide based on your success versus how much of it is specifically about 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Boston market?
MM: I couldn’t provide that guidance. I would leave that to the experts. I would leave that to Rick Radzik, Jim Louth and Cadillac Jack. I wouldn’t be that person.
I think every market is different, especially when you’re dealing with a very localized passion-based format like a local sports station. You know, fans in every market are a little bit different. So I think there is something to be learned from us here, but I don’t think you could just replicate it in ten different markets and expect that exact the same success. I also think it has a lot to do with the personalities that we have on air and how they’ve built that loyalty with their audiences.
DR: Unfortunately, you weren’t with us in New York, but you know that Rick Radzik was honored with the Mark Chernoff Award for Best PD. Felger & Mazz also received the inaugural Mike and the Mad Dog Award for the best local show in the country. Certainly, you guys are no strangers to those kinds of honors at the Sports Hub, but in those moments, do you take a second to sort of step back and think about all that you and the team have accomplished? I guess it sort of goes back to that first question about expectations and being the best sports radio brand in the country.
MM: Well, I think they are the best in the country. And thank you for those awards and the honors and for recognizing all of these people for all of their wonderful attributes and successes. It really is about them. I do think it is the best sports station in the country. It has the deepest connections with the audience.
DR: Toucher and Rich, since we last talked, have gone into syndication. How much of that are you involved with versus how much of that is the show sort of going out and selling itself to potential affiliates?
MM: This is something that they really wanted to do to expand their brand. Rich comes from The Kid Kraddick Show, so he learned syndication at an early stage in his career. So it was something that was important to them to branch out. So we did some exploratory research.
Actually, the person that is heading that up for us is Kraig Kitchen, who has quite a bit of experience in syndication. He’s just a wonderful person. He did some exploratory work in New England, and found there was a great amount of interest in carrying the show. Right now it is on in six markets in New England: three in Maine, one in New Hampshire, and two in western Mass.
DR: One of the things I’ve noticed every time they’re adding a new affiliate is there are a lot of rock stations, which is obviously what the show’s roots are, but there are a lot of rock stations that are taking the show just as it airs on 98.5. I wonder, were there any conversations you had to have with those guys about staying consistent? Even as you go into syndication, there are still big expectations on the Sports Hub.
MM: Of course! That is a show “sports that rock,” right? They are the epitome of that. One of the things that we wanted to be absolutely clear on is that we didn’t want the show to change.
The show has a lot of music in it. It’s got a lot of pop culture. It’s got a lot of Fred’s favorite television shows. It’s got a lot of comedy. So at the end of the day, all that mixture of comedy, pop culture and sports works on a rock station. That’s why the appeal is not just limited to sports formats. That’s why the show does work in syndication regionally.
DR: Toucher & Rich have taken their bit “Brookline 911″ and turned it into a live show. Is this the start of a new strategy for them? We talk about this a lot in the podcast space. Those audiences are loyal and support live versions of their favorite shows. It certainly seems like Toucher & Rich have an audience with the kind of loyalty that could keep these shows going for a long time.
MM: So, they did their first one on Friday. It was to a sold-out crowd of their most loyal fans, and it went really well. It was really well produced. It was funny. It was a great show. So I could see that. I could see them replicating that.
I think part of that idea started off with Matt Siegal. Matty had done one sold-out show at the Wilbur and then he did a series of them. Fred and Matt are really good friends, so I think that’s kind of where that idea started from.
DR: So I want to talk about another one of your talents now, Tony Massarotti. He is part of the Red Sox booth on NESN, as part of a rotating cast of analysts. Were there any questions you needed answers to before that deal got done or was he free to have those conversations and pursue that opportunity without needing approval of any sort?
MM: Tony absolutely was very respectful. We did talk about the pros and cons of everything together. He definitely needed us to be able to allow him to do that.
It was an important thing for Mazz. He is a huge Red Sox guy, right? He’s written several books. He was a beat writer for the Herald and the Globe. He probably knows baseball better than anybody on the staff, so when they approached him, it was something that was really interesting to him. He didn’t see it coming. He just never thought that it would happen. When the opportunity did come to him, he started thinking about it. It was very appealing to him.
I think, you know, when you asked the question earlier about “when you’re on top of the game, what are your expectations,” right? I don’t think that highly motivated people are satisfied with being at the top of their game. They always want something else, and so I think as a manager, if that happens, you have to be able to give them that space to be able to grow and to do things that take them to another level. For Tony, this was it. For Toucher and Rich, I think syndication was that for them. If there are those special things that come into their lives that are a good opportunity for them to grow, for it to be additive to the whole team, then why not?
So we did have to be very careful because we didn’t want it to impact our afternoon drive show. The Red Sox and NESN were very collaborative to try and make this work in a way that wouldn’t take them off the air. He certainly couldn’t do a whole season. It’s too many games. So we didn’t want it to impact that much of the show.
They were very workable in terms of which days and how that was going to work. Plus, Tony being the ultimate professional, he certainly doesn’t need to get to the ballpark 6 hours ahead of game time so he can go in there and do a great job. He’s really doing a great job in all aspects.
DR: You said that someone who is highly motivated is not going to be satisfied with being on top of the game. As a manager, you have to be willing to let them explore these kinds of opportunities when they present themselves. Is that something that you were taught or had to learn on your own?
Boston is certainly one of the marquee markets for sports talk radio. It’s not a surprise to me that your guys are getting these other opportunities to put the spotlight on themselves in different ways. I just wonder how you prepare for that kind of environment and learning what works and what doesn’t in terms of building trust when you’re talking about dealing with superstars in this business who have other ambitions.
MM: I don’t think it took learning. I think it’s just innate. When an opportunity presents itself you have to talk about it and get all the stakeholders involved. I mean, Rick was involved, Cadillac was involved, so we all talk about it. Tony, of course, was involved.
How can this work? If it’s going to work, how does it work? We want you on the air. We don’t want you off four days a week. You know, you take vacation anyway, how can we work this out?
We came up with a system that really kind of works for this year. Hopefully, we can replicate that and learn from whatever mistakes we might make as we go through this process. You don’t really know until you’re in it, but you try to set up some bumpers so that everybody kind of gets what they want.
Right now, we’re really very fortunate that it’s working. And Tony is just such a great guy. He’s always going to care about the the the product and the outcome and doing the right thing.
DR: Lawmakers in Massachusetts recently paved the way for sports betting to come to the state. We don’t know all the details yet, but it seems like it will happen. How ready are you to start pursuing those clients and taking advantage of that money cannon that’s about to be fired your way?
MM: Well, we’ve been talking to all of the companies for years, right? We’ve been getting ready for this day.
I’m also the chairperson of the Mass Broadcasters Association. So I have another interest involved in this issue as well. It is to try to generate more revenues for all of the broadcasters of Massachusetts so that we can continue to provide the services that we provide to the communities that we broadcast to. To do live and local radio and provide those services is costly. And especially with the pandemic happening, a lot of our member stations just have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. So we really do need this! Auto is still down. That is one of the largest sectors for broadcasters. So this would really give us an influx of capital that many of our broadcasters in the state so desperately need.
The House bill is pretty on target. We’re in favor of that bill. The Senate bill does come with some issues. Broadcasters, as well as leagues and teams, do not like that bill the way it is right now, so we are trying to influence some changes in it. It has some advertising bans that are pretty severe.
DR: The Senate bill is the one that says no using a credit card and no betting on college games. I’m just trying to make sure I have the two correct.
MM: No betting on college games, no advertising on anything that’s not 21 plus. And then the other issue is no advertising whistle to whistle or in the 5 minutes pre and postgame.
DR: Wow! Those are some very severe restrictions. So in your role with the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, how much are you expecting to be at the State House lobbying and making sure that these people understand what the Senate bill could do or could keep from happening for your industry?
MM: The Massachusetts Broadcasters Association has a great lobbyist that’s been on staff for many, many years. We’re really tapping into his expertise and relationships in order to help us through this process.
DR: So in your role leading Beasley in Boston, have you reached out at all to consult Joe Bell down in Philadelphia? I mean, that area was so ready to go that it seemed like the day that sports gambling was legal everywhere outside of Nevada, that stations in and around Philadelphia were ready to take full advantage of the advertising opportunities.
MM: Joe and I haven’t really talked about this issue, but you bring up a good point I should probably tap into him.
DR: Well then I’ll let you go soon so you can make that call. The last time we spoke, one of the things that you were proud of were the COVID protocols that you had developed on the fly. You’ve since had the bulk of your people come back into the building, and I wonder what things have looked like in the building as we’ve gone through spikes and dips in the case numbers. Have people mostly been back or did you have to send everyone out again at some point?
MM My salespeople came back in July of 2020, so we’ve been back in the building the whole time. Some people never left the building.
But, unfortunately, you’re right. I think cases are spiking up again where I’m starting my COVID dashboard report every couple of weeks. I’m adding people to it and I’m taking them out of quarantine and putting them back in the system. In order to keep it all straight, I have to keep a running list.
I go, “Okay, what was your day? Zero. Okay. Oh, your son had it. When was his day zero?” And then I count and then I send them a little email and say, you’re cleared to come back on X day just so that we have it all straight. It keeps the level of panic down in the building because everybody knows that I’m on it. We’re holding people by date so that everyone else stays safe. So they feel pretty confident. The way we have been running things over the past more than two years gives them a level of confidence to be able to come to work, that they know that they’ll be safe here.
DR: It’s like a total 180 from the last time we chatted because it was right before the sales staff was starting to get ready to come back in the building. Now keeping track of this is like a necessary pain in the ass as opposed to a panic. That is a huge step forward! It may not be convenient, but it certainly beats where we were this time last year.
MM: It is, however, for a couple of months I didn’t have to have a list. “Everybody is vaccinated. People are boosted. Nobody has COVID. It’s springtime in New England. There should be a lot less of it because we’re not indoors. This is great! We’re out of it!” And then it’s like, “Oh, there’s four cases this week”. You know what I mean? But at least we all know we’re not going to die – most of us. Knock on wood.
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.