If you’ve had the good fortune of spending time with Michael Spacciapolli, you’ve learned quickly that he loves what he does professionally. He’s driven to succeed, passionate about his brands and staff, and uninterested in being complacent. If there’s a way to improve even one small area of his product, Spacc as he’s affectionately known by his crew wants to hear about it. If difficult discussions have to be had to ensure progress, he’s ready and willing to have them.
Since earning the promotion to GM in July 2018, Audacy Pittsburgh’s leader has continued looking for ways to innovate. His two talk brands, 93.7 The Fan and Newsradio KDKA, have been consistent revenue and ratings performers, allowing all involved with both brands to place a greater emphasis on digital evolution. It’s all part of taking great radio brands and making them even more accessible and important anywhere consumers enjoy content.
In this discussion presented by our friends at Point to Point Marketing, Spacc and I review his personal progression as a GM, the growth of KDKA and 93.7 The Fan, what he sought when adding two new programmers to guide his sports and news/talk brands, the challenge and opportunities associated with recruiting, and which sales categories he sees future growth opportunities in. I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning more about Spacc, and I invite you to reach out to him by email to learn more about Audacy Pittsburgh.
Jason Barrett: Your 4 year anniversary is just around the corner, July 2018. We’ll dive into the specific items involving both spoken word brands in a minute but before I get into that, I’d like to ask you about your management style and core beliefs. If I asked an employee inside your building to describe how you lead, what would they tell me?
Michael Spacciapolli: I’m sure most would tell you that I am incredibly hands on. I have great leaders who work for me and I empower them to do their jobs, but I stay involved in everything we do. I think the key to running a successful operation is to have good people and good communication. Then it’s about giving your team the tools they need to do their jobs. I know that taking care of and collecting great talent is an ongoing part of maintaining a brand’s success, and we never stop working on those things.
JB: Let’s reflect on the past 4-years for a minute. The pandemic aside, you’ve enjoyed a lot of success. When you look back at the past few years, what are you most proud of, and what have been the toughest challenges and hardest lessons you had to learn?
MS: The brand extensions have been our biggest strengths. From the studio design, to the increase in video, to the growth of our app and streams, I’m pleased with the way we’re becoming more multiplatform focused. A lot of these things come down to attention to detail. It can’t just be what you hear out of the speakers anymore. We have to make our brands bigger and more accessible in multiple locations.
If there’s been one challenge, the FM signal addition for KDKA was great but we’re still trying to make sure the brand remains a viable resource to people. That’s harder to do with so many options available these days. We’re still in a strong position, but like anything, we’re always aiming to be better. On the other hand, 93.7 The Fan’s main challenge is taking a very good station to a dominant level on a consistent basis. We’ve built a product that people know and trust. The challenge is just making it one of the very best consistently.
JB: The two stations under your watch which our readers will have the most interest in are 93.7 The Fan, and News Radio KDKA. Both of these brands are extremely successful in your city, and are recognized as leaders in their respective formats. Starting with KDKA, aside from longevity, what makes the brand so important to the community that it’s remained a part of people’s lives for over a century?
MS: 100 years plus is incredible. Everyone understands the importance of this station in radio but in Pittsburgh, this brand is right there with the identity of our local sports teams. People over 18 know the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. They’re just as aware of KDKA, and what it means, and the impact it’s had on many people’s lives. It’s where people go when something happens in Pittsburgh. They turn to us for information and know they can count on us to inform them.
Our position in the market remains strong because we have a great team and lengthy track record of serving the Pittsburgh community. We’re committed to doing that. The challenge for us is just making sure that future generations care about us the way others have before them.
JB: 93.7 The Fan on the other hand has been around for just over 12 years. During that time it’s cemented its position as the go to source for sports talk in Pittsburgh. What do you attribute the brand’s success to?
MS: Jay it’s all about the consistent daily delivery of local sports. That’s what’s made The Fan important to people. Whether it’s on-air, on mobile, on digital, they’re always going to be served Pittsburgh sports talk. The Fan controls the dialogue here. We’re fortunate to be in a city where people care deeply about these teams, and we have great talent on the air talking about issues that matter to local sports fans. Because of that local sports passion and the talent we’ve put in place, people know they can come here and be part of a conversation.
JB: The Fan has the play by play rights to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pittsburgh Steelers are heard elsewhere in the market. Many would say those two teams are important to the local sports conversation, yet you’ve been able to establish a strong identity without them on your airwaves. Taking that into account, does that influence the way you view the importance of play by play?
MS: I still think play by play is important despite our success. We’ve seen success with the Pirates on our own airwaves despite the team not being great the past few years. Being in the sports business, we can own things outside of the play by play hours, and that’s what we focus on. We can own coverage and engagement around the Steelers, Pens and Pirates. We can provide consistent programming without interruptions due to not having games cut into our schedule. But having great play by play still matters. If you don’t have it though you can still find other ways to connect to the local teams and remain vital to an audience.
JB: Over the past twelve years, 93.7 The Fan has been led by a number of accomplished programmers. Terry Foxx launched the station, Ryan Maguire followed him, Jim Graci came next, and now the station is being led by Kraig Riley. Unlike his predecessors, Kraig didn’t have a number of stops around the country before he earned the opportunity to guide the brand, but he has spent more time inside the building than anyone else who had managed it. When you were going through the process and trying to determine who was the right person to lead The Fan forward, what was it about Kraig that gave you confidence that he was ready for the next step?
MS: I never forget that someone took a chance on me once. I’m a big believer that it’s about talent not experience. Kraig was fortunate that I was the GM because I was willing to give him a shot, and he’s making the most of it. I needed energy, talent, and someone who lived and breathed the brand every day. That’s Kraig. Attention to detail and passion are important to the PD role, and Kraig loves this station, and he works his tail off.
The challenge for anyone moving from behind the scenes to becoming the PD is getting your teammates to trust and respect your decision making. That transition takes time. Kraig knew he’d have to earn the staff’s respect to be seen as the PD not a producer, and he’s doing that. If you do the right things, are fair, and treat people good, you’ll be fine. So far, he’s done a tremendous job and I’m confident even better days are ahead.
JB: When The Fan changed direction, so too did KDKA. That was necessary because Jim Graci previously managed both sports and news. You turned to Dave Labrozzi, who’s resume speaks for itself, to lead KDKA forward. What was it about Dave’s style that you felt would put KDKA in position to have even greater success?
MS: As you mentioned Jay, Dave’s accomplishments are well known. He’s managed a number of great brands and has had a lot of success. I was lucky that this was a homecoming for him. He’d worked in Pittsburgh before, loved the area, and the timing was good.
What I can add about Dave is that he’s a great tactician. He digs into the different things that we need to do a better job of including talent coaching and the Nielsen game. Focusing on social is another area he learned a lot about at WABC. That’s something we have to be better at with KDKA. He’s interested in video, digital content creation, and he does his homework. His knowledge and ability is helping us raise the bar for where KDKA can go.
JB: Considering how strong each of these brands are, I’m sure you have expectations for where they should be when it comes to ratings and revenue. With that in mind, what defines a great year for 93.7 The Fan and KDKA?
MS: A great year in my opinion is hitting plan and growing at a substantial rate. How are we diversifying our stations? How are we doing in spot business? If we’re growing in different areas that’s important to me. Are we seeing progress in video sponsorships? Is there growth in the way people are digitally consuming us? These are two strong brands that are going to be here for a long time so we know we should perform well because they matter to people. But that’s why it’s so important to grow beyond the usual metrics. We have to stay focused on those things because the way people consume and where they invest is going to continue changing and we have to be ready for it.
JB: One challenge that every GM has to conquer in order to grow ratings and revenue is retaining and recruiting strong talent. That applies to management, on-air, sales and every other department. Given how many options exist today, and the way good talent are sought after by groups outside of radio, how do you make sure the job, the brands, and the company remain important and attractive to those already working for you or considering joining you?
MS: There’s nothing I enjoy more than recruiting. It allows me to bring in great people. It’s an everyday part of our job. If someone doesn’t believe that I think they’re missing a key part of the job. Having a great culture backs you up when you’re trying to add great people to your organization.
Now when you get great talent in the building at all levels, how you utilize them becomes the second part of recruiting, which is retention. We see a lot coming at our people, and that speaks to their level of talent. If we do the right things and put them in good situations, it gives them a reason to stay. Those applying to work for you may know your reputation but it goes even further if the message they hear is coming from those who’ve been a part of it.
When I was working in DC for WTOP, people would ask about non-competes and I’d say ‘if you want to leave here, we’re not going to stand in your way‘. I felt and many others did that there was no better place to work in that market, which is why most didn’t leave. I’ve always felt that if you build the right culture and give people a chance to make a great living, they’re going to want to stay for a long time. That’s how you continue growing.
JB: Another situation that you have to balance is making sure you’re doing what’s best for local while also helping corporate advance their key initiatives. That can be frustrating for sellers who want more inventory, digital folks who have to promote certain things on the brand’s socials or hosts who hear a podcast being promoted during their show and want to know why. How do you navigate those waters?
MS: We discuss that a lot. It can be frustrating when local folks don’t understand the bigger picture. That comes down to our department heads needing to communicate why we’re doing certain things. If we share information, hopefully we can get them to at least understand. They’re not always going to agree. If the company wins, it helps us, even if sometimes it may not look that way to those inside the building.
The reality is that we work for a great company, and our company is always looking to grow. They invest in a lot of areas and it requires us on the local level to help them promote things. I think we can remain successful doing what we do while still helping the company improve its business.
JB: Pennsylvania is a state where sports betting is legal. This is a space that Audacy is doing a lot of work in between local brands and the BetQL network. For sports radio, the sports betting category has been a key revenue driver the past few years, whereas others such as auto haven’t been as dependable as they’ve been in the past. So much can change in the years to come, but when you look into your crystal ball today to try and figure out which categories will provide the biggest upside for radio revenue in the near future, which ones are you most excited about and why?
MS: The event business is something we see being very important. We’ve been active in that space and have done well in it. I expect that to continue. I have great relationships in the auto industry from growing up in it, and fortunately we’ve done ok in that category even if some others have been down a bit. I think that once we have that inventory right, we’ll see a bounce back in the auto category.
Another category I think will be interesting is recruiting. Going forward, companies are going to have to tell their story more to attract people. As new industries arrive and people’s wants, needs and lifestyles change, that becomes an opportunity for us. I know there has also been some discussion of emerging businesses such as Crypto, and though some may feel differently, I don’t see that being a major play for us in the near future.
JB: Prior to becoming a leader in Pittsburgh, I know you spent time in Washington DC working for WTOP. That’s a brand that many view as the most successful station in the industry. What did you learn about leadership there that you carry with you today?
MS: First Jay, I would argue with anyone who says it isn’t the best brand in the industry. Its results year after year support that opinion. When I was there, I worked for great people. Joel Oxley is an incredible GM and forward thinker. Matt Mills, the DOS is one of the best systems guys I’ve ever been around. They’re smart people.
What I took away first was how important it is to have an incredible product. WTOP has that and it opens a lot of doors to discuss business. The culture and leadership there also matter. Everyone had a role on the team and they knew how to play it. From Joel to Matt to the former PD Jim Farley and everyone else, they all contributed to the culture and mission, which was to win. They also made it a point to look ahead often. That’s something we can do better.
Leaving there was hard. I married a Pittsburgh girl and lucked out joining a great company which has allowed me to grow but being part of WTOP was an important part of my career. A guy like Matt has had multiple opportunities to leave and become a GM and he’s never done it. It’s because he’s in a great situation. It goes back to what I said earlier, if you work somewhere great, and the culture is good, and you’re given the tools to do your job and make a good living, why leave?
JB: If you can offer a piece of advice about managing to anyone currently in management or considering a path in media management, what would it be?
MS: I say two things. There’s not a playbook you can use to guarantee success. You’re going to have to work really hard, build relationships, and understand that it’s an all the time job now. Those who can dedicate themselves to it are the ones who I think will see the best results. Balance is important, and I’m all for that but you have to be completely engaged and constantly thinking about this when you’re at this level.
As far as day to day stuff goes, I think a lot of this is about the people you work with and putting them in good situations. If you care about them, value them, and are fair and honest, you’ll have their trust and respect. You need those things if you expect to create a winning culture.
The last thing I’ll say, which I learned as a DOS, was to be honest and transparent with upper management. If you screwed up, tell them that you did and share what you’re doing to fix it. There’s very few people in the 100% club. Sometimes you’re going to be off. They see the numbers. They know. Don’t try and make it seem as if it’s always good. Give them the facts, be accountable, and have a plan for improving.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.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.