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Donovan Lewis: From Holding Court in the Cafeteria to Hosting at The Ticket

“It hasn’t gotten old yet. It feels like sometimes you may hit a wall and think okay, you want to do something else, but I really enjoy getting up every single day going into the office, working with Norm and trying to think of different ways to entertain the audience.”

Brian Noe

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Donovan Lewis

You can’t assume the double play in baseball. You also can’t assume to have a rough idea of what a host’s journey in sports radio has been like. Take Donovan Lewis for instance. He hosts at one of the most successful stations in the country, The Ticket in Dallas, Texas.

He must have started at a sports station, right? Nope, he began in news talk. Then sports radio? Nope, next he worked at a classic rock station. Hmm, conservative talk radio and classic rock; sounds like a white guy. Nope, Lewis is black. Well, being from Dallas he’s probably a Cowboys fan. Nope, he was an Eagles fan growing up.

Donovan Lewis isn’t predictable, which makes him and his journey so interesting. The Dallas native began his career at 570 KLIF in 1993. Lewis was a self-described, bottom-of-the-rung board-op who only worked about nine hours on weekends. Then he transitioned to the classic rock station 93.3 The Bone. Lewis occasionally got some airtime, but he was mostly a board-op and producer for nearly 13 years combined before landing at The Ticket.

Lewis talks about the biggest bump he’s faced during his radio journey. He also mentions what it’s like to host a show for nearly seven years with Dallas icon Norm Hitzges. Lewis touches on his love for a certain NFL quarterback and tosses in an epic story about Alice Cooper as well. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: Where are you from?

Donovan Lewis: I’m born and raised in Dallas. It’s a little section of Dallas called Oak Cliff. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, man. Nothing is ever going to change. I love the little neighborhood where I grew up. I went to school for radio and television; they always told us to be prepared to move anywhere and everywhere if you’re really serious about this. I’ve been really blessed, man, not having to leave the city of Dallas to keep going with the radio game. I started here and I’ve never lived anywhere else but Dallas. That’s pretty unusual in this business.

BN: Who were your favorite teams growing up and where do you stand with those teams now?

DL: It’s funny because being from Dallas of course everyone thinks you’re a Cowboys fan and I wasn’t a Cowboys fan growing up because my dad was not a Cowboys fan. Of course I want to grow up and be like him. He didn’t like the Cowboys so I grew up not liking them. But of course if you’re going to do radio in Dallas, you’re going to have to like the Cowboys somehow, someway.

Right now if you ask me what my favorite team is, now it’s Dallas. But growing up, man, I loved and idolized Randall Cunningham. I was an Eagles fan for a while and wherever he went, I followed. That’s my guy. That’s who I was in love with when I was growing up. I considered myself an Eagles fan, but always been Rangers, always been Mavericks. Of course hockey came around here in ‘93, so I’ve always been a Stars fan. Yeah, it’s pretty unusual, I’m pretty homegrown until you get to the football team. I wasn’t a Cowboys fan at all.

BN: Did they give you a hard time because the Eagles — it’d be one thing if your team was the Ravens, but a divisional rival? What was that like?

DL: Oh dude, it was not fun. I’ll tell you that much. I think everyone understood, but it just didn’t matter because my love for Randall Cunningham wasn’t going anywhere. They just had to accept the fact that whatever team he was going to be on, that’s who I was going to like.

I went to a game one time at Texas Stadium and I had my Randall Cunningham jersey on. My wife now, who was my girlfriend at the time, had a Cowboys jersey on when we went. I understand when you go to a rival’s stadium how things can go, but man, that’s the most afraid I’ve ever been in a stadium before in my life. I thought that was it. I thought I was done. I was like, ‘I’m about to get beat up, they’re going to take my girlfriend, they’re going to take everything I have and leave me in a bloody pulp in this Cunningham jersey’. But I survived. It worked out.

BN: What led to you getting on the air at The Ticket?

DL: I was at The Bone and I was producing the morning show. It did include some on-air things, but not the whole time. Then Cumulus came in and bought all the stations in 2006. That’s when they fired everybody at The Bone. I thought I was going to get fired too. They said there’s an opportunity for you to slide over and see how it’s going to work at The Ticket if that’s what you want. I was like ‘hell yeah, that’s exactly what I want’. That’s how it started. It was like May of 2006.

They kind of pushed me onto the show that was on from noon to 3. It was BaD Radio with Bob Sturm and Dan McDowell. They had been together for about seven years before I got there. So it was almost like okay, here’s the third man, go make it work. They didn’t really give us any direction or anything like that. Of course me being paranoid and all this other stuff, I didn’t know how to fit in.

It’s funny because right when I got in there with them is when the Mavericks made their first 2006 title run. Those guys were going on the road. They were in Miami for the Finals and I was back in the studio because I was so new and I didn’t know what was going on. It was the weirdest time ever, man. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it. I can’t find my way. I don’t know when to jump in. Those guys are talking to each other and I’m just kind of sitting back here supposedly the third man on the show in Dallas. It was a little awkward at first.

I had a conversation with Corby Davidson who’s on The Hardline now. It was at training camp. It’s 2006, it’s July and we went to Oxnard for Cowboys training camp. We sat by the pool, man, and we talked for like three hours. He was a third man on a show and he was telling me hey man, get your footing, they wouldn’t have you here if it wasn’t for a reason. Once you find your voice it’ll be fine, just be patient. I wasn’t comfortable for a year, year and a half, you’ve been doing this for three months. It’ll come to you. It’ll come around.

He kind of talked me off the ledge a little bit. That’s how it started ticking up on the roller coaster as far as that went. You find your footing. You find your voice. You get comfortable and then you just keep on pushing. It was a weird start to the beginning of me at The Ticket. I’m telling you, it was crazy.

BN: How did it work for you to co-host with Norm Hitzges?

DL: That was a little weird also because I was with Bob and Dan for like nine years. I’m comfortable, I know exactly what they expect from me. I know what to expect from them, we’re kind of rockin’ and rollin’. Now I’m going on a show with a guy that’s been doing it by himself for 40 years. Now it goes from being pretty comfortable in your surroundings to I don’t know how he’s going to accept this. Is it going to be cool having a partner?

The thing that helped us out though is we did the Cowboys postgame show together. We had done it for eight years before I moved on the show with him. So we did have some type of knowledge of working with each other. Then once he said ‘you know what, I’m cool with it, let’s go with it’, as soon as I got with Norm it was pretty instantaneous that I felt pretty comfortable being the co-host of my own show. It didn’t take too long because he was really cool.

I told him one of the things I wanted was not to be Norm’s show with Donovan sitting in; this is our show together. It’s almost like starting brand new and trying to build something. I think that will benefit both of us. He totally agreed. You’re going to have some elements of the things he’s used to and then some new stuff that I incorporated in and it meshed pretty well really quickly. I was really surprised by that because somebody’s doing something by themselves for 40 years can get quite comfortable doing it by themselves and not want to have some young whippersnapper in there thinking he knows what he’s doing. That was a cool jump.

One of my professors at school, who is a real big mentor for me, used to tell me, “once you figure out what you want to do in your life, write down some goals on a piece of paper. And every now and then just look at it and see if you can check some of those off.” One of those goals that I had written down was to have a show with my name on it. Bob and Dan, it was BaD Radio. That show didn’t have my name on it. Now I get with Norm Hitzges and now this show has my name on it.

That was a pretty big milestone for me to check that goal that I had in 1993 off the list. That’s really cool. Some of that stuff, we try to be all hard and take for granted and all that stuff, but when you kind of get one of those milestone moments that you’ve probably been wanting since you’ve been in college or something like that, is pretty dang special.

BN: What would you say is the biggest bump in the road you’ve faced over nearly three decades in your radio career?

DL: We had this one thing with our company; they wanted the people of color to let them know how it is working in that company being a person of color. I said sometimes I feel like I have to work twice as hard to get half as far. To try to let you know ‘hey, I’m worthy of this position, just look at me.’ I don’t think it’s just this company specifically, I just think that’s how this game seems to be. 

Just being a brother in this radio game, I think sometimes it’s had some of the bumps that a lot of people may not think it had. Trying to prove myself that I’m worthy of being on the air and not trying to be anyone else, just being myself, I think that’s been the biggest bump.

When I was in school, one time I got kicked out of class because my professor told me when someone closes their eyes and listens to you, they shouldn’t be able to tell whether you’re white or black. I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. It doesn’t matter if you know whether I’m white or black as long as I’m speaking correctly, as long as I’m giving you the information you need, who cares?

It’s about proving yourself. It’s about the opportunity and sometimes you just don’t get the opportunity to prove yourself. I’ve gotten the opportunity and I feel I’ve done a good job of proving that I do belong in this game. I’ve been here for a while, but a lot of people who look like me I don’t think they’ve gotten the proper opportunities to showcase their talents just because of the perception of what sports radio is supposed to sound like. I think I share that bump along with some of my colleagues who look like me to try to change that barrier and say ‘it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you know what you’re doing and you sound good doing it’, that’s all that should matter.

BN: Has that feeling changed for you over the last couple of years, or has it stayed relatively the same?

DL: I feel like it is getting better, but it’s not nearly where it’s supposed to be. Sometimes, especially with some of the things that have happened across America in the last few years and me being the only African-American voice at my station, I’m almost carrying a bigger load as far as what you say and how you say it and how it’s going to be perceived and all of that stuff. It’s something that you have to be conscious about.

Look, I tell everybody, I don’t speak for anybody but me. You may look like me and you may not believe a word that I’m saying and I’m okay with that because I’m not trying to speak for a race. I’m not trying to speak for anybody but myself and my opinion on whatever situation is out there. I think that’s the beauty of our station because it’s not just sports. They allow us to speak freely about a whole bunch of things, issues sensitive or not. You are allowed to say what you truly feel, what you truly believe without any consequences from the company. I do think that that’s one of the better things about our radio station that allows us to do that.

I think it’s a little bit of an extra burden when you are the only African-American voice and you’re speaking on sensitive subjects like that. I take that responsibility seriously, man. I really do. You’re going to get talked about badly by some people, some of your own people, some people that just disagree with you, all that. But that’s the price of playing poker, man. That’s the platform that you have and you have to try to use it to the best of your ability and try to do what you feel is right. 

BN: [Market manager] Dan Bennett has been a big believer in you along the way. What has he meant to your career?

DL: He’s meant a ton, man. He tells me all the time, he just walked into the cafeteria one time and he saw me holding court. That’s when I was a board operator. It was lunch and there was a table full of people and I was holding court. He thought you know what, maybe that can work on the air. He’s been really instrumental in allowing the opportunities for me to show myself where I think I may not have gotten those opportunities. He saw something in me and thought ‘hey, let’s put this on the air and see if it works.’

He knew that I wanted more than what I was getting at that particular time. Once he knew I was willing to do whatever it takes to work up and try to prove myself, he allowed those opportunities to happen. And again, when Cumulus came in and bought The Bone, I thought I was going to get fired along with everybody else at that radio station. But he said ‘let’s see if this works at The Ticket. I think it’ll be a good fit.’ I’m thankful to him for that big time because it worked out and we are where we are right now. He’s played a huge part of where I am right now.

BN: Your story is crazy, man. Same city, didn’t have to go to Iowa or whatever. From a classic rock station; it’s wild, right?

DL: Yeah, from conservative talk radio to classic rock to sports radio. Because when I was in college, sports radio was just kind of a niche genre. It wasn’t as prevalent as it is right now. I didn’t think about sports radio as a job. I didn’t even think about that. If I wanted to get into sports it was going to be doing games, sideline reporter or something like that. And now that that opportunity worked out. It just makes the story even better though. There’s no way I thought I would ever work at a classic rock station and I almost didn’t take the job because I don’t know anything about the music.

I’ll tell you a quick, funny story; when I got hired for the producer gig for the classic rock station, the weekend before I was going to start they had this big event. They said ‘why don’t you come out and check it out and then start on Monday, kind of get a feel for everything.’ I was like, that’s cool. They said ‘hey, do you want to meet Alice Cooper?’ I was like ‘yeah, who is she?’ They were like oh my gosh. You got a lot to learn buddy boy. [Laughs] You’ve got a lot to learn. That’s how my classic rock career got started.

BN: Hey, Shannon Sharpe is going to be in town. Oh yeah? Is she pretty?

DL: Nikki Sixx. Oh, who is she? Yeah, you don’t know anything about this. That’s how the classic rock career got started by asking about Alice Cooper, who is she.

BN: Man, I’m sure you came a long way from that point.

DL: It didn’t take long to realize that I’ve got a lot to learn. But it was four of the most fun years I’ve had in radio. It was really cool exploring that whole new world. Like these songs made in the ‘70s were new to me. So I’m like okay, I knew nothing about this and it was fantastic.

BN: That’s cool, man. How about the future? Your piece of paper, do you have anything else written on it besides having your name on a show that you want to check off?

DL: I know I have it somewhere and I need to go and look at it and see if anything hasn’t been checked off. Man, that’s a great question because it’s Dallas, it’s a huge market, you have your own show with your name on it and it feels like I can get really, really comfortable right here. It’s my hometown. I’m pretty sure there are going to be other things that I think of to say okay, this is something else I want to accomplish or get into. But right now, man, this is dream job one and it’s been that way for a long time.

Just to try to do it as best as I can. It’s been really cool. I think there are still some challenges in doing this job. That kind of keeps the blood going, it keeps the mind racing to try to think of different things, different segments, different topics and all that stuff. It hasn’t gotten old yet. It feels like sometimes you may hit a wall and think okay, you want to do something else, but I really enjoy getting up every single day going into the office, working with Norm and trying to think of different ways to entertain the audience.

I wanted to be an engineer when I first went to college. I couldn’t imagine being an engineer now, I’d be asleep right now. I’d be so bored with myself. No disrespect to engineers, but this is definitely a path that I saw. I didn’t think it would be this wild and crazy or anything like that. But it’s been fun as hell and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

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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