It took Steve Wexler a long time to find the right man for the job when he was looking for a new PD for WTMJ and ESPN Milwaukee. He was in no hurry, and why should he be? The guy has as strong of a programming background as anyone.
Wexler came up in the radio business through the programming side of things. Now, he is the market manager for Good Karma Brands’ Milwaukee stations. He has experienced plenty of wins and a few losses too in one of the country’s most competitive sports radio markets.
In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Steve and I talk about losing the Packers, serving advertising categories that have been forever transformed by the pandemic, what matters most in a station’s digital offerings, and so much more. Enjoy!
Demetri Ravanos: I want to ask you about your approach to working with programmers. Obviously that is how you came up in the business. So how do you balance sharing your own knowledge with letting the person you have hired now conceptualize and execute their own vision for a station?
Steve Wexler: Great question. I mean, I guess the quick answer is when I was a programmer, I know that the best dynamic I had with a general manager was somebody that could make me better, not to steer the car necessarily, but to make me better, which might mean ideas, it might mean critique, it might mean praise.
I hope what I’ve done over the years since I came up through the programing ranks is help the programmers around me think critically, evaluate programming, and provide ideas. I’ve worked pretty hard not to grab the wheel because when I was a young PD, I didn’t really want somebody grabbing the wheel, but I sure as heck wanted help driving.
I think the good programmers have a vision and they have a sense of the brand, but they also want to get better all the time. Hopefully, I help them do that.
DR: Because that leap from programing to sitting in the big chair is becoming more common, did you have guys reach out to you from other markets to ask about what the experience was and what it is like to go from solely worrying about programming to overseeing an entire building?
SW: Yeah, I’ve had the chance to talk about that with people at some of the industry conferences. I will tell you that I think that “big chair,” as you call it, has less to do with whether you came up through programing or sales or marketing or whatever. I think it has more to do with whether you’ve got a sense of strategy and at the end of the day, whether or not you’re a leader. There are great leaders in programming. There are great leaders in sales. There are leaders all over our organizations. Really good companies start there and develop and groom leaders who understand our business and aren’t too worried whether they came up as programmers or sales managers.
DR: So as a sports radio market, Milwaukee has a lot of options. Let’s put programming to the side for a second. In terms of standing out with clients, with partners, what is the strategy to make sure that when your sellers are on the streets, they can differentiate or they can tell people what makes ESPN 94.5 different from the Audacy and iHeart brands in the sports radio space locally?
SW: You know, it’s interesting. We don’t spend too much time in our company worrying about or thinking about the other sports brands. We have a ton of respect for them.
Our view is that the boats all rise with the high tide. So we like a very robust, active, successful sports marketplace. We think that’s good for everybody. And it’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever spent less time really thinking about my, “competition.”
We know they’re there. We’re aware of things that they’re doing, but our view is that if we overdeliver for our partners, if we give them tremendous value, if we give them great ideas, if we execute and activate seamlessly and flawlessly, then we know we’re going to be successful. So we really don’t spend time comparing ourselves to the others, not out of arrogance, but more out of a real sense of partnership with our advertisers.
DR: Speaking of those advertising partners, I am guessing it is no coincidence that WTMJ and ESPN 94.5 fit together like puzzle pieces when it comes to sports programming. Is that how you have sellers talking about what you can offer new clients?
SW: Well, we definitely like the fact that there’s so much we can offer in our portfolio. I mean, we have hospitality. We have the Tundra Trio, which are homes that we own and operate up in Green Bay. We offer our ESPN Digital exclusive products, our news talk on WTMJ, our play-by-play with the Bucks, Brewers, and Marquette. Of course, we have the talent that’s on these stations that all do the endorsements.
So yeah, I mean, we definitely have a market that is designed strategically to do what you just described, which is to really take partners’ needs and solve them in a big way.
It is our belief that to differentiate today, you better have content that is not easily replicated given the amount of choices people have. I mean, you were talking about competition a moment ago. The competition is worldwide, right? So we have an intensely local focus, a real laser focus on making sure that partners who we work with hopefully come away with such a great experience that they can’t imagine going anywhere else.
DR: Unfortunately, I do have to ask you about the Packers play-by-play deal. Would you mind telling me a little bit about the conversations you were having and the strategizing you did that moment you realized that the door was closed and that the team would not be back on WTMJ? How quickly did you start thinking about what this meant from both a ratings and revenue standpoint?
SW: Look, we’re huge Packers fans and we have been since 1929. We are today. We always will be. And quite frankly, we’re going to be doing some amazing programming around the team this year on WTMJ and on ESPN and with our hospitality at the Tundra Trio. All I would tell you is that the model changed from us running the network a couple of years ago to the Packers, obviously well within their rights, running it themselves.
Our view is that we love sports. We love all of it. We’re obviously going to be all about the green and gold this year. I think at the end of the day, we have to do what’s right for our partners and for our business and frankly, for our teammates. I like to say they lost us, not we lost them because, you know, the big signal is obviously going to be an issue. They’re going to do just fine, and the folks at iHeart will take good care of the franchise. And we’re going to be there with amazing programing, including Brett Favre. We just signed him to an exclusive deal with us for this coming season that we’re very excited about.
DR: So I want to talk to you about another station in your building, 101.7 The Truth. When you launch a format like that, what did you need to learn or maybe understand better before you could properly support that staff as the leader in the building?
SW: Yeah, what a great story that is. I’ve launched a lot of formats over the years in the different stations I’ve been involved in. This one was definitely the most unique for a number of reasons. One is we were right smack dab in the middle of the pandemic lockdown. So, you know, business conditions in the markets were not great. People really weren’t innovating and creating and building. At that time, we were all just sort of holding on for dear life.
We’re very fortunate to have a founder and CEO (Craig Karmazin) who really doesn’t play from a position of defense. He plays from offense and “what’s the best thing for the company long-term?”.
He came to me a couple of days after the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis and said “Wex, shouldn’t there be a really well-resourced, local Black talk station in Milwaukee? There’s some different choices here, but there’s nothing that’s really local that has outreach, that’s resourced to really reflect the community.” And I said, “Well, I know people have tried it over the years.” And he said, “Well, look, we’re a locally owned company. We believe in being here in the long term. Why don’t we do that?”
I’m thinking, okay, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, right? And I’ve never built a Black talk station from scratch.
I said, “Well Craig, we’re going to need to start with a staff. We’re going to have to really get the people who can do this,” because I was concerned, if you do it wrong, it could be worse than not doing it at all. I didn’t want to come up with a poor version of this.
I was fortunate to be able to find an African-American general manager, Cherie Harris, and program director, Kyle Wallace. We went and found talent that we had to recruit either virtually or off-campus.
We didn’t even have a signal! I mean, I said to Craig, “You know, one problem is we don’t have a place to put this”.
DR: It’s just a small problem, right?
SW: Small, a small problem.
Craig said, “Oh, well, I’ll figure that out.” And of course, a couple of weeks later he says, okay, I got a signal. So, you know, we went and built a logo and a brand and we got the team together.
I remember the meeting where we were deciding on the name of the station and the team said, “we want to call it The Truth because we want this to be raw. We want it to be authentic. We want it to be real. Let’s call it the truth.” And I said, “Guys, we can do that, but we’ve got to be careful because that’s a big word. You know, we’re setting ourselves up here with ‘The Truth'”. And they said, “Well, it’s our truth and it’s going to be real and it’s going to be honest.” So we went with it.
That was, gosh, a year and five months now. And the station has grown. It’s winning significant awards locally and statewide and nationally. The business is really starting to gain traction. I couldn’t be more proud of that team and what we built from very, very humble beginnings. We didn’t have a signal, we just had an idea. And here, a year and a half later, we’ve got a bona fide, important voice in our community.
DR: We talk all the time on our site about the lack of diversity in leadership in sports radio. I think you could probably say the same for news talk. Certainly, you want The Truth to be able to continue to serve the Black community in Milwaukee, but I wonder if you’ve had conversations with Ryan Maguire and others in the company about maybe using that station as the incubator to then create that diversity in those other formats.
SW: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, we saw not only the opportunity to build that Truth brand, but we really did feel it was important to have a diverse workforce in our building. I’ll give you a great example. Not this season but the year prior, the Milwaukee Bucks go to the NBA Finals. We have a huge championship parade in Milwaukee. Our team, and I’m not sure we would have thought of this a couple of years ago, our team got together and put together a three-station championship parade, triple-cast. We mashed up The Truth talent, the ESPN talent, the WTMJ talent.
So imagine this. You’ve got a program where we’re providing live coverage of the championship parade for the Milwaukee Bucks, and you’ve got the morning team from the Black talk station on the air with the ESPN team on the air with the WTMJ team all at different locations around the city. I will tell you, it was one of the most amazing days that I’ve been part of. Not only did I think we did a really great job and captured the day, but you heard voices you would not normally have heard and perspectives that you normally would not have heard.
Remember when the Milwaukee Bucks wouldn’t come out of the locker room? That one night after the Kenosha police shooting? The perspectives we were able to share were just different from what we normally would have had.
The Truth team, it is not uncommon to hear them on WTMJ. It’s not uncommon now to hear the WTMJ team now on The Truth, which is really fascinating. So I love the fact that we can now, you know, whatever you want to call it, cross-pollinate, inform each other. I think we’re all better for hearing more diverse points of view and we’ve certainly created that.
DR: So I want to ask you about something that your colleague, Sam Pines, has said to me many times. Whenever we talk about ratings and the Good Karma stations, he’s very fond of saying that “a ratings point never bought a cheeseburger,” right? It’s something I’ve heard other Good Karma market managers repeat too. But there’s a difference for you. You guys in Milwaukee do use ratings. I wonder if that changes the standard for what success is at your cluster versus the rest of the company?
SW: You’re talking to a guy who came out of a more traditional world, right? I ran a radio group for E.W. Scripps, a large, publicly-traded company. Things like ratings and being more attuned to cost per point was definitely part of how I grew up in the business.
I do look at the ratings. I’m aware of them. I want to know, at least based on Nielsen’s methodology, you know, whether I’m growing or whether we’re stalling. I’m with Sam though. Our partners do not call me and ask me, “hey, what are the ratings at 3:00 in the afternoon?”. They’ll call and say, “Hey, do you guys have any ideas to help me grow my business or help me solve the problem or help me build my brand?”. And if I could do that and do that really well utilizing our digital broadcast and event assets, I don’t care what the rating was in the afternoon.
You know, I’m a fan of being smart about the market and being well-informed and knowing what the ratings maybe are telling me in terms of which way the wind is blowing, but we don’t rely on them to make our strategic decisions about the things we’re going to do.
DR: So I want to ask you about your advertising partners because a lot of businesses have changed with the pandemic. I wonder from an advertising standpoint, are there any sectors that you see that seem to be changed forever, business categories that you’ve had to completely change your strategy?
SW: I would say the health sector for sure. Not only was there a greater need that is continued, but I think for them that sense of information and helping the public just be smarter was a change that we saw during the pandemic that has continued. You know, what they tell us is “help us inform as opposed to try to sell you a colonoscopy.”
I think this plays to audio’s specialty. I mean, if we’re able to provide information, some of the other categories that are similar are like finance will see the benefits of that model. We’re in times right now where there’s a lot of head-scratching about savings and retirement coming out of the pandemic, especially right now with inflation and the stock market. A lot of our partners are saying, can you help us inform the market and help people be smarter about their money and their health? So I think any partner, any advertising category where information is power is definitely a change we’ve seen and stations like ours are in a perfect position to take advantage of that.
DR: So along the lines of things changing with the pandemic, obviously more and more listening has moved to streaming in the last two years than ever before. Have given any thought to what a station’s app needs to be now? Are there things that we can all be doing better or services that make sense to provide beyond just on-demand listening?
SW: I think I would say that there are always features and I guess other ways to engage that might be good. But I will tell you, sometimes we’re so quick to decorate the tree. I think it was A Charlie Brown Christmas where he’s got a little tree and he puts all those ornaments on it and the thing falls all over.
Early on, I think we all were like, “oh, we can have like instant engagement, we can have polls and we can create fireworks when you hit that button.” And what we’ve noticed is that when you make it really easy, it pays off. First of all, let’s assume the content is compelling and good. I’ve said for a long time, I worry to some degree that we talk a lot about the technology, as well we should, but if we’re not focused on the content, I kind of think the technology might not matter.
You know, a lot of us, years ago, realized that with ad insertion, I think the accountants must have come up with that idea, not the broadcasters in the room. The listening experience, at least in my world, was not very good. You know, shows would get joined in progress and you’d miss 20 seconds because we had these clunky ad insertions.
If I’ve got an hour, I’d rather spend 50 minutes of that on making sure our content is as great as it can be, and we’ll spend the last 10 minutes on making sure it is a great listening experience for the fan.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
What Tom Brady Needs To Know Before His First Fox Broadcast
“Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Tom Brady announced he is retiring from the NFL today. It happened literally a year to the day since the last time he retired.
The last retirement lasted just 40 days. Before the end of March of last year, Tom Brady had decided he was done pretending to be happy about embracing life off of the field and announced he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third season.
I guess we cannot rule out that that will happen again. The difference this time around, at least for Tom Brady’s professional life, is that he has a plan for his future. Now that his playing days are over, it is time for him to start his ten-year deal with FOX to be the analyst in the network’s top NFL booth.
Audiences do not know what to expect. No one can deny that Brady brings star power. He is the GOAT after all, but we cannot say for sure if he will be any good.
The pressure is tremendous too. Not only is Tom Brady embarking on a new career, but football fans seem to have taken a liking to the guy he is about to unseat. Whether Greg Olsen gets kicked back down to the number two booth or he is forced to share the spotlight in a three-man booth, plenty of people will look at Brady as the reason we hear less from the guy regarded by many as the best analyst on TV right now.
Brady does not have much room for error here. Since that is the case, I thought I would get some perspectives from people that can help him out. I asked three people to give me their best advice for Tom Brady.
Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.
THE PLAYER TURNED ANALYST: ANTHONY BECHT
In 2000, the New York Jets used the 27th pick of the NFL Draft to select Anthony Becht. He played for five different teams during his twelve NFL seasons.
His broadcasting career began in 2013. Becht worked on ESPN for eight years as an analyst on the network’s college football games. He has since abandoned the booth to return to the sidelines. He will be the head coach of the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL starts its third first season this month.
I texted and asked him to look back on his broadcasting career. What does he wish he knew before he started? Here are the three pieces of advice that he had for Tom Brady.
1. Less is more. Folks want to watch the game and just know the “why”. Providing tangible information in a five or six second window is key.
2. Fans want to know about your personal experiences as a player – information and stories they can’t get or wouldn’t even know about because they never did it at the level we did. Share those when the time comes in a game.
3. Have a strong opinion about what you agree or disagree with, but be able to voice it without being demeaning towards players and coaches. It’s an art form and takes time to articulate that in a way that’s done right. I never bash any player or coach because a lot of work goes into be a professional athlete and coach. That needs to be respected but critiqued appropriately.Anthony Becht via text message
THE PLAY-BY-PLAY LEGEND: TIM BRANDO
Tim Brando has worked with a lot of people. That happens when you have been calling football and basketball action on TV for as long as he has. When I called him on Wednesday to discuss what is ahead for Tom Brady, he drew on his experience with another Brady.
Brando was working with Jole Klatt in his early days at FOX, but he and Klatt were not going to be an exclusive team. He remembers Brady Quinn coming in to their booth shortly after his NFL career had eneded. Quinn was about to make his debut for FOX. Before they were ready to turn him loose, the network wanted the former quarterback to get a feel for the pace and atmosphere of a broadcast booth.
I do think it’s important that you have a new talent understand what that workplace is like in the booth – the choreography that takes place, because there is choreography. If the ball is deflected, your spotter’s hands are coming together like a bad clap. If there’s a hit, who caused the hit? Who stripped it? So there’s a hand signal for stripping the ball and then recovering the ball with the arms closing together. So who got the recovery? Who caused the fumble? Those things are always helpful.
There are things that are going on frantically in the booth, but you as a broadcaster have to remain calm, understand it, and sound succinct and confident. That just takes time and it takes reps.
That’s one of the great things I think that Greg (Olsen) probably had an advantage in, as do a lot of analysts that get better over time. They do games of lesser importance that maybe the whole world is not watching.Tim Brando via Telephone
Tom Brady won’t have the luxury of time or of reps under the radar. He may get to do a few practice games, but the first time he will be calling a game on live television, it will be one of the biggest of the week.
Brando says in that case, it is really important that Brady use his instincts to his advantage in the booth the way he did on the field.
I don’t know Tom well, but I know him well enough to know that he prides himself on preparation. I don’t doubt for one minute that he will be prepared. He’s obviously an incredible competitor. You know, this is a this is a business of competition too.
If you’re a great player, just like a coach, you love the ecstasy of victory. You don’t want to admit it, but you love the agony of the defeat as well. That feeling of defeat is something we feed on to motivate you for your next performance. In television and sports television, you don’t get that in terms of winning and losing, but you do get it if you look at it as a great performance,
I believe that all great broadcasters are performers at heart. It takes a certain level of of a theater. It’s live. It’s not scripted.
I think some players that get in the booth that are looking to have that same, you know, euphoria that they have after playing and winning a game. Some of them get that and understand that in broadcasting and get out of that the same thing and others don’t.Tim Brando via Telephone
THE BROADCASTING COACH: GUS RAMSEY
Plenty of broadcasters turn to Gus Ramsey for critiques and advice. The Program Director for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting at Full Sail University is also a broadcasting coach working with clients at all levels of the business. They trust his opinion because of his professional experience.
In a prior life, Ramsey was the producer of SportsCenter on ESPN. He has worked with a number of incredibly talented people and been tasked with taking newbies to new heights, so I asked him what he would be thinking if it were his job to get Tom Brady ready for his first FOX broadcast.
Sometimes great athletes forget that most humans don’t know what the athletes know. Things that are basic or simple or even mundane to the athlete are incredible pieces of wisdom or insight to the average fan.
When I was at ESPN we had Tony Gwynn in for an episode of Baseball Tonight. In our show meeting, Tony was explaining why a hitter was slumping because we was cupping his wrist. He went on explaining it for 30 seconds or so. The room was in total silence, eating up every word. The greatest hitter of our generation was doing a deep-dive on hitting. It was amazing.
Tony suddenly got a little self-conscious, stopped explaining and apologized for “going on too long” and we were all like “No!! Keep going!” Tony thought is was boring. It was just the opposite.
Athletes can think things they’ve learned and repeated their whole lives are common knowledge so sometimes they don’t share that info because they think “everyone knows this.”
I want to walk away from a broadcast feeling like I learned something. Sometimes the ex-athlete doesn’t realize how much educating they can do in a broadcast.
The other thing I always encourage former athletes or coaches to do is to take the viewer where they’ve never been; on the field, in the locker room, in a contract negotiation, etc. If you can get that viewer to fully appreciate the feelings and emotions of what goes on in those places, you enhance the experience for us.
Terrell Davis was an analyst on NFL Network for a bit after his career. He once described Champ Bailey running back an interception 100 yards by saying as Bailey got to the 50 yard line “right here it feels like someone put sandbags on your ankles.” I’ve never run 100 yards in a football uniform in Denver’s altitude, but Terrell’s line helped me better understand what it feels like.Gus ramsey via text message
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Mark Packer Loves Reading Your Memories & Tributes to Billy Packer
“I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports.”
It still stands today as one of the most iconic moments in the storied history of Arizona basketball. Three simple words said it all as the Wildcats celebrated an overtime win over Duke to win the 1997 national championship. “Simon says championship.” Those were the words of legendary broadcaster Billy Packer as Miles Simon fell to the floor with the ball in his hands. It’s one of many lines his son, Mark Packer, has been reminded of recently.
It was the perfect three words after the country just watched Simon carry Arizona to college basketball glory. Packer captured the moment perfectly, just like he did during every Final Four for 34 years.
Packer passed away last Thursday at the age of 82 but his legacy and impact in sports broadcasting will never perish. He was heard during every NCAA Tournament from 1975 to 2008 and was on the call for some of college basketball’s most iconic moments, including Michael Jordan’s shot to win the 1982 National Championship, Bird vs Magic in 1979, and even Kansas completing an improbable comeback to win the 2008 championship in his last broadcast. And the best part of it all was that Packer did it his own way, with his own unique style.
“It has really been remarkable,” said Mark Packer. “When Billy passed Thursday night we put it out on Twitter and it took off but I didn’t really know what to expect on Friday and Saturday as far as reaction. But the tributes have been fantastic and our family has loved it.
“I have heard from just about everybody and their brother. Folks I never thought I’d hear from, I’ve heard from them, such as commissioners, whether it be the NBA, whether it be other Power 5 leagues, I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports. To me, that’s been comforting to all of us. It just reinforced all the stuff we knew he was about and brings back special memories.”
Packer’s style of broadcasting has been well-documented over the years. He was honest about what he saw and always spoke his mind. Granted, that didn’t always sit well with college basketball fans, but Packer wasn’t concerned about that. He was honest because he cared.
“He wanted the game of college basketball to be the best it possibly could be,” said Mark. “When he saw things he did not like, the one thing he always did was speak his mind. He ruffled feathers and he didn’t care. His intent was to make the game the No. 1 priority. You realize now he didn’t have it out for your team, he was just speaking his mind.”
That style meant fans would often yell at games, ‘You hate Duke! You hate North Carolina!’ Packer’s honesty was often taken by fans as he hated their favorite team. He used to laugh at that, just as Mark does know when he thinks about those moments. That’s because Mark can remember feeling the same way as other fanbases as a kid growing up rooting for NC State.
“When he was calling an NC State game I thought he was always out to get my team,” laughed Mark. “He’d be doing a game in Raleigh — we grew up in Winston-Salem — and the next morning after the game I would be eating breakfast before school and I would say ‘Man, Billy, you really got on so-and-so last night, what’s your problem with NC State?’
“He used to just laugh, because I thought he had an agenda against my team. Of course the funny thing is, we’d go on trips with him to other games and you’d hear fans say, ‘Billy Packer hates my team!’ It almost became a laughing joke, even amongst the family members, that Billy Packer was out to ruin your team’s day when he does a ballgame.”
Mark has always referred to his dad the same his television partners did. That goes for his two other siblings, as well. “Dad” was rarely, if ever, said in the Packer household. Instead, the legendary broadcaster was called by his first name.
“The fact they called him Billy on television, we never called him dad,” said Mark. “We just called him Billy.”
As you can imagine, ‘Billy’ had a lot of stories. That’s normally the case when you’re around the game’s greatest players and broadcast the legendary games we still talk about today. Packer was always quick to share those stories with his family, which made for an entertaining childhood.
Out of the hundreds of messages Mark has received since his dad’s passing, he says he hasn’t heard any stories he’s never heard before. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t been telling him stories about his father.
“We’ve heard them all, quite frankly,” laughed Mark. “Maybe the thing that was so funny about it was that it reinforced some that we thought were total BS when we heard them the first time.”
Packer will always be synonymous with college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. He was the voice of the sport during its golden era and helped bring the magic to TV sets across the world. If Mark had to guess what his dad is most proud of regarding his broadcasting career, he says it would be just that.
“From a broadcasting standpoint, probably the Final Fours,” said Mark. “When you, I think the number was 34 I heard, and he did so many of them, for us, we kind of took it for granted. It was just something he did. It was March and Billy is about to go do March Madness. It was just fabric for not only him personally, but also the family. He just loved the sport and wanted it to be good.”
Mark has carved out an incredible broadcasting career of his own. He’s hosted both radio and TV shows with outlets such as the ACC Network, WFNZ in Charlotte, and ESPNU. Having a front row seat to one of the most iconic careers in broadcasting, undoubtedly helped shape his career. Mark is very forthcoming as to what lesson he took from his dad the most.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Mark said. “That’s prep. He always studied. He was always coming up with notes and angles and facts. I have always done that with the radio and TV shows, that you constantly prep, you constantly read and make notes. You may not use but 10 percent of whatever you’ve been studying, but somewhere down the road you’ll use it again.
“When we were cleaning out his closet I ran into an entire box of old notes that he had from games from yesteryear. I kept every one of them and I can’t wait to look at them and relive those games and see his prep work and point of detail for all those games.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke
“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”
Basketball and Doris Burke have been synonymous for many years. At the age of 7, she started to play the game that would eventually get her to the top of her profession. Along the way she’s recorded many firsts for women in this field which I’ll detail later. Burke has also become an inspiration to other women already in broadcasting and those thinking about a career in media. Pretty impressive.
Burke was raised in Manasquan, New Jersey. She was the youngest of eight children, and started playing basketball in the second grade. She starred at Providence, where she was the team’s point guard all four of her years there and made an impact immediately.
During her freshman year, Doris Burke led the Big East in assists. She was a second-team All-Big East player once and twice made the all-tourney team of the Big East Women’s basketball tournament. Burke held seven records upon graduation, including finishing her career as the school and conference’s all-time assists leader, a record that has since been broken. She served as an assistant coach for her alma mater for two years from 1988-90.
From there it was time to embark on a Hall of Fame career.
ROAD TO ESPN/ABC
Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990 as an analyst for women’s games for Providence on radio. That same year, she began working in the same role on Big East Women’s games on television, and in 1996 she began working Big East men’s games.
Doris Burke has been working for ESPN covering basketball in different roles since 1991. It has also allowed her to do other things along the way that were unchartered for women in the business. In 2000, Burke became the first woman to be a commentator for a New York Knicks game on radio and on television; she is also the first woman to be a commentator for a Big East men’s game, and the first woman to be the primary commentator on a men’s college basketball conference package. In 2017, Burke became a regular NBA game analyst for ESPN, becoming the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full regular-season role.
If that wasn’t enough, from 2009 to 2019 she served as the sideline reporter for the NBA Finals on ABC. I mentioned it was a Hall of Fame career and it was officially deemed as such in 2018. Burke was selected to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the Curt Gowdy Media Award winner.
AS AN ANALYST
“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.” Relying on her past experiences in the game as a player and coach, the information she brings her audience is relatable. Some analysts struggle to bring home a point in a way that a casual fan will understand. Burke has no trouble with this. Her ability to spell it out, concisely and conversationally sets her apart from most analysts, male or female.
Burke attacks her job, knowing that some will question her authority when it comes to commentary on the NBA. She doesn’t mind steering into the skid.
“I am mindful of the fact that I have not played or coached in the NBA,” Burke said to Sportscasting.com last year. “It doesn’t mean that I can’t do a very competent job. I think I try to do that every single night, and I’m never afraid to ask questions.”
It’s all about the information to Burke, and has nothing to do with the fact she’s a woman covering the NBA.
“If you enhance a viewer’s experience, it doesn’t matter what your gender is,” she said. “As long as you are competent and put in the work … you’re going to be accepted.”
Doris Burke learned the ropes so to speak from several women that came before her. In an NBA.com piece from January of last year, she outlined how much she enjoyed watching former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Gayle Gardner. Early on in her career at ESPN, Burke got to work with Robin Roberts on WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts along with Ann Meyers Drysdale and Nancy Lieberman. Roberts was Burke’s inspiration as she started her career path. She admired the professionalism that each displayed.
“Working alongside Robin Roberts … the one thing I would tell you is the most powerful means to change or impact somebody is by your actions,” Burke said. “She was the epitome of professionalism and competency and garnered the respect of the people around her because of the work habits she had. Watching Robin early on let me know that the basis for everything is the work you put into something.”
While Roberts may have been influential to Burke, Burke has been a beacon for other woman that are getting opportunities in broadcasting. When asked about their role model, YES Network analyst Sarah Kustok, 76ers play-by-play broadcaster Kate Scott and former WNBA player and current Miami Heat studio analyst Ruth Riley Hunter all mentioned Burke by name.
“Burke is the best example for anyone — male or female,” Hunter told NBA.com. “I love the way she describes the game. She adds so much to every broadcast, and when I was playing in the WNBA I was always really inspired by her work.”
Burke is popular amongst her colleagues at ESPN/ABC, thanks to a tireless work ethic an ability to adapt to whichever sport she may be calling that day. Count Jeff Van Gundy among her biggest fans.
“She’s the best, most-versatile analyst and commentator at ESPN,” Van Gundy said of Doris Burke in 2017 via Deadspin. “She does it all—great interviewer, commentator, studio analyst—everything. And she is an expert at it all—women’s and men’s college basketball, the NBA and the WNBA. She’s the LeBron James of sportscasters. There’s no better broadcaster out there right now.”
Burke is equally a big fan of Van Gundy and the top broadcast crew for ESPN/ABC’s NBA coverage. That includes Mike Breen and Mark Jackson as well.
“We are talking about three of the best to ever do it. Mark, Jeff and Mike have held down the NBA Finals for over a decade with commentary that is the best of the best. Hubie Brown is a living legend. All of those men have been nothing but gracious and supportive of me,” Burke told the Athletic.
Doris Burke is considered one of the best NBA analysts around. Her bosses at ESPN made sure to re-sign her to a multi-year deal and promised she will be involved in “high profile” NBA games in both the regular season and playoffs. Burke will also call finals games on ESPN Radio and appear on the NBA Sunday Showcase program on ABC.
Good for her and good for fans of the NBA on ESPN/ABC.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2010, she was featured as the new sideline reporter for 2K Sports ‘NBA 2K11’ video game. She has appeared in every version since, including the latest ‘NBA 2K23’.
As a senior at Providence in 1987 she was the school’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year.
Her basketball idols growing up were Kyle Macy, Kelly Tripucka and Tom Heinsohn.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.