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Mike Stone is the King Of Rebuild City

“It was just weird between COVID and Jamie passing. The year really sucked. We’re pretty much back to normal now.”

Brian Noe

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George Fox/97.1 the Ticket

Mike Stone has been a fixture in the Detroit radio scene for roughly 30 years. He’s learned a few tricks along the way. Stoney knows that carrying on about the sad state of local teams would just depress listeners even more. Who wants to feel worse during their morning commute by listening to a show that only bellyaches about how badly things suck? Stoney appreciates the value of not sticking to sports all the time; especially when sticking to Detroit sports might give the audience a splitting headache or sharp abdomen pain.

Mike Stoney – CBS Detroit

Stoney was born and bred in suburban Philadelphia and has lived in Detroit since May of 1986. He talks about the personal and professional pain of losing Jamie Samuelsen due to colon cancer. Stoney also discusses what he likes most and least about doing radio in Detroit, his obsession with Bruce Springsteen, and what he’d love to experience before his career ends. Although you obviously can’t hear Stoney, take it from me that he also does a really solid impression of his former radio partner Rob Parker. “Come ooooon, Brian.” Enjoy.

Brian Noe: How did your path unfold that led to you landing in Detroit?

Mike Stone: Very strange. I interned in college for the NBC television station. I worked in the newsroom. We hired a guy named George Michael. You probably know him from the Sports Machine. He was their local sportscaster.

I produced a sportscast on the weekends and worked in the newsroom during the week. Then I wanted to get on the air. That didn’t work at first. Another sportscaster in Washington happened to get a job in Detroit. He needed somebody with NBC ties. He moved here and I was his producer. Then one thing led to another and I became friends and roommates with two other guys, one being Mitch Albom, who besides working at the Free Press, did sports on the morning radio rock ‘n’ roll station. We did this show on Sunday nights starting in 1988. I did some talk radio with him. It was more of a guest heavy show with some trivia. Then WDFN started in 1994. I got the afternoon gig with Rob Parker. He left and then Wojo [Bob Wojnowski] came in and there we go.

BN: Was it surprising that George Michael blew up the way he did?

MS: Yeah, absolutely. It was weird because when I grew up as a kid in Philly, George was basically a Top 40 DJ. Then he moved to New York. He went from WFIL in Philly to WABC in New York. Then he did weekends on Channel 7 in New York for Warner Wolf. He did some Islander games. I knew he was really good. He had influence where he convinced the network — we were owned and operated by NBC — to do a half-hour Sunday show. Then it became the Sports Machine. Before the Sports Machine — this is back in the early ‘80s, right around when ESPN started — but most TV stations didn’t have satellite dishes. Like for instance last night there was an NBA playoff game. A lot of people didn’t have cable. We would get the games fed in, cut the highlights, and I would voice it among the three or four people who would do voiceover highlights. We would send it to every NBC station. The bigger stations would just take two or three highlights and do it themselves. The small markets and in Canada would just run me with my voice. I did that for a while.

BN: What was it like to work with Rob Parker?

MS: I just talked to him earlier today. It was great. Rob Parker is basically an old Jewish guy in a Black man’s body. We got along great. We actually were the first Odd Couple and he’s stolen that name and now has a successful show with Chris Broussard.

We’re very good friends. It was a lot of fun. We’d goof on a lot of things. We obviously did mostly sports but we talked about other stuff as well; his love for the Golden Girls, my love for Bruce Springsteen. Rob was a lot of fun. Looking back I think he made a poor decision by leaving and going to New York, but he always wanted to be a columnist in New York. That’s why he left. I love him but his Tom Brady take is so ridiculously wrong it’s incredible.

BN: [Laughs] And he’s just going to die on that hill, man. He’s dug in.

MS: I know. It’s like he sits there and goes if this didn’t happen, if the Tuck Rule. Okay fine, but give the side where luck went against him like Asante Samuel dropping an interception before the Eli Manning play. So he would have won another Super Bowl. I mean, whatever. He won’t give it up.

Wojo and I did a Sunday morning show. It was natural that he took Rob’s place. That show just completely took off. It was very successful. The only downfall was we were on a station that was AM, 50,000 watts sunrise to sundown. Then during the winter, nobody could really hear us outside of a certain area. We did very well all things considered, small budget, no advertising. I’m very proud of that show. We did it for about 14 years probably. DFN started in July of ‘94 so Wojo and I probably started April or May of ‘95. We were fired along with 2,000 other people from Clear Channel the day Obama got inaugurated in ‘09.

BN: I got caught in that myself. I was doing radio in Fresno. I went to work like normal and got chopped that day too.

MS: Yeah, it was weird. We heard all the rumors but we never thought our show would get cut because it was very successful; it was the only thing that made money on that station. But they didn’t care. It’s corporate radio, corporate America.

BN: Do you love Springsteen more or does Rob love the Golden Girls more?

MS: Oh, I love Springsteen more. I’ve seen him 126 times. I used to have it in my contract where if he was within 750 miles of Detroit, I could take the day off and go. I didn’t abuse it but I used it. [Laughs]

BN: What has it been like for you personally and professionally following the passing of your former partner Jamie Samuelsen?

MS: Personally it really sucks because Jamie worked with us on DFN when it started in ‘94. He was doing updates. Then he did the afternoon show, and then the morning show. Just a great, great guy. A great friend and just a wonderful human being. Professionally, we did probably about three or four years together. He was great because he was smart, he was witty, he took control because I wander. He pretty much held me in check so to speak.

Stoney's Tearful Tribute To Jamie: 'I Loved You'
Courtesy: Audacy

We had a really good thing going. We went from a show with my other buddy Bill McAllister that was maybe 60 percent sports; they wanted more sports so that’s why they brought Jamie along. We loved it. I love Jamie.

That whole experience was just brutal. He told us early on but he never let on that it was really bad. We knew he went to chemo a lot. But other than that he never showed it. He played tennis basically a month before he passed away. It wasn’t until the end that it got bad and he passed away at such a young age.

It’s horrible. But every day I walk in that studio, you see the little sign Jamie Samuelson Studio, and I think of him all the time. We’ve kind of regrouped. It was just weird between COVID and Jamie passing. The year really sucked. We’re pretty much back to normal now.

BN: What’s your new radio partner Jon Jansen like?

My new partner is somebody completely different. He’s a hunter, a fisherman, more of a man’s man. Played in the NFL for 10 years. All-American at Michigan and he’s a great guy too. That’s been different. If we care about ratings, they’ve been really, really good — even through COVID.

We both have improved in trying not to step on each other. That’s usually my fault more than his. He’s improved where sometimes he’ll take a topic and he’ll lead the topic, which before I used to do 100 percent of the time. He used to do a show for Sirius college football, ESPNU, Big Ten Network, I believe all that stuff, so he was very comfortable doing that.

BN: What was it like to see The Fan lose more and more local shows and then eventually go away?

MS: Well it was weird. When we were there obviously it sucked. It was like a college radio station because we started it from scratch. We didn’t have the teams. We could pretty much do whatever we wanted for the most part. We had a lot of fun. We still have fun, not as much as we used to.

Seeing DFN fail, most of it was sad. The people who were still there locally were all friends of ours so you hated to see them lose jobs. It made no sense. You just wanted to shove it up Clear Channel’s ass. If they just would have left things the way they were.

We actually tried to convince them to go to FM years ago before even 97.1 went from 1270 to FM years ago. Corporate there just wouldn’t listen. Our market manager was a great guy named Dave Pugh, Dan Patrick’s brother by the way, and they would never listen to him. They would never listen to us. They basically got what they deserved. My friends always talk about how I’m still bitter at hedge fund takeovers. I just think it’s awful.

BN: The Ticket is dominant with a bunch of bad teams in the area. If the Lions or Pistons were just crushing it, would that have a big impact on the ratings?

MS: I would assume so, especially the cume. When the games are on, definitely. We have the Lions back this year so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays. Everybody talks about, ‘Oh, you guys are lucky the Lions stink, you get to bitch about them all the time.’ It might make better radio for periods but I go back to when the Pistons made their run and even when the Wings were winning Stanley Cups, it might not have been compelling radio all the time because you have no issues.

You break down a regular season one of 82 games, oh the Wings play Dallas tonight, what are you going to say? It might not have been compelling to have great teams all the time, but you get a lot of fringe people that get on the bandwagon especially during the playoffs. So yeah, I think ratings would go up if we were any good. 

We’re rebuild city. Every team blows. They’re all in the same boat for the most part. It’s unbelievable. Even colleges — Michigan football stinks. At least Michigan basketball and Michigan State basketball are pretty good but other than that, it is just depressing. It really is. That’s where the deal of doing non-sports things, especially on the morning show, is really important. A great example, we were talking about something sporty, and we weren’t getting up a lot of calls. Then Jon was talking about how he got into an argument with his daughter about how to cut grilled cheese. The phone’s lit up. Do you cut them square or triangle?

Air Fryer Grilled Cheese - Julie's Eats & Treats ®
Courtesy: Julie’s Eats & Treats

Those things people just relate to so much more than some sports topics. It’s incredible. That’s what we did at DFN a little bit and then at 97.1, they’ve been doing that for years and it has really paid off. The non-sports stuff really does well especially when it’s done in an entertaining fashion.

BN: It’s so funny, man. You could have a sports thought that is well laid out, it’s got depth, and there’s hardly any reaction. But if you talk about, I don’t know, what are the most comfortable shoes, the reaction is crazy. How do you take that?

MS: I used to get really pissed off about it but now I just realize that’s the way it is. People are more into reacting to something that they can relate to. They might not relate to the Pistons trading this guy for that guy especially when your teams are bad. People react to things they can relate to. It’s not just the quote-unquote cliché guy talk; it’s even just stupid stuff like food. That always goes well — any type of food topic. Yesterday there was a story I saw — I forget the guy’s name, he’s like the Gordon Ramsay of fast food — with tips on how to eat fast food while you’re driving. People like that stuff because everybody does it.

BN: What’s the sensitivity level like from the local pro teams?

MS: The Lions have historically been very difficult. They call sometimes even during shows to set you straight so to speak. Sometimes they are right. They’re like oh, we just want to give you the facts. Well you know what? It’s an opinion.

My answer to that — even going back to when the team was .500 and would make the playoffs every once in a while — just win games. As long as we’re not saying anything that is inflammatory, personal about someone as far as off the field or anything, who cares?

I’ve had a few little things over the years where I’ve tweeted something stupid where somebody says take it down. And I have because it was a personal thing. Other than that, they’ve been pretty good. But they know; what are we going to say about this? Every team is awful. Back in the DFN days, they’d try to pull credentials. We weren’t even rights-holders.

There have been stories when we lost the Lions whether or not it was because of our afternoon show. That might have something to do with it but I also think the other station paid more money.

BN: What is your favorite and also your least favorite part of doing radio in Detroit?

MS: My favorite part is just interacting with people, listeners, talking to people on the street. I know a lot of people don’t like that. If somebody goes up to a particular person in the media and asks a question about a team, they’ll say I’m not working right now. I love that these people are listening. I like that type of interaction.

On the air I don’t like the fact that I think we’re too knee-jerk. Maybe being older I’ve gotten a lot more patient. The fire this guy, fire that guy mentality I think has gotten out of hand a little bit. I think you should give guys especially colleges four or five years to have recruiting classes, things like that. I think we try to fire people way too often.

Off the air the only thing I don’t like — I can’t complain, I have a great job — but I’d much rather be doing afternoons. I’ve always been a nighttime person. I hate getting up at 4:45 in the morning.

BN: If you were able to handpick a pro team to win a championship either in Detroit or Philly, who would be the team you’d choose?

MS: Oh, it’s not even close, it’s the Lions. We had millions at the parades when the Red Wings won, the Pistons. The Tigers haven’t won since ‘84. In Philly when I was a kid I was like the biggest Flyer fan also; I’ve been to those parades. They haven’t won since ’75, which is hard to believe. It’s the Lions. People don’t realize — they’re starting to — they’ve won one playoff game since 1957. It is an incredible statistic. We all know they’ve never been to the Super Bowl. But in this area in the Midwest it’s football first.

If this team, that I believe is cursed, and has had so many awful things happen to it — one guy has died in the NFL on the field, it was a Lion. All sorts of things. The laundry list is incredible and yet people still love this team. If this team could ever, ever win a championship, it would be the celebration among all celebrations. This is like the Cubs, only not as glorious. We’re not the lovable Cubs. We’re the Lions.

BN: Do you have any fun Bruce Springsteen stories?

MS: I have met him a couple of times on vacation in the Bahamas. Word got out that he was there. We went to a restaurant and couldn’t get near his table. The next day I just happened to see him walk into the hotel. I was kind of shy so I didn’t do anything. My wife was with my kids who were five or six at the time, followed him into the jewelry store in the Atlantis. She told him, she goes, “Excuse me Mr. Springsteen, my husband is a big fan. He has this thing in his contract.” He was kind of impressed by that. He goes I’ve got to meet him. I was in a different store so she waves me in. I got to meet him. He was nice. I asked the first question of him at the Super Bowl press conference. I’ve just been to ridiculous amounts of shows although hopefully it works out next year and I can go to Europe and see him. I hear it’s absolutely nuts there.

BN: Any goals going forward that you would like to experience or accomplish?

MS: Wow, I would love to be able to do this for as long as they let me. I’m 62 now. I don’t want to retire. I don’t know if it makes sense healthwise to do mornings for a much longer period of time. But I love what I’m doing.

My one time goal, due to someone getting sick and somebody unavailable, I did play-by-play for two Pistons games. I went on the road with them in Miami and Charlotte when LeBron was on the Heat. That was great. I always thought I’d be better at play-by-play than anything. I would still somehow love to do that but I don’t see too many teams hiring guys my age to do play-by-play for a whole season or something.

BN: Has retirement ever crossed your mind when you’re waking up at the crack of dawn?

MS: No, because I think I’d be bored out of my mind. There’s only so much bad golf I can play. I think as I get older to do more shows from down in Florida where my parents have a place — they’re in their 90s — to go down there and do a week or two of shows would be nice.

My wife’s family has a place up in northern Michigan. Doing a few weeks up there during the summer, that would be good. But as far as absolutely retiring, no I don’t want to do that. I have a feeling those decisions will be made by other people than me. John Audacy; whoever he is.

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Actually, I would love to be able to do a podcast whether it’s for our company or not, where I could basically say whatever I wanted. It’s not the company’s fault, it’s just the way terrestrial radio is — that you wish you could just do, but you can’t. Kind of like a Le Batard feel to it, where I’d kind of be like Stugotz, but I’d be old Gotz. I really enjoyed that show. Or because I really enjoy Barstool’s websites and stuff; something like Barstool for old guys. That would be pretty cool.

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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