Connect with us
BSM Summit
blank

BSM Writers

Mark Chernoff Reflects On Career, Looks Forward to the BSM Summit and Sports Radio’s Future

“It’s not important to speak. It’s important to listen. You get so much out of listening. You find out so much about people.”

Derek Futterman

Published

on

blank
Newsday/Alan Raia

WFAN Program Director Mark Chernoff retired last summer, completing a legendary career spanning over three decades at the forefront of the sports media world.

Throughout his time in the industry, Chernoff worked with prominent on-air talents, including Howard Stern, Steve Somers, Don Imus, Mike Francesca and Christopher Russo, and helped develop the sound of sports radio in New York City and across the country.

Additionally, he played an integral part in helping WFAN find his successor and new program director Spike Eskin, who has brought new voices to the station such as Keith McPherson, Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney. Despite being retired, Chernoff still follows the industry closely and looks for the next generation of talent set to take the airwaves.

In fact, Chernoff will be attending the 2022 Barrett Sports Media Summit in New York City at the start of next month (March 2-3) in order to continue to keep up with the pulse of radio as a communication medium and as a business, along with reconnecting with friends and colleagues.

At the 2020 Barrett Sports Media Summit, Chernoff was honored by Barrett Media founder and president Jason Barrett with the introduction of a new award, eponymously named the “Mark Chernoff Award,” to commemorate his career in sports radio. The award, given annually at each BSM Summit, is bestowed upon sports radio programmers possessing strong leadership, vision, creativity, success in ratings and multi-platform excellence. Mitch Rosen, program director of Chicago’s 670 The Score, was recognized as its first recipient. BSM president Jason Barrett is expected to announce this year’s recipient in the next week or two.

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the media landscape was beginning to lean towards cross-platform integration, specifically within the digital space. The future of radio as a viable communications medium, concurrent with alterations in consumption trends, had indeed been questioned and remains as such to an extent today.

With early March right around the corner amid an unprecedented global pandemic and paradigm shift towards convergence, we felt there was no better time than the present moment to catch up with Mark Chernoff to discuss his career, gather his thoughts on the future of sports radio, and discuss the value of the forthcoming BSM Summit.

PART I: How it all started

Q1: How did you get your start in radio?

Chernoff: I started by working at my college radio station, which was WRSU in New Brunswick – I went to Rutgers. As a little kid, [I] would listen to radio all the time [on] a little transistor radio, if that world still exists, under my pillow. I just loved the idea of getting involved with radio. The first week of school at Rutgers, I went up to the radio station to a meeting and never looked back, basically.

Q2: What led to your transition from being a jock to being a program director?

Chernoff: My first real full-time job was at a little radio station in Sussex County in the Northwest corridor of New Jersey – WNNJ – and the FM station, WIXL. After doing about a year in a part-time role while I was going to graduate school, I took a job with an accounting firm, but that’s not what I wanted to do, so I took a full-time job at the radio station.

I loved being a jock, but people come and go so quickly [at these small radio stations] that within about a year-and-a-half, two different program directors got better jobs and it was kind of like, ‘Okay, you’re next, Mark Chernoff.’ I volunteered; I wanted to be the program director. Lo and behold, I was the program director of an AM/FM combo up in Newton, New Jersey, still on the air – doing a shift every day.

 After Chernoff left WIXL, he took a part-time job at WDHA in Dover, New Jersey, something he called “a step up,” in terms of market size. Once he was hired full time at the station, he became the new program director and went on to serve as morning show host and music director with the PD role simultaneously. After seven-and-a-half years at WDHA, Chernoff got a job at WNEW in New York City, where he made the decision to focus his career towards management in the radio industry.

“I was a decent jock, and I liked being a jock,” said Chernoff, “but I really thought at that point, that was the turning point where I said, ‘I think management’s a better idea.’ I got the job as the music director. I still continued to do fill-in air shifts at WNEW, which was a big deal being in New York radio. When Charlie Kendall, the program director, left, I became the program director. That’s kind of how it evolved from being a jock to at least the programming end of the business.”

PART II: All things sports radio

Q3: How do you evaluate talent on sports radio?

Chernoff: [Sirius XM Vice President of Sports Programming] Eric Spitz and I worked together for many years. He kind of encapsulated the idea [of] the P.O.K.E. theory: Passion, Opinion, Knowledge, and Entertainment. Those were always the things we were looking for in our air talent, and those that had all four of those qualities really wound up being the best people on the air.

I just think that passion was really important because on sports radio, you need to be opinionated. If you’re not opinionated, I don’t believe you’re going to go far, nor have people gone far… It was important that talent had those qualities and that they knew how to entertain people, and particularly were very passionate and opinionated about what they were speaking about, and of course you wanted them to know the facts to go with whatever their opinions were, and how they spoke about topics and stuff like that.

Q4: How do you manage talent on sports radio?

Chernoff: I was pretty lucky at WFAN; I had Mike and the Mad Dog, who were the most unbelievable sports duo that has come about in sports radio. What I was able to discern from them and Don Imus, was how good they were and that my role as the program director was to do what they felt they needed. If they wanted me to help, I would be there to help.

I learned, especially from Howard Stern [at K-Rock], that those talents that are great talents don’t really need to be managed. These people knew what to do, so you didn’t have to fight and argue. We would discuss promotions and things like that because I wanted things done to help the radio station in general. But to me, I wanted to have good relationships with the air staff. I wanted them to know that I was there to be helpful and to work with them on an as-needed basis, but I didn’t want to sit in with hosts at every one of their meetings.

Q5: Was there a difference in your management style for those who are more difficult to work with?

Chernoff: I tried not to look at anybody as being difficult. You just have to manage people to what their style is, not what my style is. I hope most people – if you spoke to them – would say that I was a good manager in that I didn’t want to sit and get into arguments and fights. I didn’t think that was a good thing to do. I didn’t want to be managed like that when I was a jock or a host. I didn’t want to manage like that. If there were issues, then we spoke about them. I was lucky in that most people that worked with the radio station really got it [and] understood what the station was all about.

Q6: How important was it to you to stick to a specific format while on the air?

Chernoff: WFAN was a mature radio station when I got there. Whether it was Steve Somers, Don Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog. I just wanted to make sure that they knew that I was there to support them. There are all these rules – we break at such and such a time, the breaks are this long, make sure you promote things, make sure you give the call letters and so-on and so-forth.

What I also learned [is that] great talent can break the rules. Rule-breakers work. It’s not that I wanted everybody to be like that because sometimes you did want to teach people the rudiments of radio so that they knew how to tease and do some of that other stuff. If they had the innate talent, that was the most important thing to me. You could just hear it when people started.

Q7: What are your thoughts on sports radio hosts talking about topics not pertaining to sports?

Chernoff: At WFAN, we ran through a number of midday shows. We finally really, really clicked when Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts [were put] together and they did middays. [It was the] same thing with Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton doing the morning show – they clicked. With the morning show, and then even now with Evan and Craig, who we put together before I left this past summer, it was ‘Just make sure that everything emanates from the world of sports.

You can move along and talk about other things. But if sports isn’t your ‘bread and butter,’ then I think the expectation of a listener will be, ‘I’m not sure that’s what I want to listen to.’ You’re allowed to go off on tangents, you’re allowed to talk about other stuff, you’re allowed to do lifestyle, but if you don’t heavy up on knowing what’s going on in the world of sports and what ‘Topic A’ is, I think that’s a problem.

Q8: What impact did including regular callers on programming have on the station?

Chernoff: Whether people were right or wrong in what they said, our listeners wanted to be involved with the radio station. We had so many loyal listeners – and I never said [not to] take calls from the regulars – [instead], do take calls from the regulars because they are part of what’s making WFAN WFAN.

We’ve lost some through the years, but people knew who the listeners were. They knew Bruce from Bayside and Bruce from Flushing, and they knew Al from White Plains – so many of these people – Short Al, Doris – I can go through dozens of them – that meant a lot to them.

Q9: How was WFAN involved with the New York-Metropolitan area community?

Chernoff: The station was always involved in the community. Imus got behind the Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund [to help] kids with cancer. He literally, not with his bare hands because he didn’t get out and do the physical work, but the money he raised, and adding to that with Mike and the Mad Dog and their help in the afternoon, they built that whole wing over at… Hackensack University Medical Center… We’ve always been community-minded, which I think is so important for a radio station. There are many causes; we ran public service announcements just about every hour for charities.

Q10: Why do you feel WFAN has such a special connection to New York sports?

Chernoff: For so many years, we had the Mets on the radio station, then it became the Yankees. We had the Jets early on when I was there, and then we had the Jets and Giants, and then just the Giants. We had the Knicks and Rangers, and eventually we had the Devils and the Nets, and even the Islanders for a short while.

So we’ve been very much involved with the teams; we’ve always taken all of those teams to talk about and let our hosts [and callers] talk about them. I think just being wrapped up in New York sports, and again, being 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the station was able to grow and become part of the essence of New York, and those call letters – W-F-A-N – meant an awful lot. In the sports world, people know E-S-P-N; important in TV, and they’ve had radio and still have some radio. I believe that the voice of sports in New York has always been W-F-A-N, [and] that when people think of us, they think of us as the preeminent, predominant sports station as it continues to be after all these years.

PART III: Looking to the future

Q11: What would you like to see happen in the future for all brands to gain a stronger and more accurate measure of their performance?

Chernoff: We’re always going to do surveys. We’re never going to do a census – you can’t measure every single person out there. I know people dispute the accuracy of the numbers, but it’s what’s there. I’m not sure I know how to make it better. You can only survey so many people. I would hope that they would get better results.

I know the complaint always is one or two meters in a week that go awry negatively or even positively, you sometimes say ‘Oh, look at that. We got a 10-share, great! We sound wonderful,’ or ‘Oh, no — we had a two-share this week. We’re awful.’ I never wanted to look at it like that. It was more important about the consistency. Are we doing the right things? You’re at the mercy of the ratings, and I’m not sure that anybody is going to be able to make it better.

Q12: How does the Nielsen portable people meter (PPM) ratings method compare to the diary ratings method?

Chernoff: The [PPM method is] a better way [to measure ratings] than the old diary method because at least it’s people listening to radio whatever their device is at the moment – whether it’s a mobile phone, a smart speaker, computer, laptop, or the actual radio…. In the old diary world, people would get a diary, and then once a week they would try to remember what they listened to over the last week. To me, that was completely inaccurate. I know this system is not perfect; it will never be perfect.

Q13: Do you believe there can be a competitive ratings service to Nielsen?

Chernoff: People have come and gone — whether it was Accuratings way back when; there was Pulse and other things. They all went by the wayside, and Arbitron, now being Nielsen, is what we’ve got, and I think we’re going to have to keep using it.

One of the important things about spoken word and particularly sports is that it was a concept to people. We’ve liked that, and always done what is working for the client. If you get a 10-share or a two-share, but a client says ‘X amount of people came into my place of business, and they love your radio station and they’re buying my cars, buying my product, buying my service,’ then you know you’ve been successful.

Q14: Did WFAN ever consider selling advertising spots to clients based on the ratings alone?

Chernoff: We’ve never really done ‘Let’s just sell the ratings.’ I know many of the media buyers, that’s what they deal with. At WFAN in particular, we’ve had great salespeople who go directly to the clients and discuss with the talent. They endorse products, they get to know the service and the product. We’ve had all these great people who have done that through the years.

When that works for the client, that’s more important than what the ratings are at the moment because the ratings are going to go up and down. You’re at the mercy of a survey; it’s not a census. If there are 10 people in the room, and you get an opinion from one or two of them, but you tell people they’re representing all 10, it may be accurate or it may not be accurate.

Q15: What is the future of cross-platform integration in sports radio?

Chernoff: I think it’s important and I think so many are doing it now. At WFAN obviously, the morning show is being simulcast on CBS Sports Network. For many years, the afternoon show was on the YES Network; we worked with Fox for a while. Carton and Roberts right now are on SNY.

‘I think the TV integration is great; the streaming is extremely important. Some of the shows — Moose and Maggie, for example the last few years — the show was being video-streamed so people had the opportunity to watch it as well as listen. I think all of the elements are really important. It’s great to be able to say, ‘Hey, Alexa. Play WFAN,’ so it’s easy to stream on a smart speaker. On your phone, you have your apps and you go right to the app of what you want to listen to. I think the integration is just extremely important. Those that don’t integrate are going to be left behind.

Q16: How does cross-platform integration impact the Nielsen Audio ratings?

Chernoff: Last spring, I did a call with the sales department with the Audacy people. There must have been 45-50 people on the call. I could see all of them and I said, ‘How many of you have radios at home?’ Maybe three or four people raised their hand… It’s not like they didn’t listen, but they had other ways of listening. As long as the measurement can pick up all of those ways, I think that’s important too so people get a real idea.

When Audacy worked with Triton Digital, we were able to see in real time how many people were streaming the radio station. Sometimes you look and you say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot higher than what we actually see when Nielsen gives us a number.’ Those numbers are important because a client could know that 23,000 people were listening at 2:22 p.m. in the afternoon, or 180,000 people; whatever the number is listening. You can target people. I think that’s what all of the platforms are able to provide. More platforms for stations to show off their products, whether it’s just on the audio side or adding video as well, plus podcasting of shows, nevermind the original ones which is something separate.

PART IV: The return of the BSM Summit

Q17: What do you enjoy most about the Barrett Sports Media Summit?

Chernoff: I’ve missed it. I think it’s a good experience, for one — getting together with other programmers, and trading ideas, trading different thoughts, trading ideas about talents, trading ideas about programming; who’s doing what. People have good ideas. If there’s a good idea out there, it’s not a matter of stealing it, but it’s a matter of ‘Hey, let’s share. I have an idea; you have an idea.’ It’s a good way and a good place to meet people, and also just to find out what’s going on with everybody.

The panels were great. Sometimes you learn stuff, and sometimes you got to see people you haven’t seen and hear what they have to say; how they’re running their stations, what their thoughts are about sports, how they program locally, or mix-in national with local, and there’s a case that can be made in some ways for that as well.

I’m really looking forward to being able to see everybody in-person again. We all hope that the virus doesn’t take a bad turn in the next month so that we can all be together and just hang out, listen to what people have to say, get some new ideas and work on some old ideas and see old friends and make new acquaintances as well, and find out about up-and-coming talent.

Q18: What does it mean to you to be annually recognized with an award in your name at the BSM Summit?

Chernoff: I’m more than flattered. I know when Jason [Barrett] brought it up, I was sort of embarrassed like, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ I thought it was very nice. I know I’ve been in radio a long time, but I’m just truly honored and humbled by doing that. Even if there was an award that wasn’t in my name, but it was to honor somebody special every year, I think that’s great. But again, honored and humbled by him wanting to do that. I was just very flattered and it’s truly a nice honor. Sometimes, I scratch my head and I’m like ‘Really, somebody’s naming an award in my name?’ Again, I’m humbled, honored, flattered by it.

PART V: Chernoff’s future and advice to others

Q19: How have you adjusted to life not being inside a radio building each day?

Chernoff: It’s very different. I do hear from people. I’ve had a wonderful time being with family and kids and grandkids, but I can see myself wanting to get back and doing stuff again at some point. I do miss the action of being there, and I certainly miss the people.

To me, working at a radio station is all about the people, and that goes for not just the on-air people, but all of the support staff, all of management, sales, engineering. I just love the action of being there. Kind of retiring from that — it seemed like a good thing, but I think at some point, I would like to be back doing stuff — whether it’s full-time, part-time, project work.

I do get calls from people who ask for my opinion or my advice. I do that and I feel good about being able to help where I can. It’s not paid work; it’s just sometimes — all the acquaintances and friends I’ve made — it’s like ‘Hey, I don’t mind your opinion,’ or ‘I’d like to have your opinion’ I should say. When asked, I’m happy to give.

Q20: What is one piece of advice you have for upcoming programmers?

Chernoff: I say it’s to be a good listener. In life, I think that’s one of the most important things you can do as a human being. It’s not important to speak. It’s important to listen. You get so much out of listening. You find out so much about people.

When I listened to the radio station or radio stations, I tried to listen in two ways. I tried to listen as the program director, and I also tried to listen as a listener. I’d put on a different hat, and I’d be driving around, and if I put on, whether it’s my radio station or another radio station. If I’m listening as a listener, when something sucked or that I didn’t like, I would make a mental note of why and I would go turn to something else. If I’m sitting there trying to critique, that’s different. I want to listen and I want to say what’s good and what’s bad about that.

I think a lot of program directors don’t take the time to listen. They may sit in their office and calculate this and ‘When should we do the break?’ and topics to talk about and stuff like that. Listening to your radio station, and talking to your people every day, just even being friendly. Just talk to them.

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

Published

on

blank

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.

blank
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.

blank
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.

blank
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

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

blank

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.”

Continue Reading

Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

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.  

Continue Reading
Advertisement

blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2023 Barrett Media.