When a person looks back at their high school yearbook, it can be jarring to see just how much people have changed since those years and where they may be in their lives. Perhaps the student bestowed the senior superlative of most likely to succeed went on to be an overambitious entrepreneur who failed to follow through on ideas, a group of close friends may no longer be on speaking terms, or someone’s dream career may not have panned out the way they wanted it to. Or perhaps everything went according to plan. For Ryan Ruocco, it was a combination thereof.
On one hand, his dream of playing baseball for the New York Yankees never panned out – but his other dream of broadcasting their games has. In fact, it was listed in his yearbook once he completed fifth grade.
Ruocco’s early days are defined by either playing or watching sports, the latter during which he and his father Peter, who retired from working as senior vice president of labor relations for the NFL in 2021, would talk about the broadcasters.
Because of their conversations, Ruocco felt compelled to explore a career behind the microphone composing and performing an auditory score to accompany prominent moments in sports. Play-by-play is an art form to which he has been able to excel because of his understanding of storytelling, effectively being able to captivate viewers during the rising action leading up to the climax – similar to box office hits.
“If you didn’t have ‘The Godfather Waltz’ in the background, many of those scenes are completely different,” Ruocco expressed. “If you didn’t have the ‘Jaws’ music, the shark doesn’t feel as scary. Well, if you don’t have an enthusiastic call on a Kyrie [Irving] buzzer-beater, the moment doesn’t feel as important.”
Remaining close to the energy of the game was a motivating factor for Ruocco to explore a career in sports media, and it led him to attend Loyola University Maryland during his freshman year in college. Even though he did not thoroughly enjoy his time there, he still worked all year to be selected to broadcast on the school’s radio station WLOY-FM. As the year drew to a close, he was given the opportunity to host radio shows, further cementing his genuine enjoyment of broadcasting.
At the same time, he desired to transfer to a college located closer to his hometown of Fishkill, N.Y. and was told by a friend that Fordham University was known for its radio station.
“I went and I met with Bob Ahrens who’s still my mentor to this day at 86 years old,” Ruocco said. “He just made me fall in love with WFUV. I heard that there was the possibility of being a beat writer in the Yankee clubhouse and that thought was just incredible to me and then kind of getting a grasp of the alums that had come through there.”
Ruocco began matriculating at Fordham University in 2005, and although he had to enroll in several foundational courses concentrated in subject matters such as philosophy and science, broadcasting was always his true focus. During his classes, Ruocco would bring his game charts working to memorize names and other information to be prepared for the broadcast. Furthermore, he spent an interminable amount of time with his mentor Ahrens and refined his craft through both feedback and osmosis, centered around adapting and having command throughout a live broadcast.
Eventually, he was given the opportunity to go on the air as a play-by-play broadcaster for Fordham football, baseball and basketball. In the studio, he was the host of One on One, a sports talk show that took live phone calls from listeners. By the time he graduated in 2008, he had many demos to share with prospective employers and was honored as the recipient of the Marty Glickman Award, given to the play-by-play announcer who best exemplifies Glickman’s qualities.
“Once I was on air, I’d do as many games as I could,” Ruocco said. “I just treated every single demo and on-air game like it was the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals or the World Series, and treated the preparation as such. [I] felt like I came out of school much more ready to attack this profession than many people would when they’re first getting out of school because of the resources I had at WFUV.”
While he was still in college, Ruocco landed an internship with the YES Network and sought to differentiate himself by displaying his persistence and work ethic. Additionally, he utilized opportunities to network with on-air talent so they could get to know him and so he could pick their brains. Ruocco undoubtedly stood out by the end of his internship and was subsequently contacted by YES Network Vice President of Production Jared Boshnack as a junior at Fordham University to see if he would be interested in being the broadcast booth statistician for half of the New York Yankees’ home games in 2007.
“I had never done stats but I just decided, ‘Okay, let me figure out how I can best make the broadcast better,’ and I just became obsessed with being great at that,” Ruocco said. “Michael [Kay] loved me in that position and then very shortly asked to get me on every game because I was enhancing the broadcast in that role. Michael took me under his wing; we developed an incredibly close relationship.”
In 2008, Ruocco was the statistician for all the home games and by virtue of being dedicated to the role, started to be recognized for his play-by-play skills. After tuning in to Fordham Rams football on the radio, several YES Network employees, including Kay (a fellow Fordham alumnus), realized it was their colleague Ruocco doing the play-by-play, and they quickly saw great potential for him to grow and announce at a larger scale.
“They were impressed by me and how I sounded at that age,” Ruocco said. “They all kind of separately talked to the powers that be at YES and said, ‘Hey, you got to listen to Ryan.’”
Sports radio had long been a passion of Ruocco’s and was part of the reason why he began working at 1050 ESPN New York in 2008 as a sports update anchor and host of The Leadoff Spot from 5-6 a.m. Before stepping into this role though, he had filled in on various shows for ESPN Radio and anchored ESPN Radio SportsCenter updates, giving him exposure before regularly hosting an hour-long program.
Beginning his career in the world’s number one media market was not intimidating to Ruocco because of the comfort he felt being at home around the teams he had been following as a child. Moreover, he was an avid listener of New York sports radio, giving him an idea of the parlance and pulse of the city allowing him to thrive and succeed in the locale.
“I think what I love about New York is that there is this energy and attention to everything and it’s just completely different than, I think, anywhere else in the world in that regard,” he said. “There’s also the reality that so many key figures in media live in New York, so you just have a greater chance of being heard here.”
Shortly thereafter, he added hosting a midday show to his responsibilities, titled Second Verse with Robin Lundberg, and sought to lean into he and Lundberg’s youth to cultivate a unique on-air sound imbued with optimism and positivity. This was all while being especially cognizant of ensuring to resist becoming infatuated by the culture of “making mountains out of molehills,” predicated by consistent hyperbole.
“It exists because it’s not easy to fill all those hours every single day unless sometimes you overinflate how big a deal certain things are,” Ruocco said. “….If I was going to say, ‘What are the two things we wanted our show to be?,’ it would be smart and fun. I felt like it was that and we ended up having this very loyal, engaged audience with us.”
Developing cohesiveness with Lundberg was facile in nature since he had been Ruocco’s producer prior to co-hosting middays. Once Ruocco began hosting in the afternoons with Stephen A. Smith on 98.7 ESPN New York, the duo took time to learn about one another and created a synergy that attracted listeners to their show, built on authenticity and credibility.
“If you are authentic, people will respect you and you’ll just have a better chance of vibing and bonding on air if you’re just being truly who you are,” Ruocco said. “I think, for the most part, I’ve been able to do that and I think that most co-hosts are going to appreciate and respect that and Robin and Stephen certainly did.”
Maintaining a relationship with listeners is fundamental in sustaining radio programs and accentuating the qualities that make the broadcast medium distinctive. One way of effectively doing that is by having a keen awareness of the audience and discussing what it wants to hear. Essentially, radio personalities endear themselves to listeners and ultimately attempt to become a quotidian part of their schedules. Conversely, if hosts neglect the interests of the audience nor try to interact with them through taking calls or utilizing social media, consumers have plenty of other options.
“There’s an unlimited amount of entertainment out there,” Ruocco said. “….You have to have your finger on the pulse of what a New York sports fan is thinking and feeling each day and not drift too far from that for too long – and then you also just have to be relatable and someone who, I think, people feel like they can hang out with.”
Although Ruocco left 98.7 ESPN New York in 2015 after a stint in which he hosted with Dave Rothenberg and contributed to The Michael Kay Show, he has continued creating aural content, albeit through podcasting rather than live sports radio. When Ruocco was scoreboard hosting during New York Yankees home games at Yankee Stadium beginning in the team’s 2009 championship season, he bonded with all-star starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
One day in the Yankees’ clubhouse, Sabathia told Ruocco that they needed to collaborate someday in the future on a project. Fast-forward to 2017 – Sabathia’s antepenultimate season in the major leagues – and the duo launched the R2C2 Podcast with The Players’ Tribune, a media company founded by Derek Jeter focused on allowing athletes to directly communicate with fans.
Since its inception, the podcast has rapidly grown into one of the premier sports podcasts on the market and has been distributed by other platforms over the years. Longevity in a dynamic media marketplace can be hard to find, but Ruocco and Sabathia’s podcast recently celebrated five years thanks not only to the duo’s credibility, but also in the conversations they have and interviews they conduct.
“We have a very embedded fanbase,” Ruocco said. “We both are managing different aspects of our schedules now so that’s a little different when we knew, ‘C.C.’s on the Yankees’ schedule and I’m going to be in this city with him.’ That can be challenging but we’re both still completely dedicated to making sure we get our episode out every Thursday and having these conversations and I think we both still just love it.”
Some of the guests the show has welcomed over the years from the worlds of sports and media include David Ortiz, Ken Rosenthal, Aaron Judge, Sue Bird and the aforementioned Stephen A. Smith. According to Ruocco, many guests remark on how much fun they had doing the show once their segment concludes, proof of the atmosphere the duo has cultivated without “Gotcha” questions or intentionally making a guest uncomfortable.
“C.C. is really special in that he is so authentic; he does not change no matter what audience is in front of him,” Ruocco said. “….[He is] a winner and a champion… who is, I think interestingly, shy and an introvert – which people are always [initially] surprised by and he always jokes about [it] – but then when you actually get to know him, he has this unbelievably powerful and warm personality. I feel like that really disarms people and gives us the best chance to get into things with guests that otherwise maybe we wouldn’t.”
While he was and continues to work in audio, Ruocco primarily is a play-by-play announcer for YES Network and became a member of the Brooklyn Nets’ broadcast team as the backup to Ian Eagle in 2012. In the years preceding that, he had called several college games and filled in on select then-New Jersey Nets games. From the first game he called, Ruocco’s goal was and remains to put a soundtrack to the pictures on the screen, calling signature moments with ostensible aplomb and setting up his analyst, often Sarah Kustok or Richard Jefferson, for success.
“I try [to] paint the picture of the story of the game; highlight the key moments in a way that makes sense to the audience and is enthusiastic and engaged; and then bring out the best of my analyst,” Ruocco said. “If I can do all of those things – and I think that plays in any market – it ends up standing out just because you’re trying to make sure you’re doing the game justice; not because you’re trying to stand out.”
Over the years with YES Network, Ruocco has been on the call for a countless number of big games, including the largest comeback in Brooklyn Nets franchise history when they defeated the Sacramento Kings 123-121 in March 2019. It was Ruocco’s fourth game in his fourth different city in four nights and despite being fatigued, was able to muster enough energy and flamboyance in his calls to propagate the magnitude as to what had occurred.
“Sarah [Kustok] and I [called] that game and [I] literally [stood] up getting into the calls going full fist-pump,” Ruocco reminisced, “not because I was necessarily celebrating the moment, but just that’s what it took to get every ounce out of my voice.”
Ruocco has also been behind the microphone for New York Yankees games on YES Network, filling in for Michael Kay including when Kay had vocal-cord surgery in July 2019. Earlier that year, he had filled in for longtime Yankees’ radio voice John Sterling on WFAN, ending a streak of 5,060 consecutive Yankees games Sterling had called so he would be ready for the second half of the season.
This past season amid Aaron Judge’s chase towards the American League single-season home run record, Ruocco was again filling in for Sterling on WFAN amid a rotation of play-by-play announcers including Rickie Ricardo, Justin Shackil and Brendan Burke. Ruocco was scheduled to call the Yankees’ late-season series against the Toronto Blue Jays, however, he willingly stepped aside to allow Sterling the chance to call the record-breaking home run. While Judge did not break the record until the next week against the Texas Rangers, it was in Toronto where he tied the record, previously held by Roger Maris (61).
Calling a baseball game vastly differs from basketball largely because of the pace of the action. In baseball, Ruocco estimates he is only calling play-by-play for 10 to 12 minutes over the course of the game, and conversing and engaging his analyst(s), discussing storylines or sharing anecdotes over the rest of the broadcast, which usually spans, at the very least, three hours.
“The analogy my mentor used to [use] is, ‘Baseball’s like a rocking chair where you’re leaning back, telling the story and then at the moment of the pitch, you lean forward with engagement,’” Ruocco said. “….Whereas basketball and football are a little similar in that they have a more defined cadence of action and you’re not necessarily waiting.”
When Ruocco was hosting afternoons with Stephen A. Smith, he remembers Smith being one of the people to ask executives at ESPN why they did not have Ruocco doing play-by-play. Ruocco believes Smith’s words made them pay attention to his skillset more, and eventually he was given the chance to call NBA games on the network.
“Nationally – you’re going to be equally excited for both teams [while] locally, you’re going to be excited no matter what for big plays,” Ruocco said. “Of course [for] the local team whose regional network you’re on, you’re going to give a little more juice to in their big moments than an opponents’ on a local broadcast.”
Ruocco frequently broadcasts NBA on ESPN games during the regular season, recently calling the Christmas Day matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks with J.J. Redick and Cassidy Hubbarth. Since 2013, he has been the lead voice of the WNBA on ESPN, working with Rebecca Lobo, Holly Rowe and Andraya Carter to punctuate moments that have fueled the growth of the league, such as Game 5 of the 2018 WNBA Semifinals between the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury and last year’s WNBA Finals between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks.
“My role is to call the games with the enthusiasm and credibility that the league deserves,” Rucco said. “My hope is that if someone is tuning in to the WNBA for the first time and they don’t know exactly what to expect and… they hear a broadcast that sounds elevated and sounds engaged and energetic; enthusiastic. They [would] say to themselves, ‘Oh, this is legit,’ because the basketball very much is and that’s how the broadcast should be as well.”
In addition to his work on presentations of NBA and WNBA basketball on ESPN/ABC, Ruocco has also called college football games on the network and NFL games on its radio platform. As it pertains to basketball though, he had the chance to call the NCAA Final Four as the lead play-by-play announcer for women’s college basketball, a role he was named to in late-2020 by ESPN. He continues to work with Lobo and Rowe, sustaining the chemistry they have formed working WNBA games while seeking to highlight the next generation of basketball stars.
“Feeling the magnitude of the event [and] walking out to the arena floor at Target Center before the championship game between UConn and South Carolina and just really feeling how big it was [is] something I’ll always remember,” Ruocco said.
Preparing for a live game broadcast at the national level vastly differs from doing so locally because of the amount of information and “catching up” broadcasters need to do so they can appeal and relate to viewers. Whether it is reading articles compiled from local publications and sent out each morning by Thomas Kintner; or listening to podcasts from the “Locked On Podcast Network” specifically focused on each individual NBA team, Ruocco is able to extrapolate information that he can use for the broadcast and add to his game boards.
A perk to broadcasting national games is the ability to speak with the coaches from each team as well, learning information – some of which is told on the condition of deep background – that can be used to formulate more cogent, erudite opinions.
“I think the key to doing a national game is not sounding like you’re parachuting in,” Ruocco expressed. “You need to sound like you have your finger on the pulse of what’s been happening with that team because any fan that watches that team regularly is going to sniff out you not really knowing what’s going on with their team very quickly.”
Evidently, Ruocco always wants to be improving at his craft and emphasize signature moments in order to do them justice. While he is hesitant to mention any specific positions he covets and just how he wants his career to evolve, being inducted as a broadcaster into a professional sports Hall of Fame is a goal he hopes to achieve by its conclusion.
“I think that’s such a cool, amazing honor for broadcasters and really what it ends up being is somebody who’s been an ambassador for a league for an incredible period of time,” Ruocco said. “That’s something I hope someday long down the road I have the opportunity to do.”
A piece of advice his mentor Ahrens was told by Vin Scully that was previously told to Scully by Red Barber was that the only thing you can take from the broadcast booth is yourself. Those words were passed down to Ruocco, and he tries to manifest them every time he authors the script of the game. Having the propensity to meet the moment has been with him from the beginning though; he is likely one in a small percentage to accurately predict his career in his fifth grade yearbook.
“Being an imitation or a knock-off of anybody else is always going to mean you’re only ever second-best,” Ruocco expressed. “The way you do your best work is by being totally and genuinely yourself. That’s something I always try and remember.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
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.