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Passion For Sports Led Kelly Burke To Career As Broadcaster

Kelly Burke was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, and lived in the state until she was about 10 years old.

Living in a small town, Burke remembers not having many opportunities for girls to participate in sports. Despite those obstacles, Burke found an open door in gymnastics by the time she reached second and third grade. By the time fifth grade rolled around, Burke learned about the opportunity to join the school’s the track team. However, that is when her family moved to Arizona.

“Being New England sports fans, my Dad and brother were fans of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots,” Kelly Burke told In The Zone. “I really fell in love with sports the year the Phoenix Suns were really good with Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Danny Ainge and went to the NBA Finals. We moved to Phoenix and started watching the Suns games every week on TV but listened on radio to Al McCoy, the radio voice of the team calling games. I became a diehard Suns fan and cried during Game 6 of the NBA Finals when John Paxson hit the shot.”

After the Finals ended, Burke started played basketball at the local YMCA. Realizing there were more opportunities for girls, she continued to play through middle school and high school and became an accomplished three-star athlete.

College Years at Arizona State

When it came down to choosing a college to attend, Burke had a list of 10 schools. She wanted to choose a school not solely on athletics but also academics as it was Burke’s wish to attend a top journalism institution.

“I chose Arizona State, I was looking at Boston College, Gonzaga and Arizona State but ASU had everything I wanted,” Burke explained. “They had the top journalism school in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and I wanted to be on a good cross-country and track team because that’s the sport I wanted to play in college. At the time, they were a top 15 cross-country team and had been getting better every year.”

While she prospered academically at Arizona State, Burke endured many athletic setbacks, causing her to red-shirt three times.

“I had a hard time adjusting to the higher mileage, had a lot a fractures in my shins and went through a lot of seasons where I would start and then get injured and sidelined for the rest of the season,” she remembered. “That was really frustrating as an athlete, especially having a lot of success in high school. I had to really develop that perseverance muscle and sort of relentless attitude of just overcoming a lot of adversity and challenges on the athletic stage in college.”

Burke Hit The Ground Running After Graduating ASU

After graduating from Arizona State with a bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism, Burke landed her first job with KAZ-TV and Cox 7 Sports as a freelance sports reporter / sideline reporter and producer, covering Arizona State Men’s and Women’s Basketball.

“I graduated from college and was told I had a good tape and had done a lot of internships,” Burke noted. “I was freelancing and taking any job related to sports. I had done an internship at Cox Sports so they hired me to report for a high school sports show they did locally and did production for them too. I made a contact at KAZ-TV and they needed a sideline reporter for Arizona State women’s basketball.”

“Nobody had ever trained me for what you need to do as a sideline reporter, the process, what it was like to prepare, and I literally had no idea what I was doing,” explained Burke. “When you are a sideline reporter we do what we call an opening hit. I got about two sentences in and forgot what I was talking about and we’re live on TV. You can imagine me a 22-year old with deer in headlights, the red lights are on and I’m frozen and can’t get anything out of my mouth. It felt like I was standing there for 10 minutes and all I said was, “back to you.” My producer got in my ear and had choice words on what happened. I was a mess, devastated and thinking I just ruined my career and it hasn’t even started.”

With her producer recommending having a reporter’s notebook that should include notes in case she forgets who she is talking to and can refer to when she is reporting on the game, that is exactly what Burke did for the next game she covered.

“It was really a defining moment for me, I could have just packed up the tent and been like my career is over,” she mentioned. “I essentially fell on my face on live TV in the Phoenix market and thank god the game was on a local cable station so it’s not like there were a lot of viewers but it was really embarrassing. I realized I had to do my due diligence and seek out help from other people when I didn’t know something and not be afraid to ask for help.”

Moving On And Leaving Home

After spending a little over a year at both stations, Burke made the bold decision to leave her home state of Arizona for Medford, Oregon for a job with KDRV-TV as a weekend sports anchor and reporter. It was sheer determination on Burke’s part, going to the post office every day, sending out five or six mailings with reel tapes to stations.

“All the stuff I did in Phoenix was so pivotal, because I got to be not only in front of the camera a little bit but mainly behind the camera and learned all the stuff that goes into the different positions,” said Burke. “It really taught me how to treat people because I saw how the big time talent would treat everybody well when I was working as a production assistant.”

“I have always been one of those people that hasn’t been afraid to change and embrace change, she continued. “I had never been to Oregon when I accepted that job, it was a drastic change because I lived in a warm and desert climate before moving to Oregon in the middle of January and I was driving my car up there in the middle of a snowstorm. There was also a rainy period in Southern Oregon and they were having flash flooding and the first entire week I was there, the state endured massive amounts of flooding and rain every day.”

While at KDRV-TV, Burke did plenty of multi-tasking – anchoring, producing, shooting and editing – for the 6:00 and 11:00 p.m. newscasts. She also co-anchored a 15-minute Friday Night Football and Basketball show while also posting sports web content and writing a weekly blog.

“One of the best experiences of my career, I loved living in Oregon,” Kelly Burke explained. “I loved how there are so many people, the culture and an incredibly scenic state. It just reinforced my independence and the need to be able to adjust to different situations and really lean into change.”

“Working in the small markets you are shooting, editing your own stuff and producing your own sportscast in a two-person sports department,” continued Burke. “You have a bare bones crew on the weekend, I could be in the middle of doing my sportscast and the teleprompter operator falls asleep so all of a sudden I’m literally having to improvise and figure out what’s next and my scripts and maybe the wrong videos are playing on TV.”

East Movement Continues

After being employed at KRDV-TV for almost four years, Burke shifted further east to WSIL-TV in Carbondale, Illinois as a sports anchor/reporter. Continuing to assume many responsibilities of the job, Burke also reported, produced, shot and edited weekly features for  the Southern Illinois Football and Basketball Coaches Show, a weekly golf and sports fitness segment and filled in as a morning show anchor.

“The second TV job as a sportscaster in Southern Illinois was even busier and we had a bigger coverage area,” Burke described. “We covered high school sports a ton, had Friday Night Football and Basketball shows and covered Southern Illinois football on Saturdays and also basketball games. I actually did coach’s shows for that school as well. On Saturday I would come into work anywhere from 10 a.m. to noon depending on what I had to cover then I would anchor the six o’clock newscast and there was always an 10 o’clock newscast to anchor for sports. There would be an extended sports night show to anchor at 10:30 then I would get off the set and turn around for a coach’s show the next morning. I remember being at work a lot of times between 1 and 3 a.m. depending on what I had to edit and produce.

I pitched the golf segment to my sports director and became friends with a golf coach, Diane Daughtery, at SIU (Southern Illinois University) who had retired and had a great personality. We did this “Tee to Green” segment and she would teach me golf lessons on the air with chipping and putting. I made some mistakes but a lot of people could relate to that in a lot of ways because the game of golf is really hard for most people. There was an amateur athlete segment every week. I’m a storyteller at heart, like to tell stories and entertain people. I was thinking of out of box ways that people who aren’t interested in sports.”

Adding to her job titles, Burke began work as a freelance color analyst, play-by-play and sideline reporter in 2011, including games now on ESPN3 and ESPN+. In that role, she focused on covering the Missouri Valley Conference as an analyst for men’s and women’s college basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field.

Podcasting Before Podcasting Became Popular

After leaving WSIL-TV in May of 2016, Burke switched to calling college games full-time, working primarily in TV but adding in some radio duties. Burke freelanced as a radio host and analyst for Learfield, specifically Saluki Sports Properties. In addition, her podcast is featured with Lineup Media Group.

“Four or five years ago, podcasting wasn’t really that big and I saw this opportunity with the Missouri Valley Football Conference,”  she explained. “It’s not like it has a rabid fan base, but it’s a very niche audience and I thought there was an opportunity to really go a lot deeper and more in depth with these coaches, teams and people associated with this sport. We do more episodes at certain times of the year when we are in season but it’s a yearly thing. A really great opportunity to improve my interviewing skills and to get to know people associated with the league.

During COVID is when two other podcasts started, when what happened with the George Floyd murder and making race and social justice a big priority. Interviewing in round-tables, different people about their experiences, people of all different backgrounds and whether it was a black coach, white athletic director or student-athlete. A couple of weeks ago it was on voting and we started this podcast ‘Mobilizing Voices For Change’. At the end of June I started the podcast for women in sports media.

There wasn’t anything specifically out there about women and whose stories haven’t been told and have really fascinating journeys in this industry. All my games got shelved, obviously we live in a sports world so I had time to really flush out the idea. I started recording interviews and it’s called “Voices and Visionaries, The Female Forces and Sports Media’. It’s really been fun, a passion project and I’m not getting paid for it but just a way to network and get to know other women in the industry and tell their stories. I try to get very diverse voices and backgrounds because it’s important to show all aspects of the industry and different struggles people have had. I had Lesley Visser on recently and Andrea Kramer has been on.”

Recognizing the fact that working in sports media is not your typical 9 to 5 job, Burke makes sure she prepares and does her research when broadcasting. Looking up to other women in the profession in Hannah Storm, Ann Liguori, Lesley Visser, and Doris Burke has made that adjustment much easier.

Preparation and Sacrifices Made Easier By Role Models

“In those first jobs I missed a lot of friends weddings, working on Christmas and Thanksgiving, holidays, weekends because I genuinely wanted to work in sports and loved what I was doing every day,” admitted Burke. “Making $9 an hour in Medford, Oregon, which was poverty wage because the cost of living was high and I was willing to do all those things and make those sacrifices because I wanted to be in the industry so bad and didn’t want to work in a bank from 9 to 5.

You just don’t go on site and covering the game or as a sports anchor. You show up several hours beforehand, you never know what you are going to encounter especially during a live game and know the information you are going to have to rely on. There are times I’ll start preparing for a game a week out and want to feel like I’ve exhausted every avenue in talking to everybody whether it’s a coach or athlete and have angles on stuff that I’m about to broadcast that nobody knows. It’s my responsibility as a broadcaster, the average fan can pick up a newspaper and read local reports but as a broadcaster I have better insights into that game and team that is necessarily not out there in the public domain and that’s why they are tuning in to listen to somebody like me who is an expert on that team or sport and break it down. If I’m going to do something it’s going to be 110 percent and I live for the process and research of it as much as the actual game.

Growing up I remember watching Hannah Storm on NBC Sports. When I was in college going from my junior into senior year I was part of the International Radio Television Society fellowship program in New York City where they choose 30 people to intern at the network’s morning show and it just happened at the time Hannah had gotten out of sports and was the morning anchor for the Early Show on CBS. When I found out I was going to do an internship there, I wrote her a letter and explained growing up she was my idol and I was going to be interning at the Early Show.

I was only in the studio one day a week, other times I was at the CBS broadcast center and her sister reached out to me and said Hannah wanted to meet with me. She sat down with me for an hour one day after the broadcast and just let me pick her brain. I had some of the same goals that she had when she was my age. That was really a defining moment early on to meet somebody that you idolize.

Ann Liguori was one of the first women at WFAN to host a call-in talk show. I connected with her at the same time I was doing my fellowship and she has been my mentor ever since. She has been really crucial especially now that I have moved into the freelance side of things. She owns all of her content, runs her own companies and built this empire. It made me think about sports more from a business side which has been really eye-opening. I’ve gotten to know Lesley (Visser) over the last couple of years and she is just this amazing woman with incredible stories and a huge champion of women.”

Paying It Back By Helping Others

When it comes to offering advice to other women who are trying to break into the sports media field or attempting to move up the ladder, Burke was happy to offer advice.

“I would say get out of the box in what you think what you can do. I think I have a lot of young women come up to me and say I want to be a sideline reporter and it’s a much harder role that it looks. I always encourage them, tell them that’s great but you should try out being an analyst and play by play because there are only so many opportunities for a sideline reporter right now with COVID.

With the job environment so tough right now, use your creativity, start putting content out right now whether it’s on video, writing a blog or writing articles. There are so many mediums with YouTube and all these social media channels where you can start your own website and that goes back to that whole versatility thing. How are you going to set yourself apart from the other person, you’re putting this unique content out, and figuring out how to try to use your voice to be one leg up on everybody else in trying to get a job.”

Recently, Burke has added the job title of On-Camera and Video Content Coach where she specializes in helping entrepreneurs and businesses looking to improve their on-camera performance and video strategy.

“I started noticing in the beginning of the pandemic that a lot of people were on Zoom and started researching that by 2023 87 percent of the content consumed on the internet is going to be video content,” Burke remarked. “I saw this need specifically with entrepreneurs and businesses, a lot of people are terrified to go on camera and don’t know what type of video content they should be doing. That is obviously an area I have expertise in and started a business that I coach people through that.”

It’s a way of giving back and sharing my knowledge that I have. Watching these people transform in front of my eyes because I coach people that have never been in front of the camera in their life. For other business owners and entrepreneurs it’s just fine tuning and tweaking and eliminating their bad habits.”

Not Settling – Still More To Accomplish

Now in the sports broadcasting field for over 15 years, Burke still feels that she has not reached the peak of her career and still has so much more to accomplish.

“I have obviously made great strides in my career but don’t feel that successful. I worked a couple of network games but not at a full-time level. That is what I am aspiring to do and I’m just still so hungry.

What I realized in this industry is you have to constantly be getting better and learning and seeking out feedback from other people that are better than you because that’s the only way you’re going to break through in our profession.

There are so many talented people entering our profession every day that are young and really good and know social media. I’m just as motivated when I started off in this industry and maybe it looks different just because some of my priorities with family are different but I still have a huge passion for this industry. I don’t believe in resting on your past success and morals.”

 

You can watch the full exclusive interview with Kelly Burke by clicking here or by visiting the In The Zone YouTube Channel.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.

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