Many have had years full of changes, but not many have experienced one like Brendan Burke has. Now the TV voice of the New York Islanders, Brendan has quickly risen the ranks in the world of broadcasting. Prior to the Islanders, he worked a 10-year career in minor league hockey, calling games on the radio for the Utica Comets. He also serves as a play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports’ college football coverage. We caught up with Brendan to discuss all the transitions he’s gone through over the last year, what it was like calling playoff games in his first NHL season, and much more.
Q: So you have gone through a lot of transitions in a short period of time. AHL to NHL, radio to TV, Utica to New York City, and you did it all in a year. What has that adjustment been like?
A: It's been a whirlwind year since the first week in August and it's really just been non-stop. It started with football season in the beginning of September and then rolling right into moving my entire life and family from Utica to Brooklyn and getting acclimated to a new job and city. To get through it all and then do an entire season and then being able to continue that on and do a few playoff games… it's been an incredible year. A lot of changes but they've all been good. And I had a baby in February! So literally everything that could have happened, happened, and all of it was good.
Q: How did calling games on television for FOX help prepare you for calling Islanders game?
A: I think that TV is its own entity. You can do play-by-play, but doing television is something completely different than doing the radio. So without that TV experience that I had doing football, I really didn't have much, it was mostly radio. Obviously I had the 10 years of minor league hockey, that prepared me for the play calling aspect but the business of television is something completely new. I had really good producers working with FOX and because of that they were able to kind of hold my hand and walk me through a lot of what it takes to make television. So, when I was able to get that first crack with the Islanders at the NHL level, it didn't feel new to me even though it was completely new and I had never done the NHL before. But the business of TV combined with my experience calling hockey...those two together prepared me perfectly for what I was about to do.
Q: What was it like getting the call from NBC about the NHL playoffs and how was the experience callings the games?
A: You know, when you land your dream job you kind of think to yourself, "Well now what do I do?". So that was kind of what I went through when I got the Islanders job. Spending my whole life really trying to get an NHL television job and then I got one. So where does my attention turn? Kind of internally, my plan was a few years down the line to maybe get the attention of NBC and start working in some national games and then eventually I would hopefully get into their playoff rotation. That was my long-term plan, so to have that come true my first season was beyond words. It was the cherry on top of what was already an incredible year. It started with the first four games and then it turned into the whole first round. Then I thought I was done and I came home and then they asked me to do two more.
I got a call that said it was a possibility, and then from there obviously, if the Islanders had made the playoffs then I would've been doing the Islanders and it wouldn't have come true. So I knew I was in the plan but I didn't know what for. Then all of a sudden when it all came to be and I got the call that said they wanted me to go to Anaheim and do the first four games of that series, and to work with a guy like Mike Johnson, and Joe Micheletti the second round, when I'm calling a game it's normally just a normal game for me because it’s me. But hearing Joe Michelleti and hearing the music for NBC it reminded me that this was a big deal.
Q: How do you feel that the Islanders fan base and New York City accepted and embraced you?
A: With New York City, the bar is set so incredibly high because the market is just saturated with the best broadcasters in the world. You don't have to look much further than my counterpart at MSG, Sam Rosen, calling Rangers games...When the bar is set that high you have to be worried coming in that you could do it, and that you can hold up that standard. So, to be able to get here and get my feet wet and have the fans accept me, I think that means, and at least I feel that it means, that I was doing a good job. Because they have been spoiled for so long with such great broadcasters, that as long as I didn't upset them and could just keep them happy... that's all I was trying to do.
Q: What’s the most valuable thing that you think you have learned from your experience, especially within this past year?
A: I learned that there is a big difference between radio and television and how to be comfortable with that. I learned that there are a lot of different ways to get ready for your shot. You never know when it's going to come. Kind of like I said, without my football experience, I probably wouldn't have gotten my hockey job. You don't necessarily realize when you're going through it, but I had a lot of different experiences over the past 10 years and I needed all of them to land the job that I got. So, I guess that when you're going through it and preparing, it might feel like forever away and it may be, but all of it eventually adds up to where you want to go. That’s the lesson I learned and I was happy to learn it.
Q: Do you have any advice for young aspiring broadcasters or play-by-play announcers that you wish you could have known? Or what advice would you give someone now?
A: I would probably say take every opportunity that you can get. The wonderful thing about play-by-play is that there is only one way to get better at it and that's to continue to do it. So it doesn't necessarily matter how many people are watching or listening or how important the game is. It's a matter of getting those repetitions and getting the practice. I would say not to turn down any opportunity that you can and to make the most out of it. Because like I said, you never know what experience you're going to need to get where you want to go.
Be sure to tune into Islander's games next season and follow Brendan on twitter @brendanmburke !