Before he left Comcast SportsNet two months ago, veteran broadcaster Ron Burke was one of the network’s most recognizable personalities due to his long stint hosting the network’s morning news report Sportsrise.
But like his colleagues Leslie Gudel and Neil Hartmann, Burke parted ways with CSN after 19 years, part of a shift in programming focused on opinion and debate aimed at attracting more millennial viewers. The network also recently canceled Breakfast on Broad, an attempt to create a local sports talk morning show.
“I know debate TV is what these sports networks are moving towards, but to me a show still needs to balance entertainment and being informative,” Burke said. “We're in a day and age where there’s so much to watch, you really need to focus on what will connect with your audience.”
Burke thought about leaving Philadelphia, but when FOX 29 came calling, the veteran broadcaster jumped at the chance to get back in front of the camera to talk about the sports scene he’s covered for the past 30 years.
“Staying in Philly is just a great situation for me because I love working here and people are familiar with my work,” Burke said. “FOX 29 was high on my list of places I wanted to work, so thankfully they brought me in.”
Burke’s first shift will be at 6 p.m. Friday, filling in for sports anchor and former 97.5 The Fanatic host Sean Brace, who is getting married in Florida to longtime girlfriend Kelly Onushco.
While Burke’s role with FOX 29 is part-time, it isn’t his only post-CSN gig. With an abundance of free time and the desire to branch off into different areas of sports coverage, Burke decided to try his hand at something new — podcasting.
“When I knew I’d have some time on my hands, I talked to a couple of people who were doing podcasts, and their encouragement about going down that road made a lot of sense to me,” Burke said.
Those discussions eventually led Burke to Wildfire Radio, where he launched a weekly podcast at the end of January called Any Given Sportsday with former Fanatic host Jason Ashworth.
“We get to express ourselves and have opinions, which I didn’t get to do as much when I was doing reporting for Comcast,” Burke said of the show, which is an attempt to move past the X’s and O’s of the game to focus on off-the-field issues that are relevant to the overall sports scene.
So far, Burke and Ashworth have hosted six podcasts, which have featured interviews with NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, ex-Sixers coach Fred Carter and former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.
During the height of his popularity in the early 1990s, Cunningham channeled Arsenio Hall all the way to an Emmy win for his weekly talk show, The Randall Cunningham Show. Burke, who worked at the time for NBC 10 as weekday sports anchor, was Cunningham’s host.
“Having Randall as our first guest over 20 years after his final show aired was a way for me to bring things full circle,” Burke said, noting fans still stop him and recognize him from the show. “It struck me how important that moment in time was to those Eagles fans.”
Despite the freedom a podcast offers to present any opinion he wants, Burke doesn’t foresee himself discussing politics or Donald Trump, subjects many hosts and athletes have made topical to sports fans over the past year.
“I don’t know if anyone cares what I think about the White House,” Burke said. “It doesn’t interest me to talk about it, and to me it just gets in the way of what my listeners want to hear.”
Burke said for some hosts, mixing sports and politics works because it’s part of their overall personality. But for him, it's annoying to watch an award show and being forced to endure political statement after political statement.
“Let’s say there’s a political issues surround funding for a new stadium,” Burke said. “That’d be different. That’d be something I’d be interested to discuss.”
New episodes of Any Given Sportsday are posted every Wednesday, and can be downloaded here.