Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: New Trio Makes 2018 Irish Radio Debut

The names go way back and they represent a “Who’s Who” list in the sports radio business.

Warren Brown. Bill Stern. Joe Boland.

Harry Wismer. Jim Gibbons. Jim Morse.

Van Patrick. Al Wester. Tony Roberts. Don Criqui.

Some of those same individuals also handled color commentary in different years on radio broadcasts of University of Notre Dame football games — as did Dan Peterson, former Irish athletics director (and football player) Moose Krause, Frank Sweeney, 1956 Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, Pat Sheridan, former Irish assistant coach Tom Pagna and former Irish All-America running back Allen Pinkett.

Whether they worked for WSBT in South Bend, ABC Radio, the Mutual Broadcasting System, Westwood One, ISP or most recently IMG, they provided the audio descriptions for dozens of legendary Notre Dame football games.

In 2018 a new trio is taking over the radio calls in the first year of Notre Dame’s newly minted marketing relationship with JMI Sports and Legends — as Paul Burmeister, Ryan Harris and Jack Nolan offer their play-by-play calls and analysis.

None of the three are strangers to Notre Dame football.

Paul Burmeister, Ryan Harris and Jack Nolan
Burmeister has handled play-by-play duties in recent years for NBC Sports on Irish spring football games — and also has filled in for one regular-season game.

Harris, a former standout Irish offensive lineman, joined the team in the analyst role after working Irish home games in 2017 as part of the Fighting Irish Media streamed postgame show. That invitation came about based on a relationship with FIM’s Mike Bonner (he is in charge of football video board content) dating to when both were part of the Denver Broncos’ NFL operation.  

Nolan has been covering Notre Dame football since he came to South Bend in 1982 as a sports anchor at WNDU-TV – more recently working regularly with Brian Kelly and the Irish for FIM.

Burmeister joined the Notre Dame radio team after serving in a similar role with NBC Sports since 2014, including reporting duties for Football Night in America. He called play by play on NBC for the Notre Dame-Miami (Ohio) game last September, as well as for the annual Blue-Gold Game on NBCSN the last three years. He has also called Ivy League football and Mountain West football for the family of NBC networks since 2011, and the US Army All American Bowl on NBC each January since 2012.

Burmeister also provided play-by-play action for NBC’s Summer Olympic Games coverage in 2016 and 2018. Prior to joining NBC, Burmeister spent a decade with the NFL Network handling host, anchor and play-by-play duties. He was a quarterback at the University of Iowa and, following his collegiate career, spent time with the Minnesota Vikings.

“The amount of time I spent around the team the last year certainly helped,” he says. “I’ve been in the booth for years, so that was a huge plus for me even if this was radio compared to television.

“It’s all a little humbling, maybe a little intimidating. But those are good emotions to have because it makes me aware of how important this is. It pushed me to think about preparing and focusing all the time. No matter what pushes you to attempt to be over-prepared, that gives you a chance to succeed — so those are good feelings.  

“I’m humbled by the guys that have come before me. Even intimidated by it. This is as big a radio broadcast as there is in the country. It makes me excited, it makes me nervous – all those feelings you would expect. They’re familiar, comfortable feelings I like.”

It wasn’t lost on Burmeister that the Irish opened the 2018 season against the 14th-ranked team in the country in Michigan.

“The fact the game was maybe the number-one game of the weekend and a great rivalry only added to it all. All that did was push all those feelings to want to prepare all the time.

Burmeister made sure he knew what it took to work on radio.

“I didn’t take lightly the move from television to radio – yet the more I thought about it, I thought about all the people I really really respected who made that transition. The more research I did into it, I realized it’s a much different challenge.

“When I found out I got the job, I made calls to guys I know a little bit who had gone back and forth from TV to radio at a really high level — Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan and Kenny Albert. I started out with, ‘What would you tell a guy who has a lot of experience doing TV but is calling a game on radio for the first time?’ Each one of them was awesome — each one ran with it his own way and I ended up with pages and pages of notes.

“What I took away was, ‘Don’t ever deny the listener down, distance, time and score. Don’t let the listener go too long without hearing all those basics.’ On radio I think there is much more of a focus on names and numbers and being able to spit that out quickly. The identification and description are key on radio — you’re constantly updating and there’s a little more immediacy. It’s the way radio is. Plus, the level and energy and pacing of your voice are telling listeners what’s happening inside the stadium.

“I had a blast that first Saturday and I can’t wait to do it again.

“I spent a lot of time on the phone with Ryan and Jack that next week. ‘Tell me about what went well?’ And yet we all have a pretty high standard. Whatever it was that Saturday for Michigan, we all want it to be better.

“Ryan asked me, ‘What can I do better?’ I asked him the same thing and ‘How can I make your job easier?’

“I think we all have a feeling we were prepared and it went well — yet we all want to make it even better the next time.”

Harris, a four-time monogram winner and three-year starting offensive lineman for the Irish, returns to his alma mater after a 10-year NFL career, which culminated with a Super Bowl 50 title as a member of the Denver Broncos. After graduating from Notre Dame in 2007, Harris began his NFL career with the Broncos. He later spent time with the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs before returning to Denver as a left tackle in its Super Bowl championship season. Harris closed his NFL career in 2016 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He currently hosts The Kreckman and Harris radio show on Denver’s Altitude Sports Radio AM 950.

“This opportunity stands head and shoulders above the weekday radio and even TV work I do in Denver,” Harris says. “Everyone who has gone to Notre Dame, anyone who loves the Fighting Irish knows we are worldwide with our fandom and we hold the highest standards. So working as part of the Notre Dame family brings me great joy and impact to educate and humanize the sport and players the Irish faithful follow.” 
Harris says he was fine thinking about his new assignment – until he arrived in South Bend for the opener versus Michigan.

“I was not nervous until I got to campus and everyone was asking me, ‘Are you nervous?’ But I was prepared, and I know and love the game. Plus, I didn’t have to play, so it’s a little easier to be in my shoes than the cleats on the field.

“Many people wished me luck. (Former Irish offensive lineman and CBS broadcaster) Aaron Taylor and (Westwood One producer) Howard Deneroff were extremely helpful in making sure I gave myself the best opportunity to succeed.

“I loved that it was a big game. It provides such a great opportunity for the Notre Dame athletes to showcase their talents on a heightened national stage.”

And the feedback? 
“I had one person actually call my radio station to tell me how much they enjoyed the broadcast — that was awesome.”

Harris says he watched tons of film to prepare.
“I also talked to scouts I know on the sidelines to get their perspective on the talent Notre Dame has. 
“I love this — it’s a great gig.”

Rounding out the team is Nolan, who currently serves as talent and affiliate networks program director for FIM.  This is Nolan’s 37th season with Notre Dame athletics and he has covered Notre Dame football and basketball on TV and radio since 1982. Nolan called play by play of Notre Dame football games on WNDU from 1982 through 1990, earning three Indiana Associated Press Best Play-by-Play awards for football during this period. He also has announced Notre Dame men’s basketball games on radio and TV since 1982, making him one of the longest-tenured college basketball announcers in the country. 

In 1990, Nolan began hosting the “The Digger Phelps Show” (now “Inside Notre Dame Basketball”) and began hosting duties for “Inside Notre Dame Football” in 2006. In 2010, he joined the then-ISP Football Radio Network as pregame show host and has continued to play a role on the Notre Dame football radio network. Nolan has been nominated for numerous Emmy Awards and won the Chicago/Midwest Emmy® for best on-camera sports talent in 2015. 

“It was an amazing coincidence because the Michigan game was exactly six years ago to the day that I was the sideline reporter when I did it in Ireland in 2012 for the Navy game when Jeff Jeffers moved into the booth for that one game,” says Nolan. “It’s certainly different — yet it fits in exactly with what I’m doing during the week anyway.

“By the time game day comes it’s a natural outgrowth of what I’ve done all week in terms of going to practice and working with Coach Kelly. It probably helps that I’ve done football play by play, so I know what Paul and Ryan are going through. I know how to jump in and jump out – I know what they need and don’t need. In fact, I said to Paul, ‘What do you want? You’re the quarterback, literally.’

“I was blown away by how well we meshed immediately. I had a season working with Ryan last year on the postgame show, but Paul stepped in and we all got on the same page right away. We all just want to see each other do well. I thought Paul was very good to start and got better and better. On radio you have to say things that are obvious, things you don’t have to say on television. I thought Paul and Ryan were terrific. And it was probably easier because it was a big win.

“We spent all day Tuesday and Wednesday together the previous week, including meeting with management. We went through the rundowns, went into the booth and then we met again Saturday afternoon before we went on the air.

“It’s radio, so it’s descriptive. Paul’s job is to answer ‘What?’ Ryan’s job is ‘Why what?’ And my job is to answer whatever questions come out after all that’s over. You don’t want to overcomplicate it. The chemistry the three of us had for the first broadcast was very unusual for three guys who had never worked together before as a group.

“But it’s really obvious that being a part of this Notre Dame radio network is considered a big deal by a lot of people.”

Burmeister, Harris and Nolan look forward to many more enjoyable Saturdays in the booth.

And someday they hope they can put their names up with the list of their predecessors and feel like they are all in good company.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.