Iowa alum Paul Burmeister conducts an interview for NBC Sports, where he now serves as both a studio host and play-by-play commentator. PHOTO NBC SPORTS GROUP
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Paul Burmeister grew up in Iowa City listening to the legends of the Iowa airwaves – announcers like Ron Gonder, Jim Zabel and Frosty Mitchell – who crafted the stories of some of his favorite sports memories. As a youngster in Coralville, Paul never imagined that one day he would be the one in front of the camera or behind the mic, providing the narrative for some of the greatest sporting events in the world.
Paul’s journey to NBC Sports, where he hosts the network’s coverage of the Tour de France and serves as the play-by-play voice of Notre Dame football, began in the KCRG TV-9 newsroom under the tutelage of legendary sports broadcaster John Campbell. He honed his craft while covering prep football on “Friday Night Lights” and filling in occasionally on obscure Sunday night broadcasts, all while learning the importance of preparation and professionalism. That took him through the ranks to the NFL Network, and eventually to his dream job with NBC Sports in 2011. The former Hawkeye quarterback hasn’t looked back since.
Paul and I recently connected to discuss his sports upbringing in the Corridor, the challenges of entering the broadcast field and what it takes to rise to the top in the competitive world of sports announcing.
Paul, you and I have a very similar lineage – we’re both from the mean streets of Coralville, and played for Iowa City’s West High Trojans and Iowa Hawkeyes. Of course, you’ve gone onto a sterling career in television sports. Were you like me as a kid growing up here, listening to Jim Zabel and Harry Caray and watching John Campbell on TV9?
That’s exactly how I grew up – and not only Jim Zabel, but Ron Gonder and Frosty Mitchell, back when all those guys could do the game at the same time. I wasted so many summer days when it was nice outside watching the Cubs on WGN and Harry Caray and Steve Stone and those guys.
Was a career in television or radio sports announcing always in the stars for you?
Not at all. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I even had a thought that this may be something I’d be interested in. I never took a class in broadcast journalism at [the University of] Iowa, never did the interviews that we used to do on Tuesdays outside the [Hawkeye training] complex and thought, ‘Boy, that’d be something that I would enjoy.’
It wasn’t until later when I was in graduate school and stumbled onto a couple of opportunities with KCRG that I thought, “Boy, that was really fun. I enjoy John Campbell. I like learning what he does there. It’s fun to be on camera. This is a hell of a challenge.”
When you were going through the university, what was going to be your profession?
I had no idea. I was seriously at one of those August scrimmages in Kinnick Stadium and I remember Fred Mims, who was the associate athletic director, coming over and talking to my position coach. I’m like, “Which one of the guys fouled up this time?” And it was actually that I hadn’t declared a major and needed to.
You said you sort of stumbled into it with opportunities in local television – how did those come about?
I’m in graduate school, I’m the game announcer for Bob Bowlsby [athletic director at University of Iowa from 1990-2006], and it was EPSN Plus, and they were actually showing games … and they asked me to do color for two of the Iowa games. I think it was in 1996. I was like, “Sure, I’m not doing anything else that day,” and I was terrible. I had a good time with it, but never really thought much of it. And Marv Cook [former NFL pro], a good friend of ours, was just wrapping up his NFL career, and he let me know.
I think Marv was thinking about doing more media stuff and he said, “Hey, I think you do a great job on those games.” I think Marv was just being nice. He was like, “I’m going down to the Craig James Broadcasting School,” which existed then in Dallas for former players. He said, “I know you’re not throwing the same resume that somebody like me or some of the other people that are going to be there have, but I’d love for you to come down with me.” And I said, “OK, sure.”