If you tune in on time to Fox’s pregame show for Game 1 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals on Tuesday night, the first person you’ll hear from is Kevin Burkhardt, the multi-talented broadcaster who not only hosts the MLB on Fox postseason pregame show but is the No. 2 play-by-play announcer for the network’s football coverage.
Burkardt’s shows have won Sports Emmy Awards. His coworkers adore him. He lives with his family in the Los Angeles suburbs and drives muscle cars. But success didn’t come right away for the 45-year-old. Far from it.
“I always wanted to be involved in sports and I didn’t know how that was going to be,” Burkhardt said. “I knew it was going to be hard and I didn’t know how it was going to work, but I knew I always wanted to be involved in sports and I always loved the play-by-play aspect.”
Burkhardt would call Nintendo games into a tape recorder with his brother and friends, idolizing sports play-by-play legends like Gary Cohen, who called games on WFAN for his beloved New York Mets. In suburban Bloomfield, New Jersey, he announced his high school’s football games for a public access station that would re-air the weekend’s games on Monday or Tuesday, crediting his supportive parents for encouraging young Kevin to pursue his passion. He worked local minor league baseball games for $25 a pop, toiled at local New Jersey radio stations and famously sold cars in order to keep his dreams alive.
“We all got to where we are in different ways,” said Charles Davis, Burkhardt’s partner on Fox’s NFL coverage. “For him, it wasn’t just a means to an end. It’s part of the shaping of who you are as a person. He had to go through that to get to where he is now, which means he appreciates the heck out of it. Because he earned it.”
Burkhardt said he’s fortunate to have taken the path he did, which is certainly different from Fox colleagues like Joe Buck and Kenny Albert who got big-time broadcasting gigs in their 20s.
“Do I wish I was where I’m at now 15 years ago? The reality is I don’t think I would’ve been ready for it,” Burkhardt said. “I’m really happy for the way my path played out. I think if Fox hired me 20 years ago, I probably would’ve sucked. So I think I needed the stops along the way to hopefully get to a place where I was good enough.”
One person who thought Burkhardt was good enough was Eric Spitz, a former WFAN and CBS Sports executive who now works at SiriusXM. He hired him to work part time at the FAN and on local New York City news radio WCBS.
“He’s just a good, honest critiquer of work,” Burkhardt said. “He did not bullshit you, and I don’t want to be bullshitted. I want to be told the truth. And doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone that talks about your work, but at least it makes you think about whether you should do something differently. He did that for me.”
Burkhardt famously landed with SNY in 2007 as their sideline reporter at age 33. By that time, he thought he was ready for the gig. And with that gig was working with his idol Cohen, someone who became a dear friend and mentor during his seven-year tenure working Mets broadcasts.
“Growing up listening to him on the radio and then getting to work with him was just really special,” Burkhardt said. “And we became really tight. We became really good friends.”
Burkhardt and Cohen would sit next to each other on team planes, take cabs to games on the road and was always incredibly helpful whenever Burkhardt had any questions or wanted advice.
“He was just so important, and I trusted him so much,” Burkhardt said, who really respects Cohen for not thinking that he was gunning for the top play-by-play job at SNY, which he wasn’t.
Burkhardt would further lean on Cohen for guidance as his opportunities expanded beyond SNY, first doing Dallas Cowboys games on the radio for Compass Media Networks in 2011 and then fill-in work for MLB on Fox beginning in 2012.
Many people in Burkhardt’s position would’ve been perfectly satisfied with achieving your lifelong dream, working at WFAN and then for the Mets with Cohen at SNY. Burkhardt was not one of those people, knowing that there was always room to get better.
“If you’re looking at it from the sense of could you be happy doing the Mets job for 30 years? Me in that role, no, I don’t think I could’ve done that for 30 years.,” he said. “I enjoyed the hell out of it. I thought it was a great job, it was a dream job. But that physically and mentally wears you down, that baseball grind. It just does. And for some people, they love it. I loved a lot of it, but I didn’t love the grind.”
While still at SNY, Burkhardt was hired by Fox in 2013 to be in the number four NFL broadcast team alongside John Lynch and Erin Andrews. His producer was, and still in, Pete Macheska, who’s also the Emmy Award winning producer for Fox’s World Series broadcasts.
Burkhardt still remembers his first NFL game on Fox in 2013 between the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets were driving down the field to get in position to attempt a potential game-winning field goal.
“You try to say things that may ease their mind,” Macheska said about young broadcasters like Burkhardt in that situation. “He probably got butterflies.”
“I’ll never forget Pete in my ear going ‘alright kid, just remember, where do they need to get to to kick this field goal and be aware of the clock,'” Burkhardt said, trying to avoid a huge screwup in his debut. “It was so comforting to have those guys there. And honestly, once I got through that game, it felt like I was at home.”
As Burkhardt was beginning to feel a bit burnt out from the full-time baseball grind, the last year of Burkhardt’s contract with SNY was in 2014 and the wheels were already in motion for a full-time departure to Fox.
“The reality is, if I didn’t have the Fox opportunity at the end of my Mets contract, I was not going back,” he said. “I knew if that didn’t work out, I was not gonna be doing the Mets. I was just mentally done.”
Burkhardt began working at Fox full time after the Mets’ 2014 season ended, with the two major roles he has today doing NFL play-by-play and MLB on Fox studio work. And he’s received rave reviews ever since, even earning a playoff game after his first season calling NFL before being elevated to the number two crew, with Davis (and Jay Cutler, for a quick Scaramucci) -after Lynch left Fox to run the San Francisco 49ers- and Pam Oliver, after Andrews was promoted.
“He’s a dream guy to work with,” said Bardia Shah-Rais, the coordinating producer of the MLB on Fox studio show.
Shah-Rais said there’s two qualities that makes Burkhardt so good in his role, being a good person and being selfless, along with a little self-deprecation.
“All he cares about is making sure the show’s good. He could care less about himself,” Shah-Rais said. “He’s really good at balancing everything that’s going on without the viewer at home knowing what’s going on in his ear.”
And to be hosting a show with Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Frank Thomas means being able to manage those voices while moving things along.
“He just knows how to make those guys better. It’s a unique skill,” Shah-Rais said. “He doesn’t need the last word, and it’s not about him. Alex calls him the Magic Johnson of the group, because he just cares about getting assists.”
Over the years, Davis has gotten to know Burkhardt and his family and said that a great quality about him is how he takes everyone at face value.
“He’s gonna take you for who you are,” Davis said. “And if you turn out to be a jerk or whatever, I’m sure he’s not gonna suffer that fool very gladly. But if you’re meeting him where you’re supposed to, piece of cake. And I’m tellin’ you, there’s not a better person in this business than Kevin Burkhardt.”
Over the course of the last five years, Burkhardt and Macheska have become very close friends as they’ve traveled the country preparing for and calling games, sharing meals, joking around behind the scenes.
“When you work with someone, or side by side with someone that makes you better,” Macheska said, “you really like them because not everybody is as giving as he is.”
In a wild coincidence, Burkhardt’s dad and Macheska’s wife worked together at an Alessi clothing store in New Jersey. But more importantly, Macheska noted that Burkhardt still knows the names of everyone on the production crew. People notice that. Macheska remembers that when Burkhardt was honored by William Paterson University, his Alma Mater, in April 2018, Pam Oliver flew in to be there because she knew how much it would mean to him.
“He’s genuine. He came up through the ranks,” Macheska said, “so he treats everyone like he would want to be treated. He gives everyone the time of day, no matter who it is. He loves kidding around, and gets just as excited [in person] as he gets when he does broadcasts in a game on a play.”
The secret to balancing both play-by-play and studio duties, Burkhardt and Macheska agreed, is taking no shortcuts when you prepare for a broadcast.
“I need to watch as much as I can, obviously, and I have this database where I take notes in my own way,” Burkhardt said. “And the other thing which I used to do. especially when I was doing the Mets, I just didn’t sleep. And I guess I’m just older now and I got to the point where that’s not doing me any good. So I try to get to sleep a little earlier and get up early and get stuff done and just stay on top of it the best I can do.”
Even after working with Burkhardt for three years, Davis is still impressed by how seamless he goes from baseball to football, fully prepared for anything and everything.
“He’s a guy who’s in full control of what he’s doing, has all the facts and figures at his disposal and makes it easy for his teammates and partners working with him,” Davis said. “I tell him all the time, it’s like Terrell Owens, I’m so glad you’re my quarterback.”
Though he’s very comfortable with his Fox job and his West Coast lifestyle, his muscle cars and bad dance moves, Burkhardt said he’s still far from complacent in terms of his career.
“I want to be the best I can be and I want to kick ass and do all these big projects and keep doing what I’m doing, if not more,” he said. “But I’m in a good enough space where I don’t have to obsess over that.”
Burkhardt will not only be the first face you see for Fox’s World Series coverage, and will likely get to call an NFL playoff game in January, he’ll get to hand the trophy to the winning team when it’s all over. He said he hasn’t really thought past the World Series just yet, hasn’t thought about what’s next for him in his career and life.
“For the first time in my professional career, I’m trying to be the best at what I’m doing currently. And I’m enjoying it so much,” Burkhardt said. “I’m in a good place and I’m happy and I’m just trying to do the best that I can what I’m doing right now.”
As you may have noticed, the best Kevin Burkhardt can do is pretty damn good.