Better Know a Broadcaster: A Q&A with SEC Network's Peter Burns
The 2020 college football season appears to be on track to start on time as we continue to get more positive news during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing is guaranteed, but the trends seem to be pointing toward football in September.
As we approach the 2020 season, we at Saturday Down South are bringing you a new series where we spend some time talking with broadcasters and media personalities who make our fall Saturdays so great.
This week, our newsletter editor, Adam Spencer, spoke with SEC Network host Peter Burns. From discussing his unique start in the media business to dream golf partners and copious amounts of Double Stuf Oreos, here’s what Burns had to say during our conversation.
(Note: Interview edited for clarity and length.)
Adam Spencer: What originally interested you in the world of broadcast and when did you know this is what you wanted to do?
Peter Burns: It goes back to I remember when I was a kid, playing youth sports and Little League and stuff like that, my parents would kind of make fun of me. I’d be giving kind of like a press conference after a game. Like, ‘You know, I really saw the ball well today. I had 3 hits and that was a big run we had in the fourth inning.’ I’d talk to myself on the way back from games.
I was always kind of interested in it, but it wasn’t until college, when I’d gotten a job in the gas and oil industry and I was driving around a lot all through south Texas and south Louisiana. I’d listened to the same 8 mix CDs for the longest time and I just got bored, so I started listening to sports talk radio and I kind of got hooked on it.
My story is kind of weird because one of the shows I listened to, they ended up having a contest back in 2003 to be a radio show host for the day for FOX Sports Radio. I put in an audition tape. Somehow, I ended up winning and got to come out to Los Angeles and host radio for a day. I was like, ‘This is awesome. I can’t believe people get paid to do this.’
Right after that, I went back to San Antonio where I was living and I went to the local radio station and I was like, ‘I’ll take any job you have. I want to work in sports talk radio.’ They gave me a phone book and a little booth and a cubicle and they said, ‘Go learn how to sell advertising,’ and off we went.
AS: When did you get involved with the SEC? You grew up in Baton Rouge, right?
AS: So you are probably a big lifelong LSU fan. Was it always a goal to get to work with the SEC or is that just something that sort of happened along your career path?
PB: It kinda just happened by chance. Again, I’m born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and everyone in my family went to LSU except for me. I wanted to play college golf for them, but I wasn’t good enough to be on LSU’s team, so I went somewhere else.
But yeah, I just grew up around it. My dad’s a cancer survivor. He had cancer when I was very young. When he beat it, he vowed, ‘Hey, I’m going to go back to school.’ So he went to LSU. So he was a student when I was about 6, 7, 8 years old. I went to every single LSU sporting event and sat in the student section and heard a lot of curse words growing up and fell in love with LSU and just followed it around.
I was in Denver, Colorado, where I owned my own sports radio business out there and I saw the SEC Network was going to be launched. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is going to be amazing.’ I had just recently signed with an agent and the agent was like, ‘Hey, I know you’re an SEC guy. Let’s pitch you.’ So I went to ESPN and talked to a bunch of the different talent people up there from ‘Around the Horn’ to ‘Pardon the Interruption’ to ‘SportsCenter’ to SEC Network people. Every single meeting went well except one. It was the SEC Network meeting.
They called back about 3-4 weeks later and said, ‘Hey, we want to bring you in to audition to be the anchor.’ I wasn’t even going for that job. I’d just said I’d be interested in being a contributor or something like that.
I originally turned down the audition to my agent because I’d never done television. I don’t want to screw up a good opportunity with ESPN and go look like a fool doing this television audition. My girlfriend/fiance, now my wife, told me, ‘You’re an idiot. Call back your agent and tell them you’re going to go take this audition.’ I did. I’m pretty sure I spent the whole 2 hours before I did the audition apologizing for how bad it was going to be. I guess, somehow, it was the right place at the right time and I got my dream job.
AS: Setting the bar low for yourself, I guess?
PB: Maybe it helped, because everybody who is in that position I think probably went in going, ‘I’m doing this, I’m that good,’ and selling themselves and I kind of went in like, ‘Man, it’s just so much fun to be here.’ I think it was just a different angle I took. I don’t know if it helped, but I’ve been there for a while now.
AS: Speaking of having fun, that comes across on ‘SEC Now’ when you guys are all together with everyone on Saturdays. Is there a funniest moment that sticks out to you from your time at the SEC Network?
PB: I remember one time, this is way back in the day when Booger McFarland was doing stuff with us. We had this whole debate thing. This is way before Trump even was thinking about or had won the presidency and we had Booger dress up like Trump and he was breaking down highlights like him. It was just so fun and light-hearted and everyone liked it.
There aren’t a whole lot of moments that stand out. It’s just craziness. It just feels like fun. My wife always jokes around when I say, ‘Oh, I have to go to work today.’ She’s like, ‘No, you’re in the 1% of people who can’t wait to go to work.’ I get disappointed when I don’t have to work.
I think all of us are pretty laid back and I’m glad that comes across on-air, because we’re lucky as hell to be doing what we do.
AS: When you were talking about listening to sports radio while you were driving around in Texas, did you have any big inspirations that you had when you were going through that? Who were some of the people you looked up to? And, even now, who do you like to listen to broadcast a game or analyze something on the radio?
PB: Growing up, it was Tony Bruno and Andrew Siciliano. Those were the 2 guys. Tony Bruno’s doing stuff again with SiriusXM. He was one of the original ESPN Radio show hosts when they launched. Then Andrew Siciliano, of course, went on to television and does all the Red Zone stuff with the NFL Network. I absolutely loved their show. It was just a passion for me and I really, really enjoyed it.
Going forward, I try to listen to a little bit of everything. I really like how Colin Cowherd can take one topic, but then really butterfly that topic and have 15 different variations of a take. I think that’s strong. Obviously, I admire Paul Finebaum for what he’s created as far as just a national brand. Frankly, I’m proud of the show we do on SiriusXM. And then we do it on SEC Network as well. I try to be unique and have fun. I try to live it like I’m a fan who gets to do this. I know that’s cliche, but like everybody else that you interview, they’re professional broadcasters. I’m a guy who won a contest and have been kind of faking it all the way into my dream job. I try to stay in the moment about that.
AS: Having grown up in Baton Rouge, you must have been following this past LSU season pretty close. Do you have an LSU memory from your childhood that sticks out to you? And what did this past season mean to you and to your family?
PB: I remember walking into Tiger Stadium with my dad when he was recovering from cancer. We’d go into the games and I can remember him vividly saying, ‘Now, we don’t repeat any of the words we hear when we come back home.’ I used to be a huge college basketball fan. I was there for the LSU-Loyola Marymount game where it was 148-141. It was Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts, Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble. It was one of the craziest basketball games in the history of the sport. …
Being in the Superdome this year was incredible. It was just, I mean, I got emotional in the stands. I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I get to cover my dream team having their dream season next to my wife and we have 2 beautiful kids. Life could not be any better.’
AS: I just have a few rapid-fire questions to finish things off. First, is there a random team that you kind of like? For example, I always sort of wish that Wake Forest was more consistently better at things, because I love the Demon Deacons mascot. Is there a team like that outside the SEC that you often find yourself pulling for a little bit?
PB: That’s interesting. Inside the SEC, I was going to say Alabama, because I married an Alabama diehard fan. But I played college golf for University of Texas-San Antonio, so the UTSA Roadrunners. Beep beep. I’m always kind of pulling for them.
Other than that, that’s the unique thing about college. When you’re locked in on a team, you’re locked in. I pulled for the Colorado Buffaloes a little bit when I was in Denver, but other than that, it’s LSU.
As weird as it sounds, I think of the SEC as a team. Getting to know the 14 coaches and the schools, it’s a different breed, man. It does just mean more.
AS: You mentioned you played golf at UTSA. If you had to do something like the Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson thing the other day, who would you want as your partner?
PB: I’ll tell you what, Peyton is a pretty dang good one. I lived in Denver when they won the Super Bowl and I admire the hell out of him. Peyton would probably be the guy I’d have as my No. 1 pick.
As far as just having fun, I think (Charles) Barkley would be the fun, hey we’re just going to goof around, guy. If I wanted a wild, crazy time, of course I’m taking Johnny Manziel. Manziel’s a really good golfer as well.
AS: Dream interview subject? Someone you haven’t been able to get yet but you’d love to have on?
PB: I haven’t had John Daly on. I think Daly would be fantastic, just to talk about his time playing for Arkansas and everything as a golfer.
I’d also like to get presidents. Like, again, I think having Bill Clinton and the Arkansas relationships that he had — even George W. Bush and Barack (Obama). Those, of course, are always dream guys. You realize how much they love sports. Those would be some pretty fantastic ones, as well.
AS: Last one. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself during this quarantine process with no sports? Or maybe a hobby or something you’ve picked up that’s new?
PB: I’ve eaten way too many Double Stuf Oreos. It’s ridiculous how many of those I eat. Also, I’ve learned I’m still super competitive. A couple of weeks ago, I thought I broke my finger out of anger because me and Marcus Spears were playing Fortnite. I thought I tore a ligament and was going to have to have surgery. That’s probably the most embarrassing thing.
Since then, I’ve had to calm down with my competitiveness when it comes to playing video games against 9-year-olds.