I have to say that I have never had a Q&A or part of one that is one question and a 1400 word answer. That’s what makes Mark Packer the incredible talk show host that he is.
Pack or “Packman” as he’s called by his fans and friends is the most incredible storyteller I have ever come across in my 20+ years in radio. On the air or off the air Mark tells great stories. In this three part Q&A I’ll try to do these stories justice.
I caught up with Mark earlier this week between his two (yes-two) daily shows on SiriusXM. Mark hosts “ACC This Morning” with Wes Durham from 7-10am on SiriusXM’s ACC Channel 371 and “Off Campus” from 4-7pm solo on ESPNU on SiriusXM 84.
Matt: I had always assumed since you’re Billy’s kid (Billy Packer) that you had always wanted to be in broadcasting and had always been in broadcasting. Not until we worked together did I learn about how you ended up hosting a show in Charlotte. Can you tell us that story?
Pack: I had ZERO interest in being a broadcaster, but I loved the business aspect of broadcasting. My background was really more in putting together networks, announcers, marketing plans, and sales opportunities. I loved all of that, but I never really had any interest in going on the radio or television.
How I got on the radio full-time is such a fluke but it’s also a message of why you try to do as many things as you can and meet as many people as you can because you never know when that can come back full circle. What I meant by that is that in the early 90s I worked one year at the “Blockbuster Bowl” which was run by (Blockbuster CEO) Wayne Huizenga and Raycom Sports. I really didn’t have a huge interest in being in the bowl business but I thought it would be kinda neat to do it. It was a great experience because I met so many incredible people.
One of the people I met was Terry Hanson. Terry had been an executive with Turner for years and years and he was a big cheese with Raycom Sports at the time. Fast forward six or seven years and I get a phone call from Terry Hanson. I was in Charlotte and Terry was doing some consulting work for this new Sports Talk radio station–WFNZ in Charlotte. Terry lines up this meeting for me with Mike Kellogg who was coming in from Legendary WEEI in Boston. Mike was leaving to start the WEEI of Charlotte. Charlotte really desperately needed sports talk radio.
I show up at Mike Kellogg’s office and he’s not there. I’m sitting there in an empty office. Kellogg comes walking in a couple minutes late, typical Bostonian, he’s got his Dunkin Donuts Coffee in his hand talking 200 Miles an hour. Kellogg says, “Hey I understand you’re Mark Packer. I want you to meet Matt Pinto. Do you know Matt?” I say, “I have no idea who he is.” Matt at the time was the afternoon host. So he calls Matt in and he says “Oh great you guys get together. Pack I want you to come back later this afternoon and you and Matt do an hour together. And I gotta go.” And he gets up and walks out of the office.
The meeting lasted four minutes and to this day might be the worst business meeting I’ve ever had EVER! Pinto looks at me and I look at him and Matt says, “Well I guess I’ll see you this afternoon at 3.” And he gets up and walks out. Now I’m still sitting in the office by myself. I’ve been there four minutes. I thought I was gonna have a marketing meeting talking about opportunities. Next thing I know, I’m supposed to come back later in the same day to go on the radio!!
So I get home and my wife says, “You just left. Surely you didn’t have the meeting already?”
I said, “I did. It was the worst meeting I ever had.”
She asked, “What are you gonna do?”
I said, “I guess I’m gonna go back and go on the radio.”
She says, “What do you know about talking on the radio?”
I said “Nothing.”
She says, “What are you gonna talk about?”
I said, “I have no earthly idea!”
I read all the sports pages and get online and have like five or six things I’ll talk about. I have no idea how this is gonna go. I head right back to the radio station later that afternoon. Nobody is there to greet me. I find this guy and he tells me where the studio is. So I head down there and Matt Pinto is there. Matt says, “Perfect timing. Put on your headset..3…2…1..” and we’re on the air!
And the next thing I know an hour goes by in about two minutes. Seriously, I couldn’t believe how fast the hour went by. So the hour’s up and Pinto looks at me and says “Hope you enjoyed it. Have a good day!” and I looked at the clock and I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to leave.
Now Pinto’s kicking me out and I get up and walk out. Like anybody else you want some feedback one way or the other that you either did a good job or you sucked and there was nobody there.
Now I’m really hot! I’m thinking ‘I’ve come to this radio station twice in one day. I had the worst business meeting that lasted four minutes. Now I come back and go on the air for an hour. There’s nobody here to say great job or terrible job.’ Now I walk to the car and I am LIVID!!!
So I get in the car and drive home. Well I’m thinking at least my wife is gonna say, “Hey, you did a great job honey!” And so I get home and ask her, “How did I do?” She said, “I wasn’t listening.” Now I’m really HOT!!
Later that night Terry Hanson (the consultant) calls and I was so thrilled because I just want to rip into Terry for wasting my day. I tell him he’s out of his mind. I can’t believe I went to that stupid radio station twice today and I hang up.
My wife was listening to it and says, “You’re an Idiot. How crazy can you be? Did you have a good time on the air?”
I said “I loved it! It was great!”
“And they’re calling you to offer you a job, right?” She says.
“I don’t want to get my time wasted”
She says, “He wouldn’t have called you back if they didn’t think you did a good job!”
A week goes by and Hanson calls me back and says, “Have you calmed down yet?” I said “yes”. “We want to offer you the job. To be on the air. We’re going to put you on the air from 12-3.” I took the job because I knew my wife was right. I was on with a guy by the name of Sandy Penner who they brought in from Philadelphia. We were Packman and Penner 12-3 for about six weeks. I could still do my sports marketing in the morning and afternoon and do the show in the middle of the day.
I get a phone call one night from the boss, Mike Kellogg. He tells me that Matt Pinto (afternoon host) is leaving to be the play by play man for the Dallas Mavericks. We’re going to do a national search. I thought, that’s fine–I had daycare figured out and had my work and show figured out. They did a national search for about a week. Then I got a phone call from Mike Kellogg in the middle of the night:
Kellogg: “Hey I wanted to let you know that we got our guy for the afternoon show!”
Packer: “That’s cool. I’m sure whoever he or she is will do a great job!”
Kellogg: “Don’t you want to know who it is?”
Packer: “I really don’t care. Whoever it is I’m sure they’ll do a great job and I look forward to working with them!”
Kellogg: “I think it’s important for you to know who it is.”
Packer: “You’re probably right. Who is it?”
Kellogg: “It’s you!”
Packer: “I’m not taking that job. You’re outta your damn mind. I’ve got my whole life figured out with the show from 12-3.”
Kellogg: “I don’t want to hear about it because on Monday you’re on the air from 3-7pm”
That was the start of “Primetime with the Packman” and that show exploded in ratings and syndication and the rest is history. When people say “How do you get into radio?” I always roll my eyes and say, “do you really want to hear this story?” because I have the most unconventional means to get into radio.
The point of all of it though is that you meet so many interesting people along the way you never know when that can help you open another door. Without the relationship with Terry Hanson and Raycom Sports at the Blockbuster Bowl six or seven years earlier, that would never have happened for me in radio. Never, ever, ever!