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October 28, 1988 - Image 83

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-10-28

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Mike Rosenbaum


Staff Writer

ook at the man on TV. Hear
him on the radio. Who is he,
you are asked. Jim Berk, the
sportscaster, you may reply. If
so, you are wrong.
Sportscasting is Jim Berk's pro-
fession, but sports is not his life.
Berk, 34, was and is strongly in-
fluenced by his parents, Sam and Il-
ona Berk. Sam, 79, still jogs two miles
a day. From him comes the athletic in-
fluence that is most obvious to the
younger Berk's listeners and viewers.
But Ilona made her own contribution
to her son's character, one which is
less obvious to the public.
Mrs. Berk survived six concentra-
tion camps and made certain her son
-understood exactly what that meant.
"I look at that," says Berk, "and
I basically say to myself, it's a miracle
that I'm on this earth, that I'm alive
and I'm walking and I'm talking. It's
an absolute miracle. My mom was
down to 50 pounds. Just the fact that
she survived is a miracle.
"So that has brought me very
close to my religion. I still daven in
the mornings. I am involved in my
synagogue (Adat Shalom) quite a bit.
I go to services. I'm a member of B'nai
Berk's awareness, fed by his
mother's experiences, helps him to ap-
preciate each day. That attitude helps
him deal with the pressures of broad-
casting. It also shapes his attitude
toward his work.
"Especially in the business that
I'm in," he says. "The business of news
and sports — I was in news, started
out in that — I was always cognizant
of death and fatalities and mortality.
In fact, that's one of the main reasons
I got out of news totally. I always lov-
ed sports and I wanted to do that, but
when I was doing the combination —
this was when I was living in Beau-
mont (Texas) — I had to go out and
cover traffic fatalities and murders
and shootings. It was awful. I hated
The intensity in Berk's voice, 10
years after leaving that job, shows
that he was no "plastic" news reader,
smile pasted to his face as-he describ-
ed other people's tragedies. His
awareness made him too sensitive for
Berk grew up in Lincoln, Neb.,
where his parents still live. the
household was not Orthodox, but was
"very close to tradition," says Berk.
Before Berk was born, his father,
who has relatives in Grand Rapids
and Kalamazoo, shortened the fami-
ly name from Berkowitz to Berk.
He attended the University of
Texas, where he earned a bachelor's
degree in journalism. Journalism,
though, was not his first subject
choice when he entered college.

OCT., 28-NOV., 3



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Continued on Page 81


Jim Berk does eight sportscasts per day on WWJ radio.

Gl enn Triest

im ension

Jim Berk is more than just a TV talking head

"I wanted to become either an ac-
tor or a comedian, that type of thing.
That intrigued me. But I kind of got
to my senses after 'a while and realiz-
ed that's a very tough business to
crack into unless you're very good and
very lucky?'
He turned to broadcasting
because it involved a type of perform-
ing before the public and because he
loved sports. But not before he exor-
cised some of his comedic demons. He
and school friend Phil McAlister did
a comedy act at local nightclubs.
The act generally centered on
topical impressions. "It would depend
on the certain type of crowd you had,"
Berk recalls. "I'll never forget, we
went over fairly well with college
kids. One night I remember we were
performing — there was a big football
weekend. Baylor was in town, big
southern Baptist school, and I'm sure
a lot of people who were at the club
were Southern Baptists.
"We did a little racy humor, a lit-
tle risque stuff. Stuff that they
wouldn't appreciate. And we absolute-

ly bombed. It was just awful. I just
wanted to go and hide in a corner."
The act was short-lived. Both men
turned to broadcasting, and McAlister
was tragically killed in an automobile
accident several years later. But com-
edy, like other aspects of Berk's life,
has made its mark.
"I've always enjoyed that element,
getting in front of people and doing
impersonations and comedy. What
I've tried to employ in my broad-
casting is humor and creative stuff
where people can enjoy that. I hate to
look at journalism as entertainment.
I don't think of myself as an enter-
tainer. But if you can bring the
message across and the information
— which is highly essential and
which I think is necessary — if you
can bring it across in an entertaining
manner, in an informative, fun man-
ner, people will stand up and take
more note of that."
Berk began broadcasting while
still in college, spending a summer
with KNLU in Monroe, La., working
as a disc jockey and reading news,







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