Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Last Saturday night, as the field sat waiting for a fluid spill to be cleaned-up, there were many things going through the minds of NASCAR fans. Everything from Jeff Gordon's fuel level to Ryan Newman's restarts was fair game for conversation. It had been an action-packed NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race, and it was just what the ESPN on ABC TV crew wanted.
As the clock struck 11PM Eastern Time, the field was just about to crank it back-up and put the topper on three hours of live NASCAR racing on ABC. The Lowe's Motor Speedway looked great under the lights, and this race was going to help decide how the Chase for the Championship might be decided.
In Topeka, KS the NASCAR fans were watching their local ABC station KTKA. This station prides itself on serving the public interest, and was recently named the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Station of the Year for 2007. Quite an accomplishment.
Across the country, as NASCAR fans began to sit-up straight and get ready for the Trophy Dash, things in Topeka took a strange turn. The scoreboard at the Speedway showed six laps to go, but in Topeka there was only one thing on the minds of the staff at KTKA. It was time for the Channel 49 News at 10PM Central Time.
On the air came the dynamic weekend news team at KTKA, despite the fact that everyone at the station could see on the incoming ABC Network feed that the live NASCAR race was still clearly in progress. One simple touch of a button would have moved KTKA viewers back to the live NASCAR race. It never happened.
On the 49abcnews.com website, all hell broke loose. Here are some comments:
"Never have I been so shocked and livid at a TV station. To not show us the end of the race is absurd. Sorry Clint (Bowyer), we cheered you on as long as we were allowed. ABC owes us more than a small apology." (beckyandron)
"Two times in the last three weeks this station has ended their coverage prior to the completion of the race. This is clearly a sign of the times and really leaves me wanting the coverage of the races to go back to NBC." (anon viewer)
"Good thing I have Sirius Radio so I could hear the last laps of the race as it was running. Would you have done this during a Chiefs (NFL) game?" (anon viewer)
"Way to go and p**s off a bunch of potential (news) viewers KTKA! Station of the Year, huh? Were you just trying to get ahead of viewers switching to another channel?" (newhorse49)
"Does anyone really know what happened Saturday night? Please give us a truthful answer. Over three hours waiting to see the outcome and some incompetent...turns over to the news." (hillbilly)
The race coverage never returned. The newscasters never even mentioned the race. Later, the station released the following statement. "49News wants to take a moment to apologize to all the NASCAR fans in Northeast Kansas who did not get to see the end of Saturday's race."
In terms of dealing with the TV reality, the station was a little bit less than forthcoming. "An error between ABC and KTKA caused the last ten laps of the race not to be shown. ABC went to "black" for a longer than usual time, so we "took" the feed for the 49News at 10PM, even though the race was not over."
Despite the fact that one Master Control Operator might have switched the station over to the news, there was every opportunity to stop and switch back. In taking a look at the TV content in question, the choice between a live NASCAR race on ABC and the weekend news in Topeka should not have been a tough one. The big problem was not the first error, it was the refusal to fix it.
Complaints against the ABC Television Stations at first began to trickle in to The Daly Planet, and then it began to pour. Pre-empting the first thirty minutes of the night races for news, inserting sponsored news breaks on red flags, and leaving at 11PM Eastern Time for news regardless of whether the race was over or not were the common themes.
KTKA is only one example of stations in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida, New York, and Idaho that have had problems carrying the ESPN on ABC NASCAR package this season. Why this simple and straightforward sports feed has been a problem is a mystery. The one thing very clear is that these problems are real and continuing.
Clint Bowyer is having the season of his life. His run at Charlotte kept him in The Chase and really showed that he has come into his own in the NEXTEL Cup Series. Unfortunately, the people in his close-knit community of Emporia, KS did not have an opportunity to see the hometown boy finish the race. Along with many others in that part of the country, they were watching the Channel 49 Weekend News on KTKA...The TV Station of the Year.
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Over at the AOL Fanhouse they are reporting that Rusty Wallace will not be returning to the ESPN/ABC NASCAR package in 2008. The details are sketchy, and I am going to post this page to document the progression of this story over the next several hours.
Wallace has been struggling on the air, and his Charlotte comments about Jeff Gordon really rubbed some ABC executives the wrong way. On the Busch side, Rusty has been stepping away from running his son Steven's team to do the telecasts, and often expressed frustration with some of the incidents and decisions made in his absence.
So, here we go. This will be the Rusty Wallace news thread:
1:15PM Eastern - AOL Fanhouse goes with the "Rusty fired" story. No details on when, how, or why. Just a brief blog report of a "source" telling the Fanhouse Rusty is done.
1:39PM Eastern - Second confirmation Rusty will finish the season and then step aside. No one named as his replacement. (Email from TV source)
2:30PM Eastern - Waiting for any official comment from ESPN. Last heard by email Rusty finishes the season and then moves in a new direction. Two emails do not make an official confirmation, so we are still waiting for something from ESPN.
2:51PM Eastern - I just want to add that Rusty has always been professional in our TV contacts, and he has a great sense of humor. No one here "wants" him to stay or go, this site offers opinions, and then lets fans offer theirs. We are merely following a story that was reported earlier on AOL.
4:00PM Eastern - No answer from the ESPN Media Relations group and the NASCAR contacts we have been using all season.
5:00PM Eastern - "Rusty Wallace is our guy. We have a long-term contract with him. He's the voice of NASCAR on ESPN." This from Norby Williamson, ESPN VP of Studio and Remote Production. As Jayski would say....DENIED.
Thus ends another exciting afternoon of chasing Internet "Silly Season" rumors. I have a feeling we will be visiting this issue again soon.
As we update this page, please feel free to add your comments. To post your reaction, please click on the COMMENTS button below, and then follow the instructions for posting. Thanks again, this should be an interesting story for The Daly Planet.