Thursday, July 12, 2007

Erik Kuselias Leaving "NASCAR Now" For ESPN Radio?

Earlier this week, ESPN's Dan Patrick announced that he is leaving the company to pursue other interests. Patrick is fifty-one, and has been at ESPN since 1989. During that time, like many of the ESPN "on-air talent," Patrick has moved back and forth between TV and radio. Much of his current success comes from hosting The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio since 1999.

In making this announcement, Patrick makes available one of the top jobs in sports radio nationwide. The opportunity to be the marquee member of ESPN Radio's stable of announcers is one that would tempt anyone who aspires to make a name for themselves at the highest level in this demanding field.

As we know from Mike and Mike In The Morning, radio shows have "legs" in other forms of media today like never before. Even though ESPN has just made the worst move possible in putting that show in a glossy studio, it is clear that ESPN wants to continue to continue "growing" its own radio shows onto TV.

Recently, Golic and Greenberg have also parlayed their radio success into becoming a "back-up" TV announcing crew for ESPN's Monday Night Football. They are, in essence, vacation relief for the "A" team. The success of this pair makes it clear to anyone that being a hit on ESPN Radio is a ticket to the big time across the media board.

Enter Erik Kuselias. Earlier this year, the popular host of the ESPN Radio program Sports Bash abruptly announced to his audience that he was leaving the radio side of ESPN and going over to ESPN2 to host a nightly motorsports show called NASCAR Now. Those listeners who thought it was a joke...found out the joke was on them.

Kuselias was gone, and the sport that he never discussed, occasionally mocked, and had absolutely no experience in was going to be his new life. Across the Internet, listeners posted the same question...why NASCAR?

Kuselias has a football and baseball personal history, is a dedicated stick-and-ball guy from way back, and used his dry and abrasive lawyer personality to "smack around" the callers and guests on his radio show. That's right, prior to ESPN, Kuselias was a full time lawyer in a successful firm in Hamden, CT.

No doubt a very smart man, Kuselias and NASCAR have been an "oil and water" mix from the start. With little knowledge of the sport, Kuselias resorts to his radio personality and mannerisms to get through each show. Its not working. NASCAR is like Major League Baseball, if you really want to get to know it...there is a lot to know.

To those of us who are NASCAR folks, its crazy to watch a MLB pitcher have no hits, runs, or anything else for three hours and call that a "prefect game." For baseball folks, to have forty-three guys "race in circles" for three hours is like watching paint dry. This is the quandary Kuselias finds himself in. He is loaded with football and baseball knowledge and trying to host a NASCAR show.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, NASCAR Now had other hosts than Kuselias. It was a factual bunch of shows with lots of news and interviews and some fun features. The shows had a friendly feel, and catered to the racing fan. Thursday, Kuselias returned and immediately moved the program back into hype and controversy, which is where lawyers like to live. It was amazing.

We got a re-hash of Kyle Busch's "issues" with Jeff Gordon, which to most adults were absolutely humorous. To Kuselias, it was controversial. Apparently, Kyle patted Jeff on the shoulder and Jeff "only" gave him a thumbs-up after Daytona. Then, Kuselias became obsessed that Craftsman Truck driver Aaron Fike was suspended without due legal process in a court of law. How dare they?

Both of these issues left NASCAR fans scratching their heads and wondering where the show they had just seen on Tuesday and Wednesday went? Since the beginning of the NASCAR season, The Daly Planet has referred to this transition as "bi-polar." One day this show is a hard-hitting action packed news and interview show, and the next day somebody is mad at somebody else and NASCAR is being outrageous again. By now, its all a little tiring.

The first move ESPN made to get Kuselias out of the studio was sending him to host the NASCAR Countdown pre-race show on-site at the Busch races. ESPN should have known that if reading a script in a studio was a struggle, interviewing and chatting live with drivers and owners at a track was not going to be good. It was not. Kuselias was promptly returned to the studio.

The other original co-host of NASCAR Now, Doug Banks, was quietly let go a while back and ESPN never even acknowledged that he ever existed. He was a mystery man, here one minute and gone the next. Now, with a big opening on the ESPN Radio side, many are wondering if this is just the opportunity that will allow Kuselias to step aside and allow a more experienced motorsports anchor to step-in.

Kuselias would be able to walk back to a high-profile radio job, and the NASCAR fans would get a new anchor who was focused on NASCAR just like Kuselias spent his life focused on football and baseball. Nobody loses in this deal. ESPN has a couple of folks who would work quite well in this slot, and they know it.

Dan Patrick has said that August 17th will be his last show. This means that who ever replaces him has to get their new show planned and assembled. Lots of things have to be hashed out and the time to start on that is now. Interestingly enough, ESPN is only two weekends away from taking over the NEXTEL Cup coverage for the remainder of the season for NASCAR's TV package.

This transition from Fox Sports and TNT directly to ESPN/ABC will bring a new level of scrutiny and intensity to NASCAR Now. Fans of the race coverage will be directed to this show, and expect a program every night along the lines of Baseball Tonight or NFL Live. There is no reason they should not get it.

Every new project has to be adjusted to make it work, and NASCAR Now is no exception. From the start, this show has featured great reporters, good graphics, excellent edited features, and superb studio production. Everyone who needs to be on the bus is ready and waiting. All ESPN needs to do is make a decision about who should drive this group all the way to November.

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