Friday, January 18, 2008

John Kernan Comes Out Swinging

Normally, we do not cover a lot of the NASCAR radio scene, but this story deserves a little bit of attention. It certainly got ours.

A while back, we wrote about TV and radio veteran John Kernan moving to Chicago for some very positive personal reasons.

After hosting The Driver's Seat on Sirius Satellite radio, the decision was made that Kernan could not continue the show from the Chicago area, and would be let go.

In a Sirius Backstage Forum entry from late November, Kernan said "I did not get scooted out. I did ask about the possibility of continuing to do The Driver's Seat from my new home, but it did not fit PRN's (Performance Racing Network's) plans." He want on to add, "I'm OK with that."

As most fans know, PRN is a radio group controlled by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motor Sports Inc. The other radio production group is MRN, the Motor Racing Network, which was founded by the France family and is a NASCAR/International Speedway Corp. entity. Between those two, they dominate the radio coverage of the sport.

The final player in this scenario is Sirius Satellite Radio, the NYC-based company that has the satellite radio rights to the races, and provides 24 hour NASCAR programming. It should be mentioned right here that I have been a guest on Sirius without compensation over the last season. Just to keep things square, I even paid for the phone call.

About two months after Kernan's fond farewell in the Sirius Forum, he returned. This time, there was definitely no joy in Mudville. It was January, and Kernan was not a happy camper about what he was hearing. Below is the content of his first post, on a thread that he originated.

"Now some of you may think this is sour grapes, but I left The Drivers Seat of my own free will, almost. But, has anyone else noticed that the three daily (Sirius NASCAR) shows are now dominated by MRN, which is owned by ISC, which is controlled by the France family, which by the way controls NASCAR?" asked Kernan.

"I've been listening to all the shows and at the risk of never working in a NASCAR related field again, has anyone else noticed that the slant has changed?" he continued. "I mean, now the top 35 is all good, NASCAR never does anything wrong and they even floated the trial balloon this morning for pay-per-view. As I said in another (forum) thread, I'm glad I got out while the gettin' was good!"

As if things could not get any stranger, Kernan closed with this comment. "One of these days I'll reveal what really happened with my departure, but not right now."

Needless to say, Kernan's words soon attracted some comments from the other Sirius contributors. You may recognize the first one, his name is David Poole.

Here is Poole responding to Kernan's comments about journalists working on the radio and "trained broadcasters" being the victims.

"As the only newspaper reporter currently working as a full-time host on Sirius, I guess that is primarily directed at me. As far as I know, John, you and I have never competed for a job in radio. But, if somebody is looking for a radio broadcaster they should hire you. But, if somebody is looking to put a person on-the-air who has knowledge about the sport to share with people who're listening, then I am willing to put myself up against you on that score any time, any place."

But, Kernan was not done. He challenged Poole and his broadcast partner about their on-air "slant" again, which Kernan believes is now pro-NASCAR. Poole responded, "don't try to stake out any kind of moral or ethical high ground on me, John. I promise you, that's a battle you won't win."

Next to drop-by was Dave Moody, the MRN and Sirius veteran. He was not happy about having his credibility questioned. This is his response to Kernan.

"It's not enough to impugn people's integrity based on how it appears on the surface. You owe it to the good and conscientious people that work on Sirius NASCAR Radio to have your facts straight before making this kind of allegation," said Moody.

"You imply that I and the rest of the Sirius NASCAR Radio hosts are being controlled by NASCAR; a groundless charge that is categorically untrue. You hosted a program on Sirius NASCAR Radio for 12 months; a program that proudly called NASCAR on the carpet whenever you deemed it necessary. In all that time, did anyone from either NASCAR or Sirius attempt to silence you? Were you ever told that you could not talk about a specific topic? Were you ever forbidden from expressing an opinion? If not, you've got a lot of nerve accusing us of being handled any differently."

"It's insulting, John, and we deserve better. I find it curious that you were an enthusiastic supporter of Sirius NASCAR Radio, right up to the point where your own personal deal went south," said Moody. "A look through your previous posts proves that point, beyond all doubt. And yet, you now accuse your former colleagues of being nothing more than corporate mouthpieces for NASCAR and the network. Was this your true opinion all along? If so, you're a bigger sellout than you accuse us of being. And if not, you're the victim of a sour grapes overload."

Wow, who knew such things happened in NASCAR radio land? You can click here to read the whole thread, but the broader picture revealed by Kernan's comments is fascinating. Just like the TV networks who have to "play nice" in the NASCAR TV contract, the radio guys seem to have their own lines drawn in the sand.

PRN is located up at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, while MRN has just relocated from Daytona to Concord, NC. If the name of that town sounds familiar, it should. Just down the street from the new MRN the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Kernan was clear in his assertions that he is now just another listener, and will come back and post again when he wants to voice his opinion. Moody and Poole were clear in saying that if anyone from NASCAR ever tries to make them say or not say something, they will walk. They were also clear in their views about Kernan.

All this is happening days before the Charlotte Media Tour, hosted by the gang at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. It will include ESPN, PRN and MRN personalities. For the first time, it will also be televised by SPEED.

It should be interesting to see if this issue is covered by SPEED or ESPN, and how all of the personalities and companies involved handle it.

So, we have the former host of a PRN-produced popular national radio show calling out the MRN personalities over their NASCAR credibility on Sirius. And to think we were all wound-up about whether Tim Brewer would be back pointing at lug nuts in the Tech Center.

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