Dennis Michelsen · Tuesday March 29, 2005
RPM2Night’s John Kernan Gone Fishing- Odds and Ends
(Race News for Fans with Short Attention Spans)
RPM2Night’s John Kernan Gone Fishing
Recently I was asked what I was doing on a particular day three years ago for a lawsuit that is being litigated. Having a hard enough time remembering what I ate for lunch yesterday let alone what I was doing three years ago I was stumped and answered accordingly. But had that same person asked what I was watching any weekday evening at 6:30pm five years ago my answer would have been a lot easier…RPM2Night! For those race fans new to the NASCAR scene you may not remember the race news show that was a staple of the ESPN2 lineup for seven years. A few weeks ago on this very column I was reminiscing about how much I missed the show and its host John Kernan. Lo and be hold who wrote me to thank me for my kind words about the show? None other than John Kernan himself! Never letting any opportunity go by harmlessly in my quest for truth, justice, and a good story on “Odds and Ends” I asked John for an interview. Join me as we take a few minutes to take a look back at the career of one of sport’s journalisms best and to see what he is doing now.
Back in 1990 John Kernan was hired by ESPN to work as a pit reporter on their NASCAR broadcasts. John hailed from Irondale, Missouri; a small town south of St. Louis and grew up wanting to be a radio play-by-play announcer. His broadcasting career would take a different path, however, landing him in Roanoke Virginia in the heart of NASCAR country! “Up until then I was more of a open wheel fan,” said Kernan when asked about his journey to the ESPN job. “I remember my first race as a pit reporter. It was at old North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1990. Geoff Bodine won the race driving for Kenny Bernstein and NASCAR had a scoring error that race too. NASCAR has changed a lot over the years. There used to be a lot more interaction with the fans and the racing community in the old days. It was basically good old boys driving around the country and driving real fast! Today it is such a corporate monster,” remarked Kernan.
Part of the amazing growth of NASCAR was due to ESPN coverage, which gave the sport a home for even the smaller events the networks didn’t bother to cover. ESPN also realized that fans wanted more than just weekend coverage of racing. RPM2Night debuted Labor Day weekend in 1995 and quickly evolved into a nightly 30-minute show. John Kernan started out as a field reporter but was soon hired as the nightly host. ESPN could not have picked a better person for the job. Kernan’s smooth style, soothing voice, and friendly demeanor were an instant hit with the race fans! It was also clear from day one that John Kernan was not just another “Talking Head” but rather a die-hard race fan himself! “Shawn Murphy should get the credit for developing RPM2Night,” said Kernan. The show patterned after the popular Sports Center format had no set formula. Events of the day dictated what series would be talked about. Since NASCAR always had big news every day it was often the most important story of the day. Popular NASCAR drivers such as Kenny Wallace and Benny Parsons added some spark to RPM2Night and also deserve credit for the show’s success. “Benny and Kenny were not putting on a show,” remarked Kernan. “What you see is what you get with those guys on and off the screen.”
If the news was good you could see the excitement in Kernan’s face. But if the news was bad, you could almost feel the lump in his throat as he delivered the bad news to you. “One of my favorite memories from the show was the day Dale Earnhardt came to the studio after his last win. We had him watch the video and describe how he made the move from 17th to first in the closing laps.” One of the more popular weekly features was “Open Wheel Wednesday” that featured video from the local short track circuit. Filled with exciting trips “Into the Spin Cycle” or showing cars crashing into the “Wall of Voodoo,” RPM2Night gave local guys their 15 minutes of fame! Race fans got a chance to catch up on the Cruiser, the Gas Man, and Danny the Dude! “This wasn’t a job to me this was fun,” said Kernan. Growing up racing motocross and watching the local dirt trackers gave Kernan an appreciation for the local short track guys and “Open Wheel Wednesday” gave them some needed support! Sadly like all good things RPM2Night perished after the new television contract relegated ESPN to “Red-Headed Step Child” status with NASCAR. After its untimely death two years ago, race fans had to look elsewhere for their nightly fix of racing news. No show and no host before or since have connected with the average race fan quite like John Kernan and RPM2Night. Perhaps if ABC/ESPN bids on the new television package we will see a return of RPM2Night and our favorite race news host John Kernan too!
PRN Sunday Drive
Those race fans needing a John Kernan fix can get it via PRN’s popular Sunday night show “PRN Sunday Drive.” “I might be living in a box right now if it weren’t for this show,” joked Kernan. “Our two hour show is growing. You can also catch it online Monday if it isn’t available in your market yet.” Co-hosts John Kernan and Stephanie Durner are joined every week by a guest co-host from the world of NASCAR. A few weeks ago Craftsmen Truck Series star Ron Hornaday joined them for the two-hour free flowing show that gets the listeners involved in the discussion. Check out www.goprn.com to see a listing of affiliates carrying the show or to listen to the recorded feed from the previous week. If you loved John Kernan on RPM2Night you won’t want to miss this show every week!
BassCenter Saturday Mornings on ESPN2
After years of following the high speeds of racing, it seems to be an odd change of pace that landed John Kernan as the host of the ESPN fishing show “BassCenter.” Kernan was an avid fisherman and even covered the Bassmaster events in Virginia when he worked as a sports reporter in Roanoke. “One of the great things about this new deal is that this reminds me of the old days of NASCAR,” remarked Kernan. I could hear the excitement in his voice as he started describing to me how the series works. “There are great personalities in the sport just like racing. Mike Iaconelli, a loud mouth bass in his own right, is sort of the Kenny Wallace of the Bass world.” Now I don’t know a Crankbait from a Carolina Rig, but I figured I would give BassCenter a look.
“The competition is so fierce! Every week you start out with 150 anglers and only 12 qualify after two days of fishing. Out of those 12 only six make it to the finals on Sunday,” commented Kernan as he tried to explain the sport to this novice. “And there are no provisionals, even if a guy is in the championship race if he doesn’t qualify he doesn’t fish on Sunday.” Along with co-host Byron Velvick, Kernan brings the same baritone voice and enthusiasm to BassCenter that we saw for many years on RPM2Night. As he described the close “Angler of the Year” point’s race, the closest race ever of course, even I was starting to get interested enough to check it out. From “Crazy Kota” to the “Hack Attack” it is clear that these guys are just as nuts as the NASCAR drivers! Kernan and Velvick even questioned the points system remarking that maybe a change to rewarding more points for winning is in order. Doesn’t THAT sound familiar race fans? The in depth interview of veteran angler Rick Clunn and his wife was fascinating. As Melissa Clunn said about her husband, “He is not like anyone I have ever met. He’s not normal.” BassCenter even did their own version of BASS-360 following Ish Monroe during his final day of the Lake Norman tournament. Monroe is the only African American angler on the tour and adding more diversity to the angling community seems to be expanding the sport. Again doesn’t that sound familiar? Add in a clever feature called “Outside the Tackle Box” and a national fishing forecast and you have a full show. This is big money stuff too with over $100,000 for winning a fishing tournament! The chemistry between Kernan and co-host Velvick is obvious and their enthusiasm for their sport is infectious. Now I can’t wait to find out who is going to be the “Angler of the Year.” Will it be point’s leader Marty Stone, crazy wise guy Mike Iaconelli, or the crafty veteran Zen Master of fishing Rick Clunn? One thing for sure is that John Kernan will have the results and more on BassCenter.
“Thank you for watching RPM2Night over the years, we did it for you the fans,” said John Kernan. He misses bringing us the racing news whether at the track as a pit reporter or as the host of RPM2Night. “I do miss it. Now I can understand why guys have a hard time walking away from it when they retire.” Whether it is the noise of Daytona, pre-restrictor plate; or guys like Dale Earnhardt messing with him during interviews John Kernan has plenty of great memories. He got to see NASCAR grow into what it is today! Broadcasting is a fickle business with the new ‘Flavor of the Month” coming along every year. But through the years there are always memorable personalities that become part of the scene. Kernan laughed when I described him as the “Walter Cronkite” of racing news. Perhaps that was a bit of a stretch but John Kernan is a classic whose broadcasting demeanor will never go out of style!
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