Michael Felger knows what he's up against as he gets set to launch ''The Drive" Monday at 4 p.m. on ESPN Radio Boston (890 and 1400 AM). The show will be the weekday local segment in the station's ESPN network programming and go head-to-head with ''The Big Show with Glenn Ordway" on WEEI (850) and ''The Diehards" on WWZN (1510).
Felger learned the sports talk business at the right hand of this market's proven master, Ordway. Felger was a regular member of the cast of ''The Big Show," valued for his versatility in arguing all things Patriots and Red Sox, envied for marrying well (to Channel 4 news anchor Sara Underwood), and mocked for his fastidiousness.
He knows a lot of folks believe he's in a no-win situation, trying to carve another sports niche out of the Boston audience.
''It took a couple of days to make the decision," he said. ''I'm leaving arguably the most listened-to and influential show in the country."
In the end, he figured, ''For every Coke, there's always room for a Pepsi. If we put on a good show at ESPN Boston and it still doesn't work, I think people will realize that. On the other hand, if the show stinks, then I'm in trouble."
And he's hoping fans will give the show a listen, even if only during one of those seemingly interminable commercial breaks on his old stomping grounds. Brady, Kraft, & Epstein may sound like a Boston law firm, but those local heavyweights will be among the show's guests early next week.
One of Felger's first calls was to Globe assistant managing editor for sports Joe Sullivan, asking if Globe staffers could appear on the show. The answer: ''Yes."
Felger would like a rotation of co-hosts to join him and flash guy/reporter Kevin Winter. That's likely to be a work in progress.
Felger, who plans to continue covering the Patriots for the Herald, will also still make Sunday night appearances on Channel 4's ''Sports Final" and continue as a fill-in co-host on Fox Sports Net's ''New England Sports Tonight."
''A lot of it [variety of jobs] shows what the media profession has become if you want to make some money and have some security," he said. ''I'm still relatively young , so I'm ready for the busy year ahead."
Felger knows the area and is going into the job with his eyes open. He joined the Herald as an intern from Boston University in 1989, covering schools and colleges. He was on the Bruins beat from 1997-99, and has covered the Patriots since then.
He's seen WWZN set out to be a major sports player in this market, with high-profile early signings (Eddie Andelman, Sean McDonough), then settle for a niche spot in the market as parent Sporting News Radio cut back its national network ambitions.
ESPN Radio does well in smaller markets and areas without a dominant sports station. In major markets, there's a tug of war between local and corporate management. The folks in Bristol, Conn., want as much distribution of the network shows for national advertising and spreading the ESPN brand. Local owners see the possibility for greater revenues and audience share with local programming.
The national folks were in town the past two days with Dan Patrick originating his show from the station's Charlestown studios, and ''Mike and Mike" [Golic and Greenberg] and Colin Cowherd broadcasting from Cheers at Quincy Market as part of the day-long ESPN buildup to last night's NFL opener between the Patriots and Raiders.
Spotlight on GordonThis is a huge weekend for NASCAR fans with the season-long ''Race to the Chase" ending with tomorrow's night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (TNT, 7:30). Tomorrow night's biggest story: superstar Jeff Gordon's quest to qualify (he's 12th going into the race) as one of the 10 drivers who will compete in the ''Chase for the Cup" that begins next weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway. Producer Sam Flood has added a camera -- nicknamed ''Bubble Cam" -- that will isolate on whatever driver is in the 10th-place qualifying spot during the race. For the third straight week, the crawl across the top of the screen will list drivers in green (those in the 10-car finals), yellow (those on the bubble), and red (eliminated). NASCAR's real-time scoring updates each time the cars complete a lap. In addition, TNT will employ a ''drop down" list to update the points standings. ''It's the ultimate case of a race within the race," said Flood. The genius of the NASCAR system is that drivers who don't qualify for the final points race can still win individual races, giving their fans a reason to continue to watch . . . Bob Costas recently spent a day in Montreal with Champ Car fan Paul Newman (co-owner of Newman-Haas Racing) to discuss the actor's affinity for motor sports for a segment on tonight's ''Costas Now" (HBO, 9 o'clock, which replays tomorrow at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m.).
Show and tell for fansThere are a million stories -- and that's probably a low estimate -- in Red Sox Nation about how the team has affected fans' lives. Someone at NESN had the idea to turn those stories into a TV show, and that's just what the folks at Element Productions in Boston have done. Sox play-by-play man Don Orsillo will host the series, ''Stories from Red Sox Nation," which makes its debut tomorrow (NESN, 6 and 11:30 p.m.) and reairs Sunday following the 1 p.m. Sox-Yankees telecast. It says here this is ''good TV" by anyone's measure, as the stories alternate from the serious to lighthearted. During September, each episode will debut following Sox games on Sunday with October's shows tentatively scheduled to run at 9:30 p.m. leading in to ''SportsDesk." . . . This weekend's Sox-Yankees series airs on Channel 38 (tonight, 7 p.m.), Channel 25 (tomorrow, 1:15 p.m.), and NESN (Sunday, 1 p.m.). Thom Brennaman does play-by-play for tomorrow's Fox telecast, replacing Joe Buck, who will be in San Diego for Sunday's Cowboys-Chargers NFL telecast (Channel 25, 4 p.m.). WBZ Radio (1030) is sending Dave Goucher to cover the series as his final road assignment before he returns to his ''real job" as the station's play-by-play man for Bruins radio broadcasts . . . US Open tennis isn't taking the TV viewership world by storm, but ratings were up 4.5 percent nationally over Labor Day weekend, with prospects for a good final weekend. Today's CBS coverage (Channel 4, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.) has the women's semifinals and men's doubles final. Tomorrow, the network has the men's semifinals in the afternoon (noon-6 p.m.) and the prime-time women's final at 8 p.m. Sunday, the men's final is at 4 p.m., going head-to-head with the NFL national game on Fox. USA cut away from the Robby Ginepri-Richard Gasquet match at 11 Monday night but went the distance (past 1 a.m. yesterday morning) with Andre Agassi-James Blake. ''The excitement of that match, combined with a great weather forecast, sets us up nicely for the weekend," said CBS Sports president Sean McManus yesterday during a conference call to announce today's relaunch of CBSSports.com with the goal of making it an on-demand ''web network."
Bill Griffith's e-mail address is email@example.com.