10/07/2003 11:00PM

Racing makes a run on radio

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Sometimes, the job finds the man, even if it takes 40 years or so.

Jason Levin grew up in New York listening to Bob Murphy broadcast those beloved Mets. For the 8-year-old Levin, life could have ended with the 1969 World Series and he would have harbored no serious regrets.

When Levin's parents, both actors, moved to Los Angeles in 1971, young Jason tagged along. Soon, Vin Scully was the voice in Levin's ear, and the Dodgers were his adopted team.

Levin strayed into teaching, dabbled in acting, and became an accomplished writer for a number of magazines, dealing with a variety of sports. But then, near the end of a promotional book tour that took him to a roster of nationally broadcast radio shows, a light clicked on. The airwaves were filled with every conceivable brand of noise - informative and otherwise - but in the whole of these United States, there was no nationally broadcast program dedicated solely to Levin's favorite sport, which just happened to be Thoroughbred racing.

So he created "Inside Racing."

Now, it is one thing to construct a website and blog the bejesus out of whatever audience stumbles along. The Internet has nurtured a chorus of such voices, crying in the electronic wilderness. But they are haphazard in their message and dubious in their impact.

The world of commercial communications is still the measuring stick, because radio and TV are on regulated airwaves available at the flick of a switch and mere twist of a dial, sustained by a ruthless profit motive. Levin set his sights on nothing less.

Still in its infancy, "Inside Racing" is now a key component of Sports Byline USA, a 15-year-old company that supplies sports-talk programming to a network of more than 200 radio stations. "Inside Racing" is being carried on about 170 of the Sports Byline USA outlets.

It costs Levin $1,000 to secure the time, and he is developing a group of sponsors, led by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. The show is broadcast each Friday at 11:10 p.m. Eastern.

Fans in Pottsville, Pa., hear the show on WPPA 1360-AM. In Fargo, N.D., folks gather around to hear Levin on KVMI 96.7-FM, while in Morgan City, La., "Inside Racing" pops up on KMRC 1430-AM, and in Bowling Green, Ky., it is on WBGN 1340-AM. The show is also heard in such remote outposts as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Detroit, and Seattle.

"Yes, it is in some out-of-the-way places," Levin said. "But that was kind of the idea. A lot of people don't have all the cable-TV access to all the racing on espn2, and the 'Wire to Wire' show, yet they still want to follow what's going on. I try to be a one-stop shop of who's doing what in the game."

Levin (pronounced leh-VEEN) has all the right tools for a horse racing radio-show host. He's informed, opinionated, thoroughly sourced, and well spoken. He both knows and loves the game, and it shows, whether he is waxing semi-poetic about the thrills of racing, interviewing a recent newsmaker, or taking dead aim on a hot-button topic.

Last week, for instance, Levin took William Farish to task for suggesting that Mineshaft was not likely to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic. At the time, reports were swirling that the horse was hurt, retired, neither, or both. Levin was skeptical on all counts.

"If Mr. Farish wants to take his colt and go home, he can certainly do that," Levin said in one of his signature commentaries. "If he does, he'll be the poster boy for everything that is wrong with the sport."

Levin concedes that his message will play differently in different markets.

"It's a real mix of stations," he said. "There are a couple I know that do religious programming during their daytime hours. I got complaints from one of them when I said that Daniel Borislow [owner of the well-traveled colt Toccet] was out of his mind, but in a good way, because he at least has the balls to try to do things. Two complaints, actually."

Prior to "Inside Racing," Levin's only experience with showbiz was with L.A.'s Complex Theater production of "O.J. Law," a play that ran concurrently with the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Each day's trial events shaped the scripts for that week's performance.

"It ended up running nine months," Levin said. "I played a variety of characters. At one time or another I played six or seven different witnesses. I was Howard Stern. I was Mark Fuhrman, Alan Dershowitz. It was a blast."

Levin's goal is to someday take "Inside Racing" to a mega-sports-radio network like ESPN or Premiere. In the meantime, his weekly show keeps Levin fully involved, as he switches hats between solid racing journalism, thought-provoking commentary, and the pragmatics of selling "Inside Racing" to potential sponsors. Selling, he admits, is the toughest part.

"But I've sold things before," Levin said. "In fact, I sold the hardest thing there is to sell. In 1987 I was an L.A. Clippers season-ticket salesman."

After that, horse racing should be a breeze.