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Jeff Dubay hired as 1500 ESPN co-host

The former crack cocaine abuser gets new professional life on a new sports station, but how well will he wear professionally and personally?

Jeff Dubay’s personal rehabilitation is a work in progress, but his professional rehabilitation is complete. Friday afternoon, 1500 ESPN hired him to co-host with Judd Zulgad 9 a.m. to noon — the same time slot he held down with Paul Allen at KFAN, pre-crack-cocaine conviction.

As I noted three weeks ago, the Hubbard Broadcasting sports station is fighting for relevance, having lost Minnesota Twins broadcast rights heading into 2013, with all day parts ranking 9th or worse among men 25-54 this fall.

Ratings-wise, Dubay provides a sugar high, based on the sizable audience he and Allen accumulated on KFAN. The question is whether KFAN’s “rubes” will stick around once the novelty wears off.

It won’t be the first time a substance abuser has received a second chance in the Twin Cities radio market, and unlike some of them, Dubay is helped by being well-liked. (He was a kick to work with during my mid-’90s KFAN morning-show stint.) Although he made a botch of his life, he’s been increasingly candid in interviews, and a little humility goes a long way with media execs.

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Although Dubay is no dummy, he’s not in the analytic, reportorial mold of 1500 young guns Tom Pelissero and Phil Mackey — or for that matter Zulgad, a Star Tribune recruit. That might not be the worst thing in the world — 1500 can be dry compared to KFAN. Thanks to Dubay’s heart-on-his-sleeve fandom and peel-back-the-onion recovery-trail interviews with WCCO’s Chad Hartman, KARE11’s Randy Shaver and Mpls.St.Paul magazine’s Steve Marsh, he’s very much a personality now.

Still, 1500’s professional risk pales in comparison to Dubay’s personal one; his recovery is young. Hubbard market manager Dan Seeman acknowledges 1500 has built protections against a Dubay relapse into the just-inked contract.

“We’ve been meeting with Jeff on and off for the past year,” Seeman says. “We know about his ability and equity in this market. For me, the gut feeling is that the timing is right. I’m not a therapist, but I think he’s healthy and ready to do this.”

Listeners might’ve disagreed hearing Dubay’s first tryout day with Zulgad, when the hopeful talked so fast that I was exhausted listening. (The nerves settled down in subsequent outings.)

Seeman says Dubay’s flesh-rending tour ends now, more or less. “He’s told his story three times, pretty candidly. We want Jeff to come in and be a sports-talk host, talk about Christian Ponder, the Wild being back, but not focus on his past. He’s told those stories; it’s time to move forward.”

Asked if Dubay’s hiring is related to losing Twins rights, Seeman says, “No, if we had the Twins we’d still make a move like this. We’ve got to work harder than everyone else. We’re bringing in a guy with a lot of equity; the point is to raise our ratings.”

Given Pelissero’s role as Vikings analyst, and Mackey’s with the Twins, Seeman sees Dubay — an unabashed Gopher hockey rube — focusing on University of Minnesota athletics, which is on a pretty good winter run. It doesn’t hurt that KSTP retains the radio rights to basketball and hockey.