On a recent Thursday morning in Middle Tennessee, while some were hustling off to work or school or had just arrived there, two Millennial guys were talking Tennessee Titans football and whether this would be the year they finally make the playoffs.
And the importance of the upcoming game to those playoff hopes.
And whether quarterback Marcus Mariota can hold onto the ball.
It’s typical chatter for a couple of guys, but for these two it’s much more. It’s their livelihood.
Welcome to “A to Z Sports,” billed as “Nashville’s On Demand Sports Talk Show,” hosted by Austin Stanley, 26, and Zach Bingham, 29.
The show airs each weekday morning at 8 a.m. for one hour (give or take) via live streaming on Facebook Live and Periscope (a live streaming application) from a makeshift studio in a borrowed bonus room in Brentwood.
Bingham describes it as “sports radio on a digital platform.”
“I’m not an engineer,” he said with a smile as he looked over an array of technological gear in front of him, “but I’ve learned to be one since starting this.”
Stanley and Bingham each sit at a long table, with the two tables angled together end-to-end. They both have a microphone and a laptop. In front of them are two tripods, one holding an iPad on which they can see themselves while broadcasting, as well as the comments and questions that come in via Periscope. The other holds an iPhone which serves as video camera.
Behind them is a trifold backdrop with their logo and social media information displayed, giving the appearance of a traditional studio. A white board sits on an easel nearby with the day’s topics listed.
Viewers can watch on their computers or handheld devices in real time, or can pull up the show later on Facebook or using the Periscope app. Those who prefer audio can access the show via podcast on the show’s website, AtoZSportsNashville.com.
While one of them is talking, the other is usually typing in comments on Twitter, “redistributing the show during the show,” according to Bingham.
Stanley said the audience participation, “the line of communication with viewers through live comments,” is one of the best parts of the show. Their audience has grown since they started in July, now averaging about 1,000 viewers and listeners per day.
While no sports subject is off limits, the emphasis is local, with the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt (and college football in general) and the Titans garnering the most discussion these days.
The interaction between Stanley and Bingham is fast-paced and energetic, and they clearly have fun with each other. But this is no comedy routine.
It only takes a few minutes of listening to learn these guys are serious about the subject matter and know what they are talking about. They are not afraid to give their opinions, but it is obvious they have done the research to back up their views.
“Preparation never ends,” Stanley said. “In sports, there’s always something happening, news breaking or a conversation building.”
These two stay on top of it all.
Backgrounds rooted in sports and broadcasting
To understand how two young men are building a brand, it helps to know some background.
Both grew up in Brentwood. At Battle Ground Academy, from which Bingham graduated in 2005, he did play-by-play for the school’s football, basketball and baseball teams.
He went to Ole Miss and majored in Business Communications, longing for a career in sports. He did an internship at Titans Radio while still in college and went to work there when he graduated in 2009.
Stanley, a 2008 graduate of Brentwood High, spent time in the school’s TV Productions program, doing play-by-play of basketball and baseball. He went to UT and majored in journalism, covering the Vols and having radio and TV internships.
He went to work at 102.5 The Game, Nashville’s ESPN Radio affiliate, after his 2012 graduation from UT, and where Bingham had ended up after two years with Titans Radio.
The two met covering high school games, and it’s during that time the “A to Z Sports” concept was born. It started as a podcast posted on the station’s website, eventually moving to a weekday 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (and then 9 a.m. – noon) time slot on 94.9 Game 2, a sister station.
Getting the weekday gig was a huge step for the two young aspiring sports broadcasters — what they had been working toward.
It all went great after starting in August 2014, right up until July 1 of this year.
“We did the broadcast as usual that morning,” Stanley said.
The two were looking forward to the July 4th weekend, only to be called into a meeting afterwards with station management. It was at that time the two were told the station “would be going in a different direction,” Bingham said.
“A to Z Sports” was pulled that day, something that came out of nowhere for Stanley and Bingham.
Understandably upset and a bit angry, the two quickly decided they did not want to throw away what they had worked so long to build. They began to contact folks locally and in other markets, pitching themselves and their concept.
They posted a statement on Facebook, letting their listeners know their time at the radio station had ended and expressing gratitude for the time they had had.
“We decided it would do us no good to burn bridges,” Bingham said, and they refrained from publicly expressing any anger or frustration.
Having been previously approved for credentials at the Southeastern Conference Media Days taking place in Birmingham only a few days after they were let go at the radio station, Stanley and Bingham decided to go ahead and attend the event.
Upon their arrival they experienced another setback, learning their credentials had been pulled.
They decided to stay, making the best of it.
Even without the full access and privileges of those with credentials, Stanley said the timing was perfect.
“We had a chance to network and meet a lot of the other SEC media members we had gotten to know through radio and social media,” Stanley said.
And it was during SEC Media Days that the first live-streaming broadcast of “A to Z Sports” took place from Stanley’s and Birmingham’s hotel room.
“The immediate need to keep giving our followers content gave us the idea to use Facebook Live and Periscope as our platform,” Stanley said. “We have a very loyal following and we’re grateful for the way they stuck with us as we were figuring out new technology and the growing pains of putting a new show format together.”
While it might be accurate to say “the rest is history,” it would also be an oversimplification. The story of “A to Z Sports” is very much still being written, requiring an inordinate amount of time from two guys who admit to being impatient.
When they are not preparing for or doing their broadcasts, they are courting sponsors. They have done several broadcasts from those sponsors’ locations.
It was during a broadcast from a local fitness center, when the news broke of Jalen Hurd quitting the UT football team, that “A to Z Sports” had its largest number of viewers, a day Stanley laughingly said he considered “just going on indefinitely.”
They also post to their website, which went live in October through a partnership with Bigr Media, which also provides links to vflinsider.com and vandyinsider.com, covering UT and Vanderbilt, respectively, and for which Stanley and Bingham provide the content.
Bingham described the partnership with Bigr as extremely beneficial, and said the company has been very helpful with sponsorships.
As if that were not enough, the two have press credentials for the Titans, Commodores and Predators, covering press conferences, practices and games.
Still in phase one of a three-phase business plan, Bingham said, while acknowledging the tendency toward impatience, he and Stanley must keep that in check as they “blaze a trail for what the future holds.”
They are grateful for what they have been able to do, and acknowledge the support of friends and family, and especially their followers. Although not how they might have planned it, they now see having their radio show canceled as a gift.
“After it happened, we received an email from Sean Henry, the Predators’ CEO,” Bingham said.
He and Stanley had come to know Henry through their time in radio.
“He told us he had a similar experience as a young man,” Bingham said, and encouraged the two of them not to give up and to continue to pursue their dreams.
Bingham said that was tremendously encouraging to them and, obviously, they took his advice.
“We have sports broadcasting in our blood, we work really well together and we have passion for what we do,” Bingham said.
As they continue to build the “A to Z” brand, he said they try each day to give their followers a quality product – “exactly what we would want as fans.”
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, husband of one, father of three and father-in-law of two. Email him at email@example.com.