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Chad Withrow (Tennessee), host of Nashville’s top sports talk radio show, is the latest rising star in Sigma Nu’s long legacy of producing sports broadcast superstars. 

Every weekday at noon Central Time dials across the greater Nashville area find themselves turned to the local sports talk radio program Midday 180. In April of 2016 the show reported a 16 point market share indicating that 16% of the listeners in their market were tuning in. The show’s host station 104.5 The Zone, ranked as the number one billing for the Nashville market in 2015 and was the number one station for persons 25-54. At face value these numbers seem confusing and almost anomalous.

While Nashville is a growing metropolitan hub, it hosts only two major league sports franchises and one major FBS college athletics program. It isn’t a major sports market on the level of New York City or Los Angeles. So why is the Midday 180 attracting so many listeners? It’s the same reason why so many fans tuned into the former BBC program Top Gear: it’s less about the content and more about the unique camaraderie of the three individual personalities delivering that content. One of those individuals is Chad Withrow, a born and bred Tennessean who’s now holding the ear of thousands every afternoon.  To fully appreciate these milestones we have to peel back the story of how Withrow went from an intern to being one of the most notable voices across Music City.

Chad Withrow had it planned from the beginning. Coming from Mt. Juliet, Tenn., and majoring in Sports Management and Business at the University of Tennessee, he knew prior to his graduation in 2004 that he would need an internship before graduating. But as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” or in Withrow’s case they lead to becoming one of the most well-known voices in Nashville.

“I thought for the longest time, when I was going to school, I was going to work in a front office somewhere. Be a VP or head of marketing. So I had an internship lined up with the Houston Astros,” Withrow says over a cup of coffee near the studio where he co-hosts the Midday 180. At the time the man doing the Houston Astros hiring for that internship was Jimmy Stanton, the current vice president of communications for the Tennessee Titans. Unfortunately, at the last minute he was turned down for the internship with the Houston Astros.

This meant going to Plan B.  Chad proceeded to approach a man named George Plaster, a true legend of the Nashville sports community. Plaster’s pedigree is lengthy but his highlights include color analyst for the Nashville Sounds baseball club in the 1980s, play-by-play announcing for Memphis State University and Vanderbilt University athletics, and in 2003-2004 he was hosting the newest addition to the afternoon Nashville sports talk radio market, SportsZone on 104.5 The Zone which had just made the switch to sports talk in August of 2003. In an almost quintessential southern plot twist the connection to Plaster was through a marriage, specifically Vanderbilt basketball star Drew Maddux who was married to Withrow’s cousin. Withrow secured an internship for SportsZone for the fall of 2004 and thus began a long journey in the world of radio. “I certainly owe a lot to George for helping get my foot in the door in radio,” Chad says.

Withrow’s early hard work quickly paid off when he was brought on full-time to help book the show and serve as the de facto executive producer with some mentoring from Plaster and the others working with SportsZone. “When you start out you only know one way of doing things and George was so good because he had done it for so long. I could learn his way, which had been successful for a long period of time, and I could also tweak in my own mind what I liked and what I might do a little bit differently,” Withrow says of his early days at the station. “They were all really great to me from the start and I learned a lot from everyone and there were things I would take from everyone. They were great about showing the way.”

The first time Withrow’s voice actually hit the airwaves was in 2004 during his internship when he was tapped to do some reporting for 104.5’s Friday night show covering high school sports in the area. “Keep in mind I had no training in broadcasting. I had never spoken into a microphone.” For his first foray, covering a Dickson County High School football game, he wrote down word-for-word what he was going to say. “I thought, I’m just going to read this and try to sound natural.” Despite a well written field report on the game Chad remembers his adrenaline pumping through his veins and quickly found himself breathless. “My heart rate was going up so much as I was reading it that I was getting out of breath. Everybody has some nightmare story about the first time they go on air.” To his credit, and using an affable and comedic personality that holds true today, he played it off with a joke about running up a hill before his report or doing lunges on the way over.

By late 2011 Withrow’s plate was growing increasingly full. He was now the in-studio host of 104.5’s Friday night show (a role he took over in 2006 at the age of 24), co-host of the 6-7 p.m. show, and executive producer for the SportsZone show. It was also during this time that Cumulus Media, the second largest owner of AM and FM stations in the United States, bought 104.5. The purchase brought some bad blood with it, in particular George Plaster’s previous contractual issues with Cumulus in 2003. Almost immediately Plaster bowed out from 104.5, leaving the SportsZone show empty of its founding co-host.  It wasn’t long before Plaster’s other co-host, Willy Daunic, also departed to the other sports radio station in Nashville, 102.5 The Game. This would prove to be one of the watershed moments for Withrow’s radio career. “It’s funny how a lot of times in life, something makes the decision for you and you just know that’s what I need to do,” Withrow says about his meeting with 102.5 The Game. “I meet with the program director and he has no clue who I was. I’m thinking this guy is going to make me an offer to co-host and he’s treating me like I just graduated college and I want to be a part-time board operator on the weekend. I went home that night thinking the decision has been made for me.” The next day Withrow was contacted by 102.5 The Game and told they were going with another co-host.

The Midday 180 co-hosts from left to right: Jonathan Hutton, Chad Withrow, Paul Kuharsky.

Withrow went back to 104.5 The Zone and the discussions evolved into a decision that he would co-host a new show called The Midday 180 with NFL reporting veteran Paul Kuharsky and Tennessee Titans Radio veteran Jonathan Hutton. The group did not include a former professional athlete, something that was seen as a weak point but has come to be a strength. “From the get go, we had to prove ourselves with how much we researched and how much we worked. You have to legitimize yourself and prove yourself every day.” The three quickly struck a unique relationship with each personality feeding off the others. “The secret of our show is that our chemistry is legitimate, we’re like brothers. We can fight passionately about things and still be buddies. We’re all three pretty different personalities and we don’t have egos getting in the way of the show.”

“If you’re 19 or 20 and you walk into a room full of people in a chapter meeting then speaking to 40,000 a day who can’t see you is much easier.”

The Midday 180 show officially launched in 2012 and Withrow was also given sole hosting responsibilities for the 6-7 p.m. slot which was renamed Primetime with Chad Withrow. “Looking back now it is a lot,” Withrow says with a laugh.

Withrow’s path to success is not a one-off story of right place at the right time. It’s the story of hard work and is best exemplified in a story that one of his professors told his class. The professor asked who knew who Michael Jordan was with every hand shooting up. They were then asked who thought Michael Jordan knew who they were. The hands remained down. The professor then said that it’s not about who you know but about who knows who you are. Therefore, if you find yourself working a concession stand, or in Withrow’s case, putting up signs for the radio station at 22 years old, you better be the best person at doing that job because someone is going to notice your work. “The problem with a lot of people is that they want to ask a lot of questions about why they need to be doing something instead of focusing on doing the best job they can do because one day Michael Jordan is going to see your work and tell someone to go hire you,” Chad says reflecting on his career.

Withrow also offers the sage advice to always be open to new opportunities even if it’s not something you plan for. “Don’t lock yourself into one role,” he says. Be willing to embrace all of the new things you may be exposed to.”

Withrow’s experience in Sigma Nu also played a large role in his success today. He served as Recruitment Chairman at the Epsilon Eta Chapter (Tennessee) which entailed a lot of event planning, a skillset he still uses today in juggling the different projects he helms for 104.5. He also shares that during his time in the chapter he developed as a better speaker. “If you’re 19 or 20 and you walk into a room full of people in a chapter meeting then speaking to 40,000 a day who can’t see you is much easier.” The diversity of his chapter also helped out in learning more about the different the backgrounds of his brothers and their life experiences. This translated directly into developing an understanding for different opinions and views, things that come fast and hard in the world of sports radio.

In June of 2016 the Midday 180 show broke its own record again with a 16.3 point market share, one of the highest performances for that format. It routinely out-performs the station’s broadcast of the nationally syndicated Dan Patrick Show. It would seem that the old adage of Withrow’s college professor was a foreshadowing predicting his success with thousands knowing him…or at least his voice.

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