Numlock Sunday: Holly Anderson and Spencer Hall on the CFP Championship and Channel 6
By Walt Hickey
Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.
This week I spoke to two wonderful guests, sports journalists Holly Anderson and Spencer Hall of the Shutdown Fullcast, who just announced they’re launching their new project, Channel 6.
Hall and Anderson have been central to online college football coverage since the founding of Every Day Should Be Saturday in 2005. With the national championship game tomorrow night, a rematch between Alabama and Georgia, I thought it would be great to have Holly and Spencer on to talk about their journey, the choice to strike it out on their own, and how you, Numlock reader, can sound incredibly smart at parties whenever college football comes up with the simple phrase “Nakobe Dean.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Holly and Spencer, thank you so much for joining me today.
Holly: Hi, Walt. Our pleasure. I think the last time I saw you, I was mourning the death of another newsroom.
Yes. The Grantland toast! My God, that was wild.
Holly: I was just thinking, I don't think I've seen you in person since then. It's been three newsroom collapses since then.
They're like beehives. They just go down occasionally and at an alarming rate, and you just got to move on to the next one.
I want to talk a little bit about y'all. You guys have been covering college football for the longest time, whether at Every Day Should Be Saturday, whether at SB Nation, whether at Shutdown Fullcast. Do you just want to give folks the rundown about how you got into this and what you've been covering?
Holly: First of all, people have been asking us since 2009 how we met, and we don't remember. This is not a bit, we don't remember.
Spencer: I started EDSBS in a fit of underemployment in the year 2005, and I started it in the offseason. And I remember somebody saying, "Why did you start a college football website in the offseason?" And my answer was, "I don't know." And that really turns out to be the answer to most of the questions that you might ask about why the site happened. I think I just wanted to write about something and college football was particularly contagious and there wasn't really a place for the writing or talking about it that I wanted to do. It turns out I wasn't alone and Holly was an early commenter.
Holly: I think I came on as a writer in February '07, a year and a half into the proceedings.
Spencer: Overall the reason that I write and watch is because I do enjoy the game, but the game, it's much more than the sum of its parts, especially if you're from where we're from. I was not a football fan growing up and yet when I became one, I was shocked at how much I didn't have to learn. I was shocked at how much I already knew, because it's ambient, it's in the water, it's a sort of passive uptake of all of these things that are tied into the sport that you really don't know until you get into it and sort of try to think about, "Well, why do I assume this? How do I know this?" And if you do that, you end up going down a lot of really weird paths.
Holly: We were bought by SB Nation, what would later become Vox Media in '09. I think by spring of 2008, we had both quit our day jobs. Up to that point, I was working in a post-production house in Santa Monica. I at the time thought I was going to be a trailer editor and had been working in video post-production since I left college. And I just fell backwards into this whole thing. Then Spencer stayed at SB Nation and later Vox for the next decade or so and I hopped around networks. I went from SB Nation to Sports Illustrated for two years, where I founded their first college football blog. I went to Grantland. I do a lot of firsts. I tend to be somebody people call when they want to start something; I think I was Grantland's first full-time college football staffer on that feed.
Then when Grantland imploded, I followed my boss to MTV and ran MTV News' elections team for 2016 and 2017. And then that election never ended, but here we are. Then a swirl of things happened after that, and Spencer and I found ourselves back in the same room in fall of 2018, spring of 2019 to launch Banner Society. It's funny to think about now, but at the time Banner Society was intended as a future-proofing experiment, as a, "Okay. Let's build a small outfit that can survive without digital ad revenue. Let's experiment with other income streams and other platforms," and got killed on the launchpad because COVID.
This past year, it sounds very narratively tidy, but we really did find ourselves back where we were in 2005 and 2006, which is: there's not really a place right now for the work that we want to do. And the last time we didn't have a place for the work we wanted to do, the result was EDSBS, so this time the offspring of that squareness and restlessness is Channel 6.
It's an incredible story. You definitely hit on something, you guys have endured and survived through any number of wild newsroom things. But as you've done it, the past decade in college football has been just a phenomenal explosion for the sport. While obviously the various employers have maybe shifted over the years, the sport itself has really become a juggernaut in a way that y'all were very early to.
Spencer: I don't even know if we were early to do it, I think it was always this big and it was in a market that I think most people are blind to. I think that's really it. It's the difference between mapping something and discovering it. I think all we did was help map it, because it was always there. One way we would try to explain the concept of several different projects about what the base is, is take the whole map of the United States and flip it upside down and that's our map. Our people are third coast, that really third coast interior and then everybody on the coasts — that's it.
Holly: It's something we actually ended up doing several times in marketing meetings at Vox. We would say, "Okay. You have the Acela Corridor and the West Coast. Now invert that map; there's our audience." As I wrote last week, it was a cute narrative. But the funny thing is when you look at numbers for something like the Shutdown Fullcast, our biggest download market is Washington, D.C., and I think New York is number three and we're in Atlanta, which is another one that's way up there.
And if you've lived in any of these cities, you are probably picking up what we're talking about, which is transplant cities. No offense to Syracuse, but these huge metropolises don't have their own inborn football culture, but there's a lot of it, ambient; it's just imported by different tribes of people. Atlanta's the same way: as much as they would like to pretend otherwise, Atlanta is not a Georgia Tech town. Georgia Tech certainly has their own swath here, but this is where, if you go to one of these big land-grant schools for college, like we both did, Atlanta is where you go after school to make a life. This is where if you are going to "the city" after graduation, this is where you end up.
Spencer: Yeah, it's wild to me that you have to explain to people how big Texas is, or that it's its own world. That is, it is wild to me that you still have to do that to marketers and/or people, but it's entirely true. My favorite way of presenting this is to point out that when Destiny's Child started, the goal was to be famous in Texas. That was it.
Holly: You can make a living being Texas famous, lots of people do.
Spencer: And if you do a little bit better than that, then you're practically nationwide.
Holly: I would love to be Texas famous. We could do a lot with Texas famous.
Spencer: Yeah. When somebody uses the word ‘nationwide,’ be very specific and ask which one.
I really love that. Again, it's a real credit to you guys; you've seen the data, you've seen the numbers, and whether or not a large East Coast blogging enterprise was able to find a way to sell that, you're betting on yourselves on this and that's just really cool to see.
Holly: Well, this is the news peg. The reason we're talking to you right now is because we just announced it; as of the end of December, I was leaving my day job and Channel 6 is our full-time gig going forward. This is not a conversation that we thought we would be having this year or next year. When we launched in June, we didn't think this was going to be received like it is. We're not pulling in salary replacement money for both of us, not yet, but we think that we could. The response was significant enough that we had to have the conversation late this fall. We started talking about this in October, we have to devote time to this, because the response to Channel 6 was so big and the Fullcast is growing so fast that doing it alongside with even one of us having a full-time job, it was untenable, which is a great problem to have. If I looked back and didn't give my entire ass to the first year of this project, I think I would always wonder if I had stunted the growth of our business in this foundational year.
Spencer: It's very refreshing to me to say that one, this might be at least a temporary antidote to the sort of phenomenon where there are dwarfs and giants and that's it in the ecosystem of publishing. That'd be cool if I could say that with any absolute authority. The thing that I'm concerned with in the present that's thrilling is that I think we're still trying to figure out what it is, and that's fun.
Holly: And we have an audience who's very willing to go along with that, because we've been from the first thing we put down there, we've been extremely upfront about, "Hey, we're going to try some shit." And we have an audience who has been along with us for so long trying some shit that at this point, they are very much willing to say, "Yeah, sure. Here, we'll throw you 10 bucks to see. It's a gamble. Everyone, we're going to throw you 10 bucks for the month and we're going to see what comes out of that."
Also, if I can plug somebody else along the way, Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen's book coming out when it did really moved the needle for us. If you haven't heard about it, it's these two journalists telling the story of not giving up journalism, but giving up New York newsroom journalism, and moving first to Montana, and then they're now in Washington State whilst trying to still be present and active in that ecosystem. I felt so many of their quibbles, and then so many of their struggles very keenly, because one of the things that we have almost never had in our entire time as journalists is a newsroom presence. I've only had a couple of years in my entire career where I had to go to a newsroom even two or three times a week.
Spencer: I think that Charlie and Anne Helen are very right about one thing: Working from home is very easy as long as you move to someplace stunning, as long as you have someplace very beautiful.
Holly: You quit your day job first, but this is a fun story that I like to tell people. When I quit my day job in May, 2008, and you had already left yours, you told me that you had four rules that you would set yourself so that you could work at home and not turn into a cave mushroom. And it was, you have to go outside every day; you have to put on what you call "people clothes”; you had to have a specific place in your house to work, whether that was a chair or a desk, or a corner of your bedroom, but you had to have a spot where when you're in it, you're doing work that's a psychological trigger for, "Okay. When I'm here, I'm working." And I think the other one was shower every day.
I think eat breakfast became a fifth somewhere along the way. These rules have carried us through and I would recommend them to anyone who is finding themselves returning to home in 2022.
If we sound bewildered it's because we did not expect to be here. The ask that we're making of the universe is not a very small one. I said it in my announcement piece last week that all we've ever wanted to do is to pay our bills and do good work at the same time. But even with that very moderate goal, we didn't think we would be here this soon, and I hope it does end well. And it does feel very much that we've come back around on a cycle to where we were 15 years ago and I'm fearful and interested to see what's next.
That's wonderful. I love that.
Before we get to close, I do want to talk about the game tomorrow, maybe for folks who are either new to the sport or maybe new to you guys; what's your read on this year's college football championship game?
Holly: I have a similar ask every year of the universe, specifically from college football, and it's, I just want something different to happen. So I'm not looking forward to this at all.
I had a lot of fun watching this Georgia defense play this year, but in terms of which team is better, we already saw that movie.
Spencer: I can get a grim satisfaction from watching somebody make the same mistake over and over and that's what I think I have to get out of this game, and that is satisfying. I find it personally gratifying when defensive coaches lose by emphasizing defense, because ultimately it won't save you. It won't. In the modern game, it will not. So watching Kirby Smart double down, triple down, quadruple down on this philosophy while doing the bare minimum to try and embrace modern offense is a delight to me because he keeps getting his dick shut in the door every time he tries to do this. Quote me on that: He keeps getting his dick slammed in the drawer every time he tries to do this.
And it's a delight to me, because you grow up watching these guys emphasize the wrong things about the game and they're not saying they're completely wrong, they're like 65% right. Because defense can win you a lot of games, but ultimately you're going to need a quarterback and a very positive attitude towards offense in order to win championships. That's just the way things are in 2021, go back and look at every national title winner since around 2012, 2013, and that's the case. You need people who are willing to score and the better quarterback on the field's probably going to be the one who ends up going away as long as everything else is up to par. And the better quarterback in this case is Bryce Young. That's not a slam on Stetson Bennett at all, I think they've done everything they can with him. I don't know why he's starter and I still don't understand why, but I have suspicions.
This is a great deal of good material to help people out at their football parties, so thank you.
Holly: If I can attach one more sentiment onto that, my predecessor at EDSBS, Franco Montana, was very fond of saying that if something is funny once, it's funny every time, and I guess we're about to find out.
Spencer: Wile E. Coyote's Theorem. I'm just enjoying Georgia doing this. Even though I greatly enjoy George's defense and they have one of my favorite defensive players I've ever seen in Nakobe Dean.
Holly: If you really want to look smart at parties this weekend tell people to watch Nakobe Dean.
Spencer: Watch Nakobe Dean. He's not only a brilliant dude, legit brilliant dude, who is an engineering major.
Holly: Mechanical engineer.
Spencer: Yeah. He's got a 3.7 GPA in addition to a football load, which is insane when you really understand how many hours.
Holly: Just a slap at Georgia Tech, which I also love. You have an engineer who is a brilliant defender, who went to your rival.
Spencer: I've never seen a dog go from post to post on a fence faster than I've seen Nakobe Dean move. It is astonishing how quick he is side to side. I don't think people should be able to move like that laterally. It's like a crab.
Holly: He's holding space-time, it's like a tesseract. In the SEC championship game, he was on one hash and then on the other hash, and then this had happened several times during the season and we pointed and goggled. And then in the playoff semi-final, I don't want to call him a show-off because I don't want to say he's a diva and certainly there's nobody on the field who could stop him from doing this, but he went sideline to sideline in no amount of time, apparently just because he could, and I certainly wouldn't stand in his way so I'm not blaming everybody for not standing his way. T
he shortcut way to sound smart at football parties is to talk about a defensive player because they generally do not get enough love from the media and fans at large. And the defender you want to zero in on in this case is Nakobe Dean, please honor him. He deserves it.
Spencer: I highly recommend, if you can, watching Lewis Cine and Quay Walker too, because they are dudes who weigh about 200 pounds who hit like they weigh 450, I have no idea how. When they stand there, sometimes receivers will just run into them and the receivers always look like they just hit a telephone pole.
Amazing. This is exactly what the audience of Numlock News is looking for and needs on Monday. Thank you so much for coming on. I couldn't be more excited for you guys. This is so huge. Again, you've been doing such good work for such good time. I'm so happy that you guys are like, owning it now and all that. Where can folks find you? Where can folks follow your work and all that moving forward?
Holly: So Channel 6 is on the Ghost platform. The very long and hard to remember address is channel-6.ghost.io or you can just go to 26snakes.com.
Spencer: Another useful way to find every place that we are is just to go to my Twitter bio @edsbs.
Holly: We both have Linktrees both in our Twitter bios.
Spencer: We both have Linktrees and you can find links for both Channel 6, which you can subscribe to for just $10 a month or $100 for a whole year. We recommend the second because it's cheaper. Additionally, you can also find us on the Internet's only college football podcast, the Shutdown Fullcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.
Amazing. And obviously there's merchandise available at preownedairboats.com, right?
Holly: Our long-running, much beloved, often changing Shutdown Fullcast web address. Yes. If you would love to purchase goods and services from your favorite college football podcast, please visit preownedairboats.com.
If you have anything you’d like to see in this Sunday special, shoot me an email. Comment below! Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for supporting Numlock.