After developing one episode of the celebrity podcast Men of the Hour, Justin Crawford (JEM ’18) realized he needed a team to help him build a sustainable, successful show with an active community.
He turned to his University of Tennessee roots to recruit fellow alumni Marcella Tocco (JEM ’20) and Tess Waibel (Marketing ’18) to do so.
“What does a season look like? Who are the guests? What are the topics we wanted to cover?” Crawford said. “You have to have a team of people to support all the legs of the organization. I thought it was a good way to build a community – especially with people I trust most.”
Crawford, who works in New York City with NBCUniversal’s Entertainment and Lifestyle Group and Bold TV, serves as host and executive director of the weekly show. Tocco is the associate producer and stage manager in charge of booking talent, and Waibel handles the marketing strategy, website, and social media.
Show guests have included actors like Boris Kodjoe, musicians like David Archuleta, television and internet personalities like Doctor Mike, as well as a growing number of field experts like Patrick McGinnis, who famously coined the phrase “fear of missing out” or FOMO.
While most celebrity interviews are focused on the guest’s next show or next book deal, Men of the Hour brings on guests to talk about life experiences, self-improvement, and goal setting to inspire listeners through the weekly podcast.
“The show’s format is more of a candid conversation to improve lives; it’s not just their work,” Tocco said. “It’s people who could be role models for younger audiences and inspirations to people of all ages. We really look for people who have aspirations for pursuing dreams. They are different interviews because most celebrity interviews are silly things. On our show, they talk about charity work and have advice for people trying to make it into the entertainment market.”
Assembling the All-Vol Team
In some ways, the Men of the Hour team has been in the making for six years.
Crawford and Waibel met as freshmen in 2014 when Waibel was studying journalism before changing majors. Crawford connected with Tocco in 2018 when he hosted the outdoor segments of Declaration Day at the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio, and Tocco was a student worker for VFL Films and serving that day as stage manager.
It was good timing for Tocco and Waibel to join Men of the Hour. Tocco has been looking for full-time employment in entertainment journalism since graduating in May 2020.
“Post-graduation, finding a full-time job is not easy, and the pandemic didn’t help in the slightest,” said Tocco, who has moved back to her home in Long Island. “High-level people were getting laid off, and there isn’t room for entry level. This is an opportunity to show employers I was working during the pandemic. This has been an awesome opportunity. I’ve been able to learn a lot by dipping my toes into the professional market.”
Waibel is in-between full-time work after pandemic-fueled downsizing in the live event and festival industry.
“Joining this team was completely a blessing in disguise and to be supporting a team with such a great mission, like the MotH with fellow Vols, has not only made a job not feel like a job, but made me feel like my work in marketing truly means something,” Waibel said.
Building the Show
Crawford launched the podcast in September with an interview with actor and TV host Jonathan Bennett, who earned national acclaim for his breakout role as Aaron Samuels in 2004’s Mean Girls.
“We wanted big guests — that was the secret sauce,” Crawford said. “Also, when you think of how to differentiate from other podcasts, you have to have a strong mission and highly influential guests.”
Men of the Hour will be divided into four seasons to align with the corporate calendar to simplify potential advertisement and sponsor deals. Most episodes range from a half hour to an hour. After a 19-episode first season, the second season began in January with TV personality Craig Conover.
As an independent show, there is not a goal line for number of episodes or seasons. Starting out, the primary objective is building an audience and community – while inspiring everyone who tunes in.
“Marketing through social media and online platforms was definitely something I saw an opportunity for with Justin’s show and we have been very grateful to see a lot of traction come to the show, making every inch of our work worth it!” Waibel said. “I’ll be honest, right now is the perfect time to build an online platform, launch it and watch it grow – especially a podcast like Men of the Hour.”
While it has been easier to arrange a Zoom call on an actor’s calendar during the pandemic, the group looks forward to the possibility of in-person interviews once it is safe again to do so.
“We’re really excited of where it can go,” Tocco said. “If we can get this off the virtual end to have a studio, that would be exciting. It’s a long-term future goal. The bigger we get, the more attraction we’ll have and the more people will know about it.”
Lessons from Rocky Top
There’s the adage “Vols help Vols” and that has been true for the runners of Men of the Hour during and after college. Through internship experiences and opportunities to meet alumni, they were able to grow their professional network while still working on their degrees. For Crawford and Tocco in New York, the city is full of CCI alumni in journalism, entertainment, and communication. The UT New York Alumni Chapter is currently led by CCI graduate Jamie Lonie (PR ’10).
Going into college, Crawford knew he wanted to do something in front of the camera and gained experience through classwork and a steady stream of internships that culminated in a prestigious IRTS Fellowship and post-graduate internship as a Digital Media Specialist with Cox Media Group. In 2018, he was named a Torchbearer, the highest honor given to graduating students in recognition of academic excellence and community involvement.
“If it were not for CCI as a whole, I don’t think I would have been as prepared, confident or skilled as I am,” Crawford said. “That college builds a different level of grit for those who really want to do something with their career in journalism and communication. I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone I worked with at the university as a whole. Everyone who told me to just do it, which was everyone I thankfully met.”
Tocco said while the courses prepped her for the working world, it was the opportunities between and after classes that helped her as a professional. This included opportunities to network with journalism alumni to getting hands-on experience with UT Today broadcasts and VFL Films, the athletic department’s broadcasting and video features team. She even worked for a radio station in Sydney, Australia, during a semester studying abroad.
“UT preps you for the real world,” Tocco said. “What you do is all on you.”
Waibel gained experiences from three colleges, starting her career as a journalism and electronic media major with CCI before moving to Haslam College of Business to pursue a marketing degree. She also served as a marketing assistant in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. She takes that varied communication and marketing experience into the show.
“You learn so much through UT courses and the internships you acquire while in school, Waibel said. “I owe a debt of gratitude to my experiences at UT to be honest. That university prepared me for the professional and freelance workforce in ways that I get to see come to life every single day now.”