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Justin Bray and Nathan Lawrence of Chapel Bell Curve podcast pose for a portrait at the historic Chapel Bell in Athens, Georgia, on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Photo/Caroline Barnes)

About three years ago, friends Nathan Lawrence and Justin Bray were at a group dinner when they came up with the idea for a podcast neither expected to actually go through with. 

As the duo bounced name ideas off each other for their non-existent project, their friend came up with the name “Chapel Bell Curve,” combining the University of Georgia Chapel Bell and the bell curve graph used in statistics.

The podcast began in August 2017 with a goal to “take the heat out of hot topics.” By focusing on statistical analysis instead of emotion-based responses to how the Georgia Bulldogs football team plays week by week. The “Chapel Bell Curve” aims to serve as a platform for rational and smart responses, Lawrence said. 

Lawrence, an English teacher at Commerce High School and UGA Redcoat Band sousaphone instructor, felt the duo got lucky in the success of the podcast. If the 2017 Georgia football season hadn’t gone so well, he said the podcast might not have made it.

Since Georgia was on a winning streak the first season of the show, the duo saw a rise in listeners. However, now in their third season of the podcast, Bray and Lawrence have noticed its listener number goes down after continuous wins, unless it’s a big game like Notre Dame. 

“Losses are good for the podcast, apparently,” Bray said. “It’s not something we’ve really had to experience much other than really big games the last three years.”

Lawrence became interested in the statistics side of football when he was in his high school marching band. He was required to stay for the duration of every game and figured he may as well know what happened on the field if he was forced to watch the high school’s team blowout the other opponents. 

In college, Lawrence was again forced to watch all the football games as a member of the UGA Redcoat Band. However during his time in the band, the Bulldogs were not so great. Sitting through losing games actually made him more interested in the statistics of football. Bray, the program manager of Books for Keeps, liked football but wasn’t as into the numbers behind the game as his co-host. Instead, he enjoys telling stories and podcasts have become his outlet to listen to and tell more of them.

Gabe Rubinstein, a UGA biochemistry PhD candidate, loves how the show is driven by stats rather than statements about whether the offense or defense is good. He likes to see how the numbers play out and how Lawrence and Bray use the numbers to demonstrate or disprove fan narratives.

Lawrence’s rants and banter with Bray is a big draw for those who listen. Since the duo were friends before the podcast, the two have undeniable chemistry and humor to flow easily throughout the show. Most of what people hear is how the pair is in real life, even if they put on a bit of a character for the show, Bray said. 

To stay true to themselves and the show, Lawrence said the duo follow the philosophy which got them where they are.  

“We’re just a couple of idiots who can read numbers and are saying stuff,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence and Bray also focus on listener engagement. Every episode features a Q&A segment where they answer every question sent to them by listeners. They also host a live chat before they record the podcast with their Patreon subscribers. Abby Vincent Key, a Valdosta State graduate, participates in all of the podcast’s live chats and stays on until the very end because she feels like the hosts always have something interesting to say.

In the offseason, the podcast covers football news such as G-Day, postseason and recruiting with an occasional feature episode thrown in. The podcast isn’t about whether the Bulldogs win or lose, “it’s more about how we all felt and our experiences,” Bray said.

 

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