In the Fall of 2003 a new kind of television show came to East Tennessee. Independently owned and operated, The Sports Source remains the area’s only year-round sports-talk show on television and the area’s longest-running independent show.

The Sports Source initially hit air as a pair of weekly pre- and post-game shows before and after University of Tennessee football games in ‘03. The pre-game shows were a mix of detailed previews and tailgate-type fun. The post-game shows were dedicated to opinion, analysis and viewer call-ins.

Airing on UPN affiliate WEEE-TV, that first incarnation of the show featured host and producer John Pennington along with Bob Hodge, Chuck Cavalaris, former Vols Scott Galyon, Bubba Miller, with Phil Williams on-board to provide a pure fan’s perspective. A rotation of Dewey Warren, Jimmy Hyams, Jim Wogan, Ralph Miranda, Sterling Henton, and others rounded out that first Fall’s line-up.

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John Pennington

Those 2003 shows were broadcast live from a studio in Seymour built specifically for The Sports Source. The signal from studio to station was sent via banded T-1 lines. While television over the internet is common (and a heckuva lot easier) today, in ’03 it was a type of signal delivery that left most engineers scratching their heads.

In 2004 the show faced an enormous challenge as the UPN affiliation in Knoxville moved from WEEE-TV to WVLT-TV. The new station wanted to use its HD back-channel to carry the UPN signal. After reaching an agreement with WVLT, The Sports Source became a weekly, year-round show on the new MyVLT.

Those ’04 shows were taped at Spicy’s, a sports bar in Powell. By the fall of 2005 the show had moved to the studios of HP Video in North Knoxville. Those years featured a regular rotation of Hodge, Cavalaris, Hyams, Mike Strange, Mike Griffith, Dave Hooker and John Adams alongside the host.

In 2006, The Sports Source moved to its current home at WATE-TV and the Greystone Mansion studios. The jump to one of the three main affiliates in Knoxville television was a testimony to the show’s quick growth. It also meant a return to a live format. Since January of ’06 The Sports Source has thrived in its current timeslot – Sunday mornings at 11am.

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During the WATE years, The Sports Source has featured the very best analysts in East Tennessee. Former Vol footballers like Bobby Scott, Mike Stowell, Pat Ryan, Will Overstreet, David Ligon, Brian Randolph, Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood have filled the show’s ranks. Basketball analysts have included former players Dane Bradshaw and Isiah Victor as well as former UT head coach Don DeVoe and former Vol assistants Mark Pancratz and Houston Fancher. And former UT swimmer Brittany Nauta (now Tarwater) was a featured member of the show for several of the WATE years.

In 2007, we did away with the weekly call-in segments and our ratings jumped as a result.  The show’s all-talk format was taking shape.  And while the show has welcomed guests like Mike Hamilton, Bruce Pearl, John Curried and more to our set, The Sports Source is a panel discussion show first and foremost.  Our mission is to give an honest appraisal of the issues facing UT football and basketball.

By 2014, the show moved onto a new set of stone, dark wood and copper. The aesthetic improvements over our old, homemade “Wayne’s World” sets led to higher ratings.

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University of Tennessee Football

In September of 2019, The Sports Source expanded to a new 90-minute format, unmatched in live, Knoxville, non-news productions. And again, the ratings increased. This expansion — which included a growth in the number of sponsors the show could carry — also allowed the show to survive the COVID pandemic that shuttered the sports world just a few months later. In terms of timing, luck was on The Sports Source’s side.

In Summer 2022, the show began celebrating it’s 20th year on-air and its 20th season of covering Tennessee football and basketball. The move included a new anthem, new graphic look (designed by the same team that has done the graphics for NBC’s coverage of Super Bowls and Olympics), and a brand new set, unlike anything else in the market.

“The new set was designed for Vol fans,” Pennington said. “I went through my own collection of old tickets and old programs to layer the set with UT history. I purchased the rights to some unique Vol imagery, as well. Every nook and cranny of the set provides something different. The fact that our own panelists wandered around examining every inch of the space when they first saw it told me we’d accomplished our goal.”

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Vols John Pennington

While the look of the show is important, the content and attitude of the show mean more.

“We take the show seriously, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Pennington said of his show. “From Day One we wanted viewers to tune in and feel like they’re simply sitting around with friends, talking about the Vols. We joke and laugh, make fun of ourselves and each other, just as we do when the cameras aren’t on. As producer, I get to work with people I like. I think that comes through when people watch the show.

“Initially, I wanted to create a show unlike anything else in the market. That’s why we have anywhere from four to 10 guests join me each Sunday. By delivering more opinions on more topics, we provide the viewer with a better understanding of what’s really going on. More angles is always a good thing.”

“And while I grew up a Tennessee fan, I also wanted to build a show that was honest. When it comes to my favorite professional teams, the coverage I seek out isn’t the positive coverage or the negative coverage, it’s the honest coverage. Tell me when it’s bad and tell me when it’s good, because it’s never going to be one or the other all of the time. I’m an adult, so don’t give me spin. I figured there were a lot of UT fans out there who might want the same thing.

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“The fact that half our critics call us ‘homers’ and the other half call us ‘haters’ is a point of pride for The Sports Source,” Pennington added. “We just call it as we see it. And with so many different voices from writers, radio people, players and coaches, we’re bound to have some differences of opinion, too. That’s great if it’s honest. But we won’t ever manufacture false arguments. I think that’s lazy and dishonest. If all our panelists agree on something, I think that’s important for viewers to see.”

A seven-time Emmy Award-winner for producing, writing and editing, Pennington understands where the true power of the show rests. “The viewers — Tennessee sports fans — are the ones who make it all go. I gambled in 2003 that this market would support something that no other SEC market would then or does now. And UT fans have done it.

“Over time we built the biggest sports audience in East Tennessee. During the first weekend of the 2021 college football season, The Sports Source had a larger audience than every other football show or GAME broadcast on a local station. That’s nuts. I never dreamed of anything like that. No one would. But that’s the Tennessee fanbase.

“Our viewers are also so supportive of our sponsors. We have pages and pages of testimonials from clients saying they’ve never seen anything like the business they get from Sports Source viewers.

“For that reason, we’re always trying to upgrade and improve the show. New people, new segments. Watching the ratings to see exactly what the viewers want. Then doing our best to deliver that to them. Vol fans have given us 20+ years of their time and I owe them the best show I can possibly give them. We all do.”

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