"I'm just a positive person," says Eric Walters, the podcaster behind Tap That AZ. "I've always been able to connect with people. People feel comfortable talking with me."
Listen to five minutes of his podcast and you'll see what he means: Walters can barely finish a sentence without chuckling. Every question is friendly, upbeat, and encouraging. When he chats with brewers and baristas, he peppers the conversation with "yeahs" and "okays," but otherwise allows his guests to speak as long as they need.
"I like putting it together," says Walters, a 38-year-old who moved to Phoenix about a decade ago. "The process [of podcasting] is something I really enjoy."
Walters is new to podcasting, and to media in general. He grew up outside of Youngstown, Ohio, a region known largely for its shuttered factories. Walters didn't have a lot of prospects, so when his aunt offered him a room in Arizona, he jumped at the chance. He spent nine years working for the University of Phoenix and recently switched to a new job at Freedom Financial. He's married and has two daughters. With his boyish voice and firefighter's frame, Walters would blend seamlessly into any backyard barbecue.
But Walters has an intense creative streak. He has always stayed in touch with his high school buddy, Brian Ford, who now lives in Florida, and they decided to collaborate on a podcast. Their initial idea was to profile eccentric characters in their hometown, but the concept felt too navel-gazey. They were both music lovers, so they decided to talk about favorite bands on The Mixed Tape Podcast, using the names "Forty" and "Bolts."
"Even though we were 2,000 miles away, I use my closet, he uses his closet, we Skype, and we make a podcast," says Walters.
When Ford's wife became pregnant with their second child, they put the project on hold. Walters remembered a concept they had developed called What the Fuck Are You Drinking, where each would describe a beverage. But Walters has been deeply impressed with Phoenix's brewery scene, and he wanted to try something more local. The rest fell easily into place.
"I ended up buying some mobile recording equipment," he says. "I reached out to some breweries, and they started reaching back. I love craft beer, and I love the laid-back atmosphere of breweries. You have great conversations with the people around you. They don’t have sports on. There’s music playing, but it’s not loud. It’s designed to have conversations with people around you, whether you know them or not.”
But Walter didn't want to confine himself to beer; he has chatted up café owners as well. The general theme is "craft beverages," whether that is a hefeweizen or a gourmet coffee.
"The drinks are almost secondary to my goal," he adds. "My point is that I want to highlight these local businesses. One of the first times I went into Starbucks, I thought I was going to get bulldozed because I didn’t know what I wanted. At places like Lux, there’s this cool atmosphere. I don’t have much experience with other cities’ coffee culture, but Arizona’s coffee culture seems very welcoming."
Walters doesn't have much professional experience in beer or coffee. He tells a funny story about applying at a Chili's in Phoenix and then mysteriously failing the personality test. Luckily, he landed a job at Buffalo Wild Wings, where he met his wife, Jackie.
Eventually, Walters hopes to expand the podcast to include video, as well. If all goes well, he imagines a series of video tours partially modeled on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.
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And what does his wife think about all this?
"She loves it," Walters says with his characteristic guffaw. "She's 100 percent behind it. Even when I have to do interviews on the weekends, she says, 'Go, have fun!'"
Would she ever join in?
“She gets a little bit nervous. But I think I might eventually try to talk her into doing one with me.”