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An Unexpected Twist Led Zach Bye To 104.3 The Fan

“If you Google my college basketball bio, it says ‘wants to be a sports talk host’.”

Tyler McComas

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It was almost as if he grew up in a time machine. A 90’s kid, sure, but a childhood that much more resembled that of an early baby boomer in the 1950’s. The house Zach Bye grew up in didn’t have a television. After his parents divorced when he was seven, Bye’s father took the television and his mother never replaced it. An old fashioned family radio took its place. Instead of watching episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Boy Meets World, his media stimulation came from radio programs such as Rush Limbaugh, Adventures in Odyssey, a christian theatre act, and other obscure programming such as UFO and alien shows. 

A television wasn’t put in Bye’s home until he was 15 years old, but even then, it didn’t come with cable. It’s only purpose was for video games and local programming. But that’s when a passion for sports talk radio was ignited. As a young teenager he was calling into the Jim Rome Show. By 17, he had The Huge Call of the Week on the show. His fire for the business was already lit, but it kept growing hotter and hotter. 

Zach Bye - 104.5 The Team ESPN Radio

So much so, that when Bye was being recruited out of high school to play basketball, one of the main deciding factors was a school that had a campus radio station. That led to his decision to attend The College of Saint Rose in Albany,NY, where, for three years, he hosted a show on the campus radio station. By the time he graduated, Bye already had hundreds of reps behind a microphone. 

“If you Google my college basketball bio, it says ‘wants to be a sports talk host’,” said Bye.

The realization of graduating college, meant not being able to find work. To keep ascending his talents, he went back to Saint Rose and offered to be the color commentator for all the home basketball games for free. He also started his own website, Byesline.com, and wrote a blog every single day. All of this caught the attention of arguably the most influential person In Bye’s professional life. At the time, the only thing more valuable than his countless reps behind the mic, was meeting Rodger Wyland. 

The Sports Director at WNYT NewsChannel 13 and host of Big Board Sports on 104.5 The Team in Albany, Wyland is one of the biggest media personalities in his market. Bye was fortunate enough to intern for him during his senior year of college and made a lasting impression. 

“I busted my butt for him,” Bye said. “We got along great.”

“He’s one of those guys that gives 110 percent in whatever he does,” said Wyland. “Nothing was ever given to Zach and he’s worked hard for everything he has.”

Wyland saw the talent Bye had and decided to take a chance on him. He remembered the great impression Bye left on him while interning at the TV station, so when the play-by-play job for the University of Albany football and men’s basketball job opened, Wyland stepped in with a strong suggestion to the school. At just 25 years old, Bye became the voice of a D1 program. 

My First Year of Broadcasting Comes to a Close - ByesLine By Zachary Bye: A  Basketball & Sports Blog

“I got that job because of Roger,” Bye said. “That really opened up the idea of, hey, you need to make this your life’s work.”

“He just took advantage of every opportunity that was given,” Wyland said. “I’ve never seen anyone work it like Zach can.”

So he did. Bye left his job at a local car dealership and told his then girlfriend that he was going to give sports media 10 years. 

“I said if nothing happens for me after a decade, then I’ll move on and pour my life into something else,” Bye said. “But I didn’t want to be 45 years old and regretting that I never really went for it.”

From then on Bye was in sacrifice mode. To make ends meet, he would stock grocery store shelves with bread from 5-7 a.m. and then head off to be a substitute teacher at a middle school for half of a day. Choosing this lifestyle allowed him to decide which days he worked, because no other full-time job would allow him the time off it took to call UAlbany games. 

Along with stocking shelves and teaching, Bye was also hosting sports trivia at a local bar every Monday night. He was a one-man band with no help. He bought his own speaker, microphone and XLR cord. Bye even wrote his own trivia questions. 

“I basically just knocked on the door of a bar and asked if they wanted to host sports trivia,” Bye said. “They said yes and agreed to pay me 100 bucks a week.”

The 400 dollars he earned each month from the bar was half of his rent. Bye scraped together any idea he could come up with to make more money. That included a deal to do an on-camera interview each week with the UAlbany football coach for 50 dollars a week. It wasn’t much, but at that time in his life, anything helped. 

After grinding it out and barely making ends meet, Bye finally got a job at the radio station where he desperately wanted to be. He would produce Wyland’s show and be his sidekick on 104.5 The Team. Bye would also run the board for New York Yankees games at night for eight dollars an hour. 

“It was a lot, man,” Bye said. “I was 29 years old my last year in Albany and I made $29,000 working four different jobs.”

There were no outside offers being made to Bye, because he wasn’t applying for any. He thought if he kept working hard, it was going to show and someone would take notice. He ended up being right. 

After busting his ass for nearly a decade, his career completely changed in the matter of two weeks. While hosting solo on Wyland’s show, Bye gave a take on the air about Odell Beckham Jr. He then sent it to Rick Scott, who was consulting for the station. Bye asked only for a critique. He wasn’t asking Scott to pass it along to his contacts, only to help him become a better broadcaster. 

Instead, Scott listened and sent it to Armen Williams, who at the time, was the program director at 104.3 The Fan in Denver. Williams thought it was good. So good, that he sent it to Mike Salk, PD of 710 ESPN in Seattle, who had an opening to be John Clayton’s producer and sidekick. 

“He gave his opinion and he built a story around it on why you should agree with his opinion,” said Williams. “By the end of it I totally agreed with him.”

Salk liked the tape, too. Soon after, Bye had tears coming down his face on the phone while Salk told him he was flying him to Seattle. They met the next day and Bye was set on moving across the country to chase the biggest break in his career. 

But fate has a funny way of changing things. 

Two weeks after meeting, Salk offered him the job. Emotional and ecstatic, Bye called Williams to tell him the good news. 

“I said Armen, I can’t believe this, they’re offering me the job in Seattle,” Bye said. “I’ll never forget what he said next. He said, I know, now I’m really going to muddy the waters.”

“When he initially sent me the tape I didn’t have an opening,” said Williams.

“He told me, I passed your demo along to Mike Salk, thinking you’d be a great fit in Seattle,” Bye said. “But we have to fill this role to co-host with Brandon Stokley and every demo I’ve listened to I’m subconsciously comparing them to you.”

“It just so happens a position and an opportunity with us came open in Denver and I called Salk to talk to him first,” said Williams. “Then I called Zach and said, hey, this might complicate things, but I have an opportunity,”

In just a 14-day span, everything changed for Bye. From the early morning wake up calls to stock shelves, 8th graders telling him to go screw himself, having to swallow his pride after his wife had to pay for the majority of their wedding and even the late nights spent hosting trivia were now all worth it. He was on his way to a major market to be a show host. 

“It was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had and I’ve been doing it a long time,” said Wyland.

“It was magic,” Bye said. ‘It felt like magic.”

His 30th birthday party was a going away party. Soon after, he headed to Denver with his wife to start his new life. He’s quickly helped turn Stokley and Zach into one of the most listened to shows in the market, including many of the shows across the country he looks up to.

Stokley And Zach

Life couldn’t be better right now for Bye and his family. He’s living proof that nice guys can still finish first. 

“It’s a miracle,” Bye said. “Even as I’m explaining it to you I have to pinch myself.”

BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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