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.
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.
“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.
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.”