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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

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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