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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

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

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

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

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

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