A Rocky Beginning Leads to a Rockies End
Facing divorced parents, poverty, injuries, and years of low-paying jobs, a former UAlbany broadcaster is now living out his dream.
Ashley Bye sat at the kitchen table, watching her husband, Zach, prepare dinner.
It was Valentine’s Day, and Zach was keeping his promise that he would cook for her every year. But his mind was on something other than the salmon and clams that sat before him. He walked away from the food. Valentine’s Day dinner was ruined.
In the years to come, Zach and Ashley will remember Valentine’s Day 2017 and laugh about the celebratory dinner that wasn’t. And smile about the reason why. And about the beginnings. About the journey. About the destination.
Zachary Bye grew up in the small, close-knit village of Scotia, N.Y. It’s the quintessential upstate New York community. Located directly on the Mohawk River, the town is lauded for its beautiful parks and active waterfront.
But Zach didn’t grow up in that part of Scotia. His life was anything but idyllic.
His parents divorced when Zach was 7, which crushed Zach and his brother, Jason, 18 months older than Zach. His father, Dennis, was in the Navy and moved around the country for 26 years. Without a stern father figure around on a consistent basis, Zach and Jason didn’t do well in school, and they acted up in class in their younger years.
“We were both very troubled kids,” Zach said, now 30.
Their mother, Margaret, worked tirelessly, mostly as a secretary, to provide for her sons. She brought in $23,000 per year — enough for the family to just scrape by. The boys qualified for reduced-price lunches at school. They bought clothes from the Salvation Army. Zach wore his brother’s hand-me-downs.
The Byes certainly couldn’t afford a television set, so Zach rarely got to watch any of his favorite sports. But he did have a radio.
The Sterling effect
On summer nights, Bye often would listen to the New York Yankees games as called by broadcaster John Sterling. It wasn’t a love for the Yankees or Sterling’s sweet-talking voice or memorable home-run calls that drew Bye to the radio.
“I just listened because if I wanted any stimulation, it was the radio,” Bye said. “I didn’t necessarily like the Yankees. I just liked hearing someone talk to me.”
Despite not being the brightest student, Bye loved to study history. His proclivity for talking made him think he could be a history teacher in middle or high school. He also pondered being a basketball coach, the sport he excelled in at Scotia-Glenville High School. Or maybe, just maybe, radio could turn into a career, he thought.
An excellent rebounder, Bye received two scholarship offers after playing one season at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y.. One was from little-known Pfeiffer University in Charlotte, N.C. The other was from The College of Saint Rose, at the time a Division II national powerhouse in Albany, N.Y., just south of Scotia.
Pfeiffer flew Bye to Charlotte so he could see the school and practice with the team. He was impressed and gelled with the guys in practice. He could see himself there. The head coach offered Bye a half-scholarship, but he threw in an interesting offer to sweeten the deal: Bye could have his own sports talk radio show on the school’s student-run radio station.
Blown away by the offer, he left Charlotte thinking he had just found where he would be for the next three years. But when the Saint Rose head coach, Brian Beaury, asked what Pfeiffer had offered him, Beaury upped the stakes with a full scholarship offer.
With nothing to lose, Zach asked for a radio show, too. Beaury found out there would be an opening in the sports department of the student-run radio station and told Bye he would have a chance to compete for the gig.
Bye chose to stay home and go to Saint Rose.
On the court and on the air
Bye redshirted his first year. The second season, he sat mostly behind the school’s all-conference power forward, Shanty Robinson. His senior year, he was the sixth man and a team captain, but missed most of the season with a gruesome thumb injury that required reconstructive surgery.
He miraculously made it back in time for Senior Night, where he dunked on two straight possessions just months after his thumb was nearly detached from his left hand.
He loved his team and his team loved him, including Steve Dagostino, the All-American point guard who went on to play five seasons overseas.
“Zach was a very outgoing and sociable guy — just a really good dude,” Dagostino said. “You could talk to him about anything. Politics, sports or social issues, it didn’t matter.”
Despite loving every moment of his Saint Rose basketball career, it was the school’s radio station and his communications major that braced Bye for life after college.
“Once I got behind the mic, I thought this was so fun,” Bye said. “From that point on it was like, ‘I’m gonna do whatever I have to to get into this.’”
He also had a growing relationship with a young woman he had met in his junior year. Bye first met Ashley Robinson at a Yankees game on a Saint Rose field trip on April 5, 2008.
“We tried to play it cool,” Ashley said. “We hung out at his apartment a lot. We went to Wendy’s and we liked to share a bottle of wine.”
“It was so corny.”
After graduation, they realized they had something more than just a college relationship. Ashley said he was different from most guys she had been around, and she was especially drawn to his personality and “passion for life.”
She went back to her hometown in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for six months before getting a teaching job in the Albany area, where Zach lived in an apartment with three roommates. He invited Ashley to live with him and his friends, promising it wouldn’t be long before they could find a place of their own. She accepted, knowing it would save money and that she wanted to be with Zach.
Except Bye was struggling to make any money doing what he loved: broadcasting.
At this point, Bye was trying to get his name known and build a brand. He offered to broadcast Saint Rose basketball games for free. He wrote a blog, too, which required a lot of work but few rewards.
Through a longtime friend, Bye got a job at a Lexus dealership and used his speaking skills and outgoing personality to sell cars. In a business driven by commissions, Bye made good money to pay the bills.
But in months that sales slumped, he questioned his life’s direction. He did make good money at Lexus, but he didn’t know whether he should let it go and really focus on his broadcast career.
Together, Zach and Ashley decided he would step away from Lexus.
“I didn’t want money. Yes, he could have stayed at Lexus and we could have owned a house and a lot more things,” Ashley said. “But would my (future) husband actually be happy? I knew selling cars was gonna get old and the money might be nice, but I would rather have the person I love doing what he loved.”
That was when a window of opportunity opened. The University at Albany, right down the street from Saint Rose, offered Bye a chance to do color commentary for UAlbany football and basketball games with Rodger Wyland, a TV anchor and radio host who has been a fixture in the Albany area for 30 years.
Wyland himself selected Bye, who had interned at Wyland’s radio station. Wyland could have chosen anyone. According to Bye, Wyland remembered Bye’s passion and knowledge and knew he wanted Bye alongside him in the booth.
Bye left Lexus but knew he couldn’t support himself on the checks from the few dozen football and basketball games he called each winter. He didn’t have a spring broadcasting job. Or a summer one, either.
With an offer from the father of his childhood best friend, Bye woke up at 5 a.m. to help stack bread for $50 per day. By 7 a.m., Bye was out the door on his way to local schools to fill in as a substitute teacher. At night, he would cap his 15-hour day by hosting trivia nights at local restaurants two days a week. He helped Dagostino, his college teammate, train youth basketball players in the area. For three years, he also worked as a laborer at a local mason company. He worked tirelessly in the hot sun building walls and chimneys.
It certainly wasn’t what Bye had envisioned.
“I was doing this at 25, 26, 27, 28, 29. I saw kids I graduated with doing so well and making money in the real world with full-time jobs, and I had to give an explanation to why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Bye said.
“You’ve got an eighth grader telling you go to hell,” Bye remembered about his days as a substitute teacher. “I told myself I could just quit this job. I knew I could get involved with sales and make $100,000 by year three. But I made a promise to myself that this is how I want to spend my life. I want to talk about sports.”
So that’s what he did. Bye kept thriving in his role at UAlbany, where he served as a color analyst for more than 300 games with Wyland in six years, including some NCAA Tournament ones. He worked tirelessly preparing for games. His charisma and loyalty struck people. And his on-air connection with Wyland certainly helped.
More Wyland and Bye — temporarily
When Bye heard rumors that 104.5 The Team, Albany’s ESPN Radio affiliate, was hoping to lure Wyland away from Fox Sports 980–Albany’s Fox affiliate–with the promise of a triple-digit salary, Bye decided to get his foot in the door at 104.5.
Armen Williams, the station’s program director at the time, had heard Bye on the UAlbany broadcasts. Williams said he told his boss to keep tabs on Bye as a future hire.
It wasn’t long before Bye had a new job.
He started from the bottom again, working as a board operator during Yankees games. Wyland officially joined The Team in the summer of 2016, hosting “Big Board Sports” with local talent, Brady Farkas, as his producer and second voice.
That fall, Farkas left to become the program director at ESPN Radio in Burlington, Vt. Wyland had a decision to make. Again, he chose Bye.
With the acquisition of Wyland, 104.5 inked a deal with UAlbany, making The Team the home of UAlbany athletics. Wyland and Bye would call games together as they had for the past five years, only the games would reach a much larger audience on a clearer signal.
In the winter, in the midst of the UAlbany basketball season, Bye started sending tapes of his on-air performances to ESPN Radio consultants. He wasn’t looking for a new job; he just wanted feedback and constructive criticism from people in the business.
He especially wasn’t looking to leave the Albany area. He and Ashley married on July 4, 2015, and were building a life together. But deep down, they both knew they would have to leave if the opportunity to improve his career presented itself.
The consultant who heard his tapes, Rick Scott, sent them to the ESPN Radio affiliate in Seattle. They loved Bye. He made a whirlwind trip to Seattle and received a job offer in a day to become a producer with some time on air.
And then on Valentine’s Day, while buying Ashley roses, Bye received a phone call.
It was Armen Williams.
“Now I’m really gonna muddy the waters,” Bye recalled Williams telling him. “I know that Mike Salk offered you a job in Seattle. Congrats, you deserve that opportunity.”
But just as the Saint Rose coach had one-upped the Pfeiffer coach years ago, Williams topped Salk, telling him he thought he’d make an ideal sidekick to former NFL wide receiver Brandon Stokley on a sports talk show at The Fan in Denver, where Williams is now the program director.
“I knew his situation, and I kept him in my mind,” Wiliams said. “I scanned the country and did some interviews, but I knew Zach was the guy I wanted.”
Bye cried. He went home and told Ashley about it. They got emotional together. He tried making Valentine’s Day dinner, but he couldn’t focus. Too much was going on in his mind.
“There was so much to consider,” Bye said. “It was so much bigger than Valentine’s Day. It was your life.”
In March, Bye started his new gig as the co-host of “Stokley and Zach” at 104.3 The Fan, the No. 1 talk radio station in Denver. Bye said he loves the early chemistry and connection with Stokley and thinks their afternoon show has a lot of potential.
Ashley hasn’t joined him in Denver yet; she is finishing her teaching year before making the move. During spring break, Ashley went to Denver to check out the city and the apartment Zach found. They talked about how they would furnish it and make it their own.
For now, he is sleeping on an air mattress. He’s slumming it, once again.