BANKIE’S HOT TAKE #9 - Wrestling Observer Live on eYada
Over the past several months, I started delving into the history of broadcasting.
Particularly, with the advent of technology and the internet over the past 3-4 decades, the opportunities have been endless for developing new ways for listeners to check out audio.
A lot of radio stations have taken to simulcasting on the web while they broadcast on terrestrial airwaves. SiriusXM has advanced from listening in the car to streaming on their very own application.
In my opinion, within the current day, podcasts are king. This very website I’m writing on was founded off a podcast network. It truly feels like every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a podcast nowadays.
Technology has grown leaps and bounds, but there is one time period that I hold near and dear when it comes to broadcasting.
In 1999, one man took a stab at live internet radio. Radio you could listen to while surfing the web. Broadcasting done in a revolutionary way.
That man: Bob Meyrowitz.
To combat sports fans, Bob Meyrowitz is an icon.
Meyrowitz, along with his partners at Semaphore Entertainment Group, founded the Ultimate Fight Championship. The original pitch for UFC was a real life Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat tournament over the course of one night. Both Campbell McLaren and Meyrowitz saw it as a franchise instead of a one-off.
After 32 events, and a whole mess of legal and financial troubles, Zuffa, Inc purchased UFC from SEG for $2 Million in January 2001, and has become the biggest Mixed Martial Arts promotion in the world. Meyrowitz was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 10, 2016, thanks to his foresight into keeping UFC alive.
Although Meyrowitz is primarily known for UFC, his break-through in entertainment was through radio. In the early 1970s, he co-founded the King Biscuit Flower Hour, a syndicated radio program showcasing rock music in a live setting, from established acts to up-and-coming musicians. The program lasted on the airwaves until 2005, although Meyrowitz sold his stake in the show by 1992.
In 1999, Meyrowitz, regarded as a pioneer of entertainment at this stage of his career, took on a real risky project. He and his team purchased a domain, recording equipment, and talent, forming the first ever online streaming radio station.
EYada.com began in the fall of 1999 and opened up a new avenue to how radio could be broadcasted.
Some of the names on the fledgling station were very intriguing looking back. Lionel from Lionel Media, Chaunce Hayden from the Howard Stern Show, Rush and Malloy, Dan and Scott, Lori Kramer and Richard Johnson, and Eddie Goldman. These hosts represented the entertainment, comedy, and sports divisions on the platform.
According to press releases during eYada’s run, the website would consistently have 250,000 to 400,000 listeners at a time, truly expanding around the world. However, there was only one show that was, by far, the most listened to program on the site.
Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Live.
For every hardcore wrestling fan, Dave Meltzer is wrestling’s foremost journalist. Writing the Wrestling Observer since 1981, Meltzer has detailed all the behind the scenes news in the wrestling business. Every single week. Love him or hate him, Meltzer has become wrestling’s biggest historian, all thanks to his newsletter.
So when eYada went to Dave and offered him a spot on the station in 1999, it was a win-win. It not only brought a voice to the man that wrote the newsletter, but also helped make Meltzer a pillar in the thriving and growing Internet Wrestling Community, which was still in its infancy by the end of the millennium.
However, it almost didn’t make it past the first week.
According to Meltzer on the last eYada show, he felt unprepared and unready to do a daily program every day. However, after the first batch of episodes, he placed a phone call to an acquaintance and changed the show’s dynamic from that point on.
Bryan Alvarez started wrestling in the mid-1990s, predominantly near Portland, OR and the Pacific Northwest. Personally, his rivalry on the independents with “Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney over the ICW/ICWA Texarkana Television title in 2007 was one of my favorite rivalries ever, complete with the bells and whistles of classic pro wrestling. I still revisit that series from time to time.
But journalism was Alvarez’s bread and butter. Since 1995, he was the driving force behind Figure 4 Weekly, a lighter yet informative wrestling newsletter. I read a few of my Dad’s F4Ws back in the day and I laughed my ass off at some of Alvarez’s quips.
Due to being writers of their own newsletters, Meltzer and Alvarez became friends. And, once Meltzer called with the offer to Alvarez on joining the new eYada show, and Alvarez accepted, they became partners. And they never looked back.
Almost immediately, the Observer Live radio program became a success. Articles and press releases from that time period noted that it was the #1 most listened to show on eYada.com.
The format of the show was among the keys to success. Dave and Bryan would start off the main headlines of the day, whether it be a news item from WWF, WCW, ECW, or one of the main international wrestling promotions. After a lengthy discussion, Meltzer would read listeners’ questions and feedback via email. Following a commercial break, a guest within the wrestling business would join them until the end of the show. Fans would be able to call in live to eYada and legitimately be able to ask the personality questions. If there was no guest, Meltzer would go into topics around mixed martial arts, Japanese wrestling, or wrestling history.
By being as interactive as they were, Wrestling Observer Live truly brought the fan into the show. Not only that, the fans were treated as an equal, not as fodder for material. Meltzer and Alvarez deserve a wealth of credit for that.
The 21-plus months of WOL on eYada was legendary. For 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, Meltzer and Alvarez left behind an audio journal of the day-to-day happenings of the hottest time in the history of the wrestling business.
For starters, they covered the entire saga of World Championship Wrestling post-Eric Bischoff, after he was let go in September 1999. From Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera taking over creative, to Russo going home and Kevin Sullivan becoming head booker in January 2000, which subsequently led to Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Eddie Guerrero defecting to the World Wrestling Federation; from Bischoff and Russo returning on April 10, 2000 to reset WCW, to Bash at the Beach on July 9, 2000, which subsequently led to Hulk Hogan and Bischoff leaving the promotion; from Bischoff and Fusient Media Ventures announcing the purchase of the promotion on January 11, 2001, to the deal falling apart on March 16, which subsequently led to the WWF swooping in and buying the name, tape library, and 24 talent contracts a week later, ending the company.
Quite the journey, eh? Meltzer and Alvarez covered it all.
Also, the show covered the debacle of the XFL, the end of Extreme Championship Wrestling, the WWF going public, the Parents Television Council, Scott Hall’s legal troubles, and the Lionel Tate murder trial, among other topics. The show wasn't afraid of giving their opinions on these topics, no matter how controversial they might be.
We can also not forget the men that Meltzer and Alvarez “made” during their time on the air.
First, the show’s producer, Al “G” Gattullo, who was the neck of the operation, as he controlled the phone lines, handled getting great guests, and kept everything rolling on the technical side. Both Dave and Bryan revered and respected Al and appreciated his contributions to the show.
On October 6, 2000, Tom Zenk came on the program and gave what many fans consider to be the greatest interview in the history of the show. The Z-Man discussed WCW, his career, and other stories involving himself and “Flyin’” Brian Pillman, However, his impersonations of Dusty Rhodes, Jim Barnett, and Pillman were top notch. Furthermore, there was a story revolving around Ole Anderson that left Meltzer in stitches. Because of this interview, Zenk gained a cult following online for his Unfiltered takes on the wrestling business. He made a few more appearances on the program, but this episode was, indeed, his peak.
Alex Marvez was a journalist based out of Florida, covering football and wrestling. However, his coverage of the WWF and XFL was crucial to the program. Particularly, his coverage of the WWF purchase of WCW was outstanding. On March 23, 2001, Marvez inquired on several topics with WWF CEO Linda McMahon and President Stuart Snyder, leading to some in-depth conversations with Dave and Bryan on the air. Marvez proved to be an invaluable asset to the show.
There was so much content and talent that came through the airwaves. Wrestling Observer Live was an internet gem.
But, as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”.
Although eYada.com was an innovative concept and broadcasted worldwide on the web, it was very tough to gain real mainstream sponsors to help support the concept financially. Besides a few small sponsors, including the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, eYada was bleeding money.
On July 9, 2001, eYada ceased operations, with Wrestling Observer Live being the last program to stream on those airwaves.
Mark Madden, Jeff Marek from Live Audio Wrestling, Tom Zenk, and all the loyal callers joined Meltzer and Alvarez on the last show, discussing how WWF revamped the entire WCW Invasion storyline, as well as Buff Bagwell’s long run in the WWF ended after two weeks. Mixing in classic eYada memories, the show was a sendoff, but not a farewell. As soon as the two hours were up, eYada.com closed its airwaves forever.
Although eYada.com’s audio masters went to the banks and other creditors, diehard fans found a way to download or record most episodes as they streamed, and made mp3 files, which are available to listen to via message board links or YouTube. Legally, Meltzer and Alvarez cannot post them on the Wrestling Observer/Figure 4 Weekly website, but fans of the show have done the legwork, making sure they are documented in some form or fashion.
I know it’s not healthy to do, but I long for these times again. I admire the foresight and innovation from Bob Meyrowitz and eYada.com. I really dig the chemistry of Dave and Bryan, especially as they continued their partnership in podcasting. I really love the guerrilla style that fans have taken to make sure these archives are listened to in its entirety.
Right place, right time. It was lightning in a bottle. eYada.com was revolutionary.
There might not ever be a time period like this again. Two great hosts. One live radio show. One incredible time period in wrestling and the world.
LINKS TO EYADA.COM HISTORY:
Q&A with Robert Meyrowitz, President and CEO of eYada.com (streamingmedia.com)
Hoffman: Net radio network eYada is now 'nada' (chron.com)
Talk-Radio Firm eYada.com To Shut Down Amid Ad Slump - WSJ
EYada.com Lays Off One-Third Of Staff as It Axes Several Shows - WSJ
EYada.com Internet Radio (radioworld.com)
Wrestling Observer Live – Cave Talk Radio