The Significance of Byte This
Back during the dark ages of dial-up connections and long before I Pad’s, Roku or other innovations, there was a little thing called “Byte This” on wwe.com. As a long-time host of the show, I was talking to one of the former producers the other day, Chris Gough who now runs Metro Pro Wrestling in Kansas City. We talked about how much trouble we would have gotten in today for the stuff we used to do every week on “Byte This”.
The biggest thing we did was bridge the gap between fans of the Fed and wrestling fans everywhere. Now, it’s not like the producers of “Byte This” invented the format. Raw Magazine hosted that kind of dialogue every month and before that… a little show called Vicious Vincent’s World of Wrestling…Yes, Vince Russo was a big part of the creative driving force that launched Byte This onto the website. My original co-host, Russo was the perfect antagonist and the few episodes he was on were always fun.
His original radio show was on Sunday nights and ran for a year in the early 90’s. Four years later, Vic Venom made his WWE debut. As much grief as I give to Russo for his creative decisions in WCW and TNA, I must give him credit for bringing his edgy, obnoxious personality to the then-WWF. “Raw Magazine” was groundbreaking in many ways as well and the “Byte This” program was its demon seed.
One of Russo’s sidekicks, Jim Monsees, who was known on the air as “Matrat”, always wanted to push the envelope with content and technology as well. Monsees took on a role as “WWF on AOL” was in its infancy and helped usher in the new website… wwf.com. He oversaw live chats, live pre and post-game shows from pay-per-views and the day-to-day stuff that gets little credit. We broke his balls everyday… like clockwork.
Bill Banks was another important player in the early days of “Byte This” as well. Not only did his writing style translate well to the frustration of maturing fans that were sick of the same wrestling they saw as kids but he also worked hard to grow the audience by hosting chats and constantly pushing the audience to what we were up to next.
Another thing that “Byte This” did was help bridge the gap between the TV Studio and Titan Towers. For years, the distance separating the WWE TV Studio and the WWE Corporate Headquarters was much further than the 0.8 miles, according to Google Maps. There was a shirt-and-tie dress code strictly enforced inside Titan Towers… Vince Russo wore a banded collar shirt… anything to avoid wearing a tie. TV had no such dress code and why should they? No one would ever see them and they guys and gals inside the studio could clean up nicely if they ever had to.
The Tower had a rep of looking down their noses at the TV studio. Just or unjust, perception was reality when it came to the two buildings and their inhabitants. But, in order to produce “Byte This”, the website team needed the TV studio to help. Like hand to glove, the marriage between TV and dot com was born. Bringing a relaxed attitude with a “balls out” creative spirit to the TV studio, the Russo and Monsees-led charge melded perfectly with the “no questions, just get it done” crowd at TV. The first producer of “Byte This” was a right English chap, International producer Dan Berlinka. Chris Argento was the audio engineer, who has produced and sweetened probably hundreds of thousands of hours of WWE audio throughout his career. We brought with us some young gal, our intern named Stephanie McMahon. She was our phone screener. Whatever happened to her?
After pre-taping the first few episodes, we made the switch to go live. Take live calls, have live guests. Thursday was “Byte This” day… best day of the week for me. The times changed, the co-hosts changed. But the belief was still the same… don’t BS the fans. Walk the line but do it smartly. Interview Kane but don’t talk to the charred inner child. Let the character relax and the real person come out.
The more blurred the line was between character and real person, the better the interview. Enter Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Probably the interview we were best known for was when Steve Austin publicly blasted creative on the air. When combined with his “calling in sick” to work on Raw, our interview made news. We were featured on “Confidential” and I was proud for the team. Fact was, we had been doing those interviews every week. Well, not every week… one week, we had Val Venis roll around in a bed with former producer Terri Fillipetti. All were clothed for the “Byte This” version of a “skinamax” flick. What else are you going to do when you have Val as a guest and a satin-sheeted bed in the studio?
We had former producer Seth Mates lose his job in a pushup contest… I remember we had a high-pitched super heroine call in occasionally. I may or may not have insulted her. We had Lucas Swineford playing the role of “Stuttering John” with a line of questions toward Pat Patterson that almost got poor Lucas punched out. I randomly yelled at Big Country, Seth, Matrat, Matt Duda, Lucas, Banks, Phil Speer and anyone else in charge of the buttons. All in good fun…
But it began in the pages of “Raw Magazine” that blurred the line under the radar for years. History is kind to ECW for perhaps being the launching pad for the Attitude Era but it really started in 1992 on a low-powered AM station on Long Island where “Vicious Vincent” brought attitude (and a flushing toilet sound effect) to the air every Sunday night.
That was almost 20 years ago and the Howard Stern fan in all of us has dreamed of being the “King of All Media” but even Howard Stern has changed with the times. I hope Vince Russo makes a change to help usher in a new era in TNA.
And thanks to @nyboy42 for his props toward “Byte This” and serving as the inspiration to write this week’s column.