Eric Byrnes: Ralph Barbieri’s replacement or Mr. T’s temporary rebound?

During Monday night’s San Francisco Giants game against the Philadelphia Phillies, you may have seen it on CSN Bay Area: Tom Tolbert and Eric Byrnes, sitting together in front of Larry Baer. It was almost like a new relationship gone public, comparable to when Kim Kardashian was recently seen leaving Kanye West’s house in the morning, wearing the same clothes from the night before.

Alright, not really. West and Kardashian very well might be fake-dating as a publicity stunt. And Tolbert and Byrnes are both married … to women. But Tolbert and Byrnes taking in a Giants game together was still an image worth noting, since they also hosted together on KNBR from 3-7 pm on Monday afternoon. One can almost picture Ralph Barbieri watching the game at home on DVR hours later, throwing his remote control at the TV after seeing his younger, thinner replacement on Tolbert’s arm. You know how The Razor gets after the Sharks lose a playoff game.

As of now, Tolbert and Byrnes is a temporary pairing. In the coming days/weeks you’ll probably also hear Tolbert hosting with a musical chairs lineup of guys like Ted Robinson, Ray Ratto, Kevin Lynch and others, along with some solo appearances. However, there are a few reasons why you could see Mr. T and Mr. B as a permanent couple in the not-too-distant future.

1. Tolbert and Byrnes get along. Why not? They have a ton in common — they’re both former pro athletes, both were good for quotes during their playing days and they’re both often described as “laid back” (although in Tolbert’s case that’s actually accurate, while Byrnes seems more like the intense, hyperactive type). They’re both the type of sports talk hosts you’d only find in California, and it seems like Byrnes is modeling his post-MLB career after Tolbert’s post-NBA path.

2. Byrnes’ wandering eye. They’re already paying Byrnes (not as much as they were paying Barbieri, but more than what guys like Thin Tim or P-Con are making), but he doesn’t seem all that engaged with SportsPhone 680. That’s not as much a statement on his performances on the show, which tend to vary greatly from night to night depending on how excited Byrnes is about the day’s stories. It’s just a reference to the fact that Byrnes isn’t there all that much. He’s in New York doing MLB Network spots, he’s doing triathlons, he’s here, he’s there … it’s clear SportsPhone 680 isn’t Byrnes ultimate goal (same with the guy he replaced, Byrnes’ buddy F.P. Santangelo). If Cumulus likes him — and I’ve heard he re-upped recently, so they probably do — a good way to keep him happy would be to throw him on the station’s most important time slot.

3. Demographics. You might think these radio corporations have no idea, but they know how many of you are uttering the phrase “radio is a dying medium” every day (which is sad, because free content levels the playing field when it comes to information consumption). Regardless, rumors of future extinction mean radio stations are battling the perception that they’re dinosaurs. That’s why Cumulus might ignore older listeners who couldn’t relate to a show featuring Tolbert and Byrnes, because that’s not who they’re targeting. Sports radio’s all about men between the ages of 18-54, but the first number’s a bit more intoxicating to many program directors than the second.

4. Comfort in the familiar. KNBR knows firing Barbieri has caused a major PR bruise, one which continues to grow and change colors. They’re saving a ton of money in letting The Razor go, but taking a voice we’re all so familiar with is an affront to many Bay Area residents — even some who couldn’t stand the guy. This area doesn’t take kindly to outsiders serving up sports opinions, and there aren’t a lot of known local options that would work here. Damon Bruce? Perhaps, but they might have other plans for him. Also, we don’t know if Tolbert would enjoy hosting with Bruce as much as he appears to with Byrnes. KNBR wouldn’t move Bruce out of his time slot unless they were absolutely sure he was going to host with Tolbert for good (whatever “for good” means). We don’t know if guys like Robinson, Ratto and Lynch would even want a full-time radio gig.

5. On-air chemistry. Whether or not you like this partnership is almost secondary to whether they like it. If they’re enjoying themselves, it’s easier for Cumulus to bet that the audience will go along for the ride. And Tolbert and Byrnes sure seem to like hanging out and talking sports together, enough to spend an extra hour or three together after the show at AT&T Park (who knows, maybe that’s the image they were trying to portray on Monday night).

Taking all that into consideration, it’s pretty easy to see Tolbert and Byrnes falling into an easy partnership on the air. It might be a bit too one-note for many, but Cumulus/KNBR might not care about that at all, as long as the amount of people they gain (for example: those who boycotted the show because they couldn’t stand Barbieri) roughly equals what they lose with Barbieri’s firing. They won’t make the change immediately, because those still smarting over Barbieri’s termination would cry “TOO SOON”  and could be lost forever.

But Cumulus won’t wait too long to set up a permanent show in that slot, because they’ll want to produce an image of stability to stave off 95.7 “The Game.” I also don’t think Tolbert even wants to do the show solo, since he takes several days off per year and hosting an entire show is a lot more work than responding to a co-host. Rotating hosts for weeks on end might work between 7-10 pm, but not during afternoon commute. If KNBR goes with Byrnes as Tolbert’s next permanent running mate, we may see them together on TV on future evenings, taking in a ballgame and chatting with front office execs.

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