Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Interviewing Wrestlers? Hold mike and pray!

Jerry Bledsoe at the Greensboro Daily News wrote this wonderful article in 1976 about his visit to the studios of WRAL-TV in Raleigh for a taping of "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling."

The first half of the article provides a nice look inside the wrestling broadcast with perennial host Bob Caudle and new co-host at that time, Tom Miller. Miller replaced regular co-host David Crockett during the summer of 1976 while Crockett attended to other responsibilities with the Crockett family's minor league baseball franchise in Charlotte, the Charlotte O's.

* * * * *

Interviewing Wrestlers? Hold Mike and Pray!
Article originally published May 30, 1976 in the Greensboro Daily News
by Jerry Bledsoe

Boy, Madman Angelo Mosca is really mad. He is up there in the glare of the bright studio lights, clinging defiantly to his heavy championship belt, raving like a lunatic at the camera.

“They have turned me into an animal!!” he is screaming. “They have created a monster and I will annihilate anybody in my way!!”

Actually, it looks more as if they have turned him into a fountain, for with every word, Angelo Mosca is thoroughly showering Bob Caudle, the announcer, who stands, unflinchingly, holding the microphone for this tirade. Poor Bob. There is nothing he can do but pray that this ends before he drowns.

It is Wednesday night in the Channel 5 studios in Raleigh, and another hour of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling is being preserved on videotape. Within days, it will be seen by millions of people on many TV stations up and down the East Coast.

The action in the ring has not yet begun, but beyond the lights, in the bleachers along the wall the fans are already screaming and stomping their feet. They do not like Angelo Mosca and they are not hesitating to let him know.

Tom Miller is the lucky one here. He might have been getting the drenching that Angelo Mosca is now directing toward poor Bob Caudle. Tom is the other announcer on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. He is the “color” man, as the term is known in the trade. He is there to throw in sideline remarks and off-beat information. He is new at it. This is only his third broadcast and he is not yet comfortable with it. That is why he was able to escape this drenching.

Just before air time, the producers had told Tom Miller that they wanted him to start doing the stand-up interviews with the wrestlers between matches.

It has unsettled him. He wasn’t ready for it, he said. Not yet. He asked for mercy.

There was nothing to it, they had assured him. The wrestlers would do all the talking. Besides, hardly anybody would see it. Most of the stations cut out the interviews to put in commercials.

It hadn’t convinced him.

“Give me one more week,” he had pleaded with a puppy dog look. “Really, I need to psyche myself up for it.”

Okay, they had said. One more week.

Now Tom Miller is sitting at the announcer’s table watching Angelo Mosca screaming wetly at Bob Caudle, and Tom is realizing what a blessing he has received.

“He really gave you a bath, Bob,” Tom says, as Caudle sits down mopping his face with a handkerchief. “He was literally frothing at the mouth.”

Ric and Blackjack stir ‘em up.

Up in the ring, Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan have been strutting back and forth, antagonizing the crowd and what a despicable pair they are. That Ric “Nature Boy” Flair really thinks that he is something with his bleached blond tresses and his multi-colored boots. Oh, the arrogance of him.

“Has there ever been anybody like me?” he yells at the announcers’ table. “Have you ever seen anybody in the whole world like me?”

“Not recently,” says Caudle, shaking his head.

And that Blackjack. He is a brooding, sinister devil if ever there was one.

It is clear that Randy Colley and Pete Sanchez, who have to go up against this pair in the first match, do not have a chance. And that proves to be exactly the case.

Colley and Sanchez are decent men who go by the rules, but that Flair and Mulligan pull every dirty trick in the book and sometimes it looks as if that referee is just plain blind.

Virtue triumphs in the second match though, when Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones, a black man who wears a jewel-bedecked crown and has red lips all over his black trunks, gets all wound up and turns his famous head-butt on Joe Turner. The crowd is ecstatic.

It is in the third match that Tom Miller begins unwittingly to get himself into trouble. This match pits Gene and Ole Anderson against Tony Atlas and Greg Peterson. The Andersons have been wrestling for a long time and they are not known for their kind and gentlemanly ways. Here lately, though, they have been so vicious that they make Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan, the dirty dogs, look like Sunday school boys.

The reason for this is that they have recently lost their tag-team championship to Tim Woods and Dino Bravo, who are very popular with the fans. Woods and Bravo have had to pay dearly for their victory, however. Why, Tim Woods, who is as nice a fellow as anybody could ever hope to meet, has had to take to wearing a white mask just to hide the nasty gashes that the Andersons have inflicted on his head. The Andersons are not adverse to smashing an opponent’s head into the ring post or tossing him head first out of the ring on to the concrete floor, for that matter.

“I may not find myself in favor with Gene and Ole Anderson for saying this,” Tom is saying as the Andersons go after Atlas and Peterson, “but they’re almost like a pair of sharks. When they smell blood in the water, they go for the weakest part.”

He keeps making little remarks like this all through the match. He is even so bold as to suggest to the TV audience that the Andersons do not always abide by the rules.

The Andersons, meanwhile, are pouring it on to the hapless Atlas and Peterson. It is really bad. At one point near the end, Ole is holding Peterson upside down over his head and he looks as if he is contemplating using him as a plow to furrow a few acres.

Instead, he slams poor Peterson to the canvas, climbs on to the top of the ropes and takes a swan dive onto him.

“Oh, my heavens!” cries Tom Miller as the ref frantically motions for the bell to be rung.

But he has done it now, Tom Miller has. Ole Anderson has heard these little remarks that Miller has been making about him and his brother, and he doesn’t like it one bit. He is roaring when he comes over to the announcers’ table for his post match interview before the camera.

He pushes aside Bob Caudle, who is waiting with microphone in hand to interview him.

“I want him up here,” he is saying, gesturing violently toward Miller. “He’s the one who’s been saying all these things. Who is he – Tim Woods’s cousin?”

Tom Miller, who is still sitting behind the announcers’ table, has not been expecting this. He seems not to know what to do. He stands and swallows hard. Caudle is motioning for him to come out into the lights, and he does so reluctantly, timidly accepting the microphone from Caudle, who says, “Tom, if you need me, just call me,” as he steps quickly away, leaving Miller to the raving, furious Ole Anderson.

“Look,” Miller says quickly, “I’m not a professional wrestler, so don’t go slugging me.”

It is the only thing he gets to say because Anderson continues screaming into the microphone until the floor director starts making frantic speed-up motions and the red light on the camera flicks off.

Bob Caudle is grinning broadly as Tom Miller, somewhat shakily, puts the microphone back into its stand.

“See, Tom?” he says. “They ain’t nothing to it.

* * * * * * * * * *

The second half of this article tells an unusual story regarding an incident that allegedly took place at the end of that TV taping. Perhaps Mr. Bledsoe embellished things a little bit, a dramatic license allowed since after all it is pro wrestling he's discussing. Perhaps it was during one of those interview segments that most markets didn't see. David Chappell at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway has an audio recording of this very program and while Ole Anderson was indeed fond of commenting about "Truckin' Tom" Miller, we haven't found anything that quite matches the description here.

All that said, we love seeing this article, and appreciate Jerry Bledsoe's observations about our favorite TV program. Coverage like this of wrestling was rare in those days. Not clear whether Jerry was a fan or not, but he certainly painted a colorful picture of what he saw in the studios of WRAL. We love it. (Edit: We later learn that Jerry was more a fan of Tom Miller than he ever was of wrestling. But that's OK, too.)

Thanks to Carroll Hall at "Vintage TV & Wrestling Nostalgia" and the "All Star Championship Wrestling" blog for finding this article all these years later and sending it to us, and we are proud to include the full text of the article here. Thanks also to Peggy Lathan for her transcription of the article.

Jerry Bledsoe is the author of the 1988 best selling non-fiction novel "Bitter Blood."