Sunday, July 5, 2015

Charlie Harville: Remembering His Remarkable Journey (Excerpt)

by Wayne Brower
Exclusive to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway
from the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Archives

The following is an excerpt from the main article. A link at the bottom will take you to the conclusion on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway website.

In the spring of 1954 Jim Crockett spoke before an audience in the City of Lexington, North Carolina to publicize the debut of professional wrestling at the local YMCA gymnasium. He announced an agreement that he had entered with the organization whereby a portion of the proceeds would go towards funding the newly constructed arena. Crockett also told the assembled group about his plans for weekly shows if the initial matches drew adequate crowds.

Marketing the wrestling matches would be through advertisements in local newspapers, along with display cards in store fronts and on utility poles at strategic intersections. Since locally affiliated wrestling was not televised in the immediate area, Crockett described the need for a strong connection with the population in the Piedmont section of the state. He then advised the attendees about his new association with a prominent sports authority who would play a significant role in providing a major event atmosphere, while drawing sports fans not previously interested in wrestling. That prominent authority was Charlie Harville.

Charles Edward Harville was born December 15, 1918 in High Point, North Carolina. From an early age he had a tremendous interest in playing various sports that progressed into his college years. Not being as successful as he had envisioned in football, Charlie turned to baseball but failed to make the High Point College team. Showing his lifelong ability to overcome setbacks through trust in his own self-reliance, he would later tell a newspaper reporter that being cut during the baseball tryouts made him strive to succeed in his second ambition – being a sports broadcaster.

So while still in college, Charlie went to his hometown WMFR radio and boldly offered his services as a substitute play-by-play announcer for the Thomasville Tommies baseball games. The station manager was impressed by the articulate young man and decided to give him an opportunity in an on-the-job audition on April 28, 1938. The next day he was hired as their full time play-by-play announcer for baseball and football games.

World War II interrupted his career, but after an honorable tour of duty in the Army Air Corps, Charlie reemerged in radio working at stations in Martinsville, Virginia, Goldsboro, North Carolina and then LaSalle, Illinois. During his time at WLPO in LaSalle he created the unique closing phrase that would always end his future sportscasts: “That’s the best in sports today.”

In 1949 WFMY Radio in Greensboro provided an opportunity for him to return to his home area. The station had made the effort to broadcast the new medium of television and obtained the license to do so later that year. Charlie was selected as host of what is believed to be the first live local sports show broadcast in North Carolina. Almost fifty years later he would tell a staff writer for the Greensboro News & Record “It was a gamble on the part of the station. I practiced by pretending I was looking at a camera during my radio broadcasts. I had no doubt I’d succeed at it, but I didn’t know if it would go over with the public. I was surprised at the speed and breadth of its acceptance. By 1953 WFMY’s venture into TV was so successful that it closed the radio station.”

However, radio continued to be a significant part of Charlie’s career. Through the late 1940s and into the 1950s, he was a part of the Tobacco State Network that broadcast big four Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. For the next three decades he was the play-by-play announcer for numerous universities’ football and baseball programs, including East Carolina, Appalachian State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State.

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On Saturday night, May 1, 1954 Charlie Harville walked toward the ring, through the then record setting attendance of 4,300, for the first professional wrestling matches ever held at the Lexington YMCA. Neither he nor those in the arena knew that they were a part of events that would significantly impact him and wrestling in the region for the next thirty years.