Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pro-Wrestling's Great Television Audience (1978)

Here is a nice "TV Sports" column by Bob Gillespie from the Charleston Post & Courier in 1978 about the high ratings and impact of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and World Wide Wrestling during that era.

I laugh when I read today about how currently popular wrestling is. It's for sure a bigger business today, but it is no where near as popular today as it was years ago. Just witness the 52% share that wrestling got on WCBD-2 in Charleston. Les Thatcher has told us about similar shares his Mid-Altlantic wrestling show got in the mid-1970s on WLOS-13 in Asheville, NC. Jim Crockett Promotions programming was pullings amazing ratings and shares back then and had been for years. Similar stories could be found in other promotions across the country as well.

So kudos to Bob Gillespie for helping educate the unknowing general public about that in 1978.

Gillespie does a great job in getting his facts straight about Crockett Promotions at the time, something most sports writers or TV-writers covering wrestling would never bother with.

Some nice information here includes:

(1) Mentions of local promoter Henry Marcus and the local venue County Hall.
(2) The main promoter Jim Crockett Promotions and their local promoter in Roanoke VA Sandy Scott
(3) TV originating form the studios of WRAL in Raleigh, NC
(4) The barter relationship between the local TV stations and JCP
(5) A mention of Sandy Scott promoting Greenville SC before Roanoke
(6) The first TV stations to carry wrestling for Jim Crockett  - WDBJ-7 in Roanoke, VA and WFBC-4 in Greenville, SC.

Thanks to Carroll Hall for forwarding this article to me, and to Peggy Lathan for transcribing it for us. Here is the text of the article (emphasis within the text is mine.) Enjoy!

Wresting Audience Greatly Expanded by TV
By Bob Gillespie
Charleston, SC - September 23, 1978

For several months now, I’ve followed this TV sports column and I have yet to see anything written on what has to be one of the tube’s most successful enterprises in the realm of sports. I shall now try to correct this omission.

What am I talking about?  Football? Basketball? Women’s Field Hockey? Tournament-level Tiddlywinks?  “No” to all of the above.

Try professional wrestling.

Wrestling? you ask, looking down your cultured nose with disdain. That Roman gladiator spectacle of the masses, with costumed clowns flying through the air like so many comic book characters?  TV wrestling – a success story?  Surely I jest, you say. And you probably laugh.

GO AHEAD. LAUGH. That’s just what both the pro wrestling promoters and local television stations are doing, all the way to the proverbial bank.

The fact is, wrestling, especially on television, has been growing in popularity over the last few years – by leaps and bounds greater than any you’ll see in the ring.  And no one realizes – and appreciates – that fact more than Charleston area television management.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Luminaries Attend UNC/NCSU Wrestling Meet (1979)

An article from 1979 from a Chapel Hill, NC newspaper on a collegiate wrestling meet between the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State. In attendance: Bob Caudle, Joe Murnick, and Gene Anderson.

Can You Tell Who’s on Top?   Then You Can Understand Wrestling

Wrestling rules are not complicated.  Each match consists of three 3-minute periods. Points are scored for a takedown (2), reversal (2), escape (1) near fall (2) and a near fall for five seconds (3).

The moves are almost self-explanatory, and the fans are helped by an announcer who gives the calls when the officials signal a point.  A scoreboard keeps a count of individual and team scores.

When a wrestler wins a decision by less than an eight-point margin, his team receives three points.

A win by eight to 11 points nets four team points. A decision of a 12 point margin or more results in five team points. A fall or pin results in six team points, while a match ending in a tie awards two points to each team.

Among the fans watching Carolina’s 20-19 win over State were three men associated with professional wrestling. Joe Murnick, a promoter, Bob Caudle, a television announcer, and Gene Anderson, a pro wrestler since 1963, are on hand. Why would three men who make their living around the canvas rings of the professional wrestling world be on hand for a Carolina match?

Wrestling in Raleigh with Joe Murnick (1975)

Pro Grappling: Punches, Pulls and Holds Attract Snarling Zealots
The Daily Tar Heel – January 29, 1975
By: Marty Lagod

The inviting smell of popcorn and pepperoni pizza fills the air in Dorton Arena. Concession operators busily hawk their wares as fans file into the arena. Married couples have brought their children; bespeckled grandmothers, their grandchildren; and college students, their dates. Blacks, whites, young, old, blue collar and businessmen have all paid their $3.50 to see the same thing – Championship Wrestling.

Some of the best will be there – Paul Jones, Tiger Conway and the Super Destroyer. Big time wrestling. The same stuff that draws capacity crowds once a month to Madison Square Garden and holds attendance records at large arenas all over the country.

Tonight’s crowd of 2,000 will be treated to three single bouts and a special main event – a “Texas Tornado” tag team match.

Ric Flair and the Super Destroyer, two of the bad guys in the Tornado match, stalk about nervously while the crowd warms up watching Kevin Sullivan and Tim “The Outlaw” Dillinger battle in the ring. Sullivan, the crowd favorite, is being beaten to the apparent brink of death. He groans loudly every time The Outlaw resorts to illegal hair pulling and leaping from the top of the ring ropes.

“We’ve got names for guys like you,” yells a rotten-toothed spectator in a monogrammed service station shirt, “but we can’t say ‘em cause there’s a lady present.” With this encouragement, Sullivan recovers from his scrape with death to make a lightning comeback and win the match with the feared “Japanese Sleeper Hold.”

Meanwhile, a young girl approaches the 270 pound Flair and asks for his autograph.  “I don’t sign nothing for nobody,” the Super Destroyer growls.

Back in the ring, the crowd is cheering madly as Mike Paducis, a former University of Tennessee football player, makes a brilliant comeback to defeat his opponent with the lethal “Boston Crab” submission hold.

The stage is set for the main event.

A fan jeers, “Ric Flair, you’re nothing but a long-haired hippie. Look at them flowered pants! Paul Jones is going to clean this place up – all these sissies.” Flair glares at the fan. His partners are greeted with similar niceties.

On the other side of the ring, Tiger Conway and Sonny King are welcome as conquering heroes, but the standing ovation is reserved for Paul Jones, 1974s most popular wrestler.

Jones bounces into the ring looking like Captain America, complete with a red, white and blue jacket boasting stars on the sleeves.

The fans look worried as the wrestling begins and the Super Destroyer beats all three of the good guys to the mat. He pokes Conway in the eyes and is about to stomp on Jones head when the Tiger stages a comeback by smashing the Destroyer and his two partners with his rock-hard head.

The crowd is now on its feet screaming, snarling, cursing and moving closer to the ring. The frenzied are about to rush the mat when Conway finally rescues the subdued Jones from the Super Destroyer who is choking him with the cord of a ring-side microphone and pounding his head with the mike itself. Renewed, Jones fiercely throws the Russian to the mat and holds him for the three count.

Justice, good, America and apple pie have prevailed as the three seemingly groggy losers are escorted away in disgrace by the police. The fans, limp and emotionally drained, file out quietly.

The man behind all this wrestling extravaganza is Joe Murnick, the “M” of C&M Promotions. Murnick has been promoting professional wrestling for the past 17 years in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. He has promoted everything from stock racing to rock concerts.

Murnick also produces the syndicated television wrestling program for the same three state area.  The television program is one of the most successful locally produced programs, despite the fact that it is shown at 11:30 on Saturday nights.

“We have to be constantly aware of the demands of the fans,” Murnick says. “The fans are the key to this business.  If we don’t get the fans, we don’t make any money, and that’s what it’s all about – making money.”

“We have good, regular fans. Some have been sitting in the same seats for years.  You would play hell trying to move them somewhere else.  There’s the story of the guy with two broken legs that was brought here every Tuesday night by an ambulance while he had his casts on. He still claimed his regular front row seat.”

“People want to see plenty of action and lots of excitement. A good class A wrestler (one who wrestles in main events) can make $70,000 to $80,000 a year, depending on how often he wrestles and whether or not he gets hurt.  Guys in the preliminary matches make $15,000-$20,000 a year if they wrestle often enough.”

“Ken Patera and Chris Taylor were both Olympic performers before they started wrestling. To make money, these guys must wrestle as often as possible. If you think that this stuff is fake, just sign the waiver of liability and get into the ring.  Any wrestler would be very happy to show you just how fake it really is. We’ve had to carry many a wrestler to the hospital for treatment after a tough match.  We’ve had some wild matches. One policeman told me he didn’t consider it to be really wild until people start throwing chairs, but that only happens once or twice a year.”

* * * * * * * * * *
Thanks to Carroll Hall for providing this article and to Peggy Lathan for transcribing this article for us.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

1976 Article in "The Tar Heel"

Below is a transcript of an article written about the wrestling tapings at the WRAL-5 studio in Raleigh, NC. It includes the expected condescension toward wrestling fans that was the norm when ever an article appeared about wrestling in a mainstream publication in those days. But we were thrilled to see a photo from inside the studio, as seen above.

Thanks to Peggy Lathan for transcribing the article for us, and to Carroll Hall for providing the article.

* * * * * * * * *

Professional Wrestling:  America the Beautiful
The Tar Heel – June 10, 1976
By Phred Vultee, Staff Writer

The people standing restlessly in line have come here tonight to see America. Not the version they see through the windows of their GMC pickups, the world of shifty-eyed politicos, forced busing and brazen hippies, but America – where clean living and hard work pay off in the end, where idle boasters are quickly chastened, where all Negroes have hard heads and all Japs are inscrutable karate masters. They have come to watch the wrestlers.

Professional wrestling is videotaped every Wednesday for local airing on Saturday night. The yellow tickets (free on request from the studio) say, “must be in studio at 6:30.” By seven, the line stretches well beyond the two glass doors, burbling with a hundred conversations. Weathered farmers reeking of Vitalis huddle about the entrance and smoke Luckies while their heirs run up and down brandishing posters of Chief Wahoo McDaniel or Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods. A pack of Cub Scouts steadily raises the blood pressure of its leader. Beehive hairdos bob and weave like disembodied steel wool. Idle thought:  Which of the old boys in Red Camel coveralls is carrying a knife, ready to leap out and stab a despised wrestler like the 82 year old chap in South Carolina last week?  No time to wonder, for the doors are opened and the supplicants herded in.

There is a scramble for the bleachers, the prime seats in full view of the main camera, and those too passive to struggle are packed into folding chairs on the floor. The announcers wander about, greeting the regulars. In the second row of folding chairs, a young fellow drapes his arm over his girlfriend. Like a shot, a door man in a white shirt is standing over them. “Save your lovin’ till you’re outside,” he snaps, waiting to see that his order is obeyed before turning away.

The huge lights above the ring snap on, adding to the heat produced by hundreds of sardine-like bodies. An announcer climbs into the ring, milking a reaction from the crowd. He exhorts them to make as much noise as possible, “but remember, no profanity, please.” The crowd is ready for action.

Three types of wrestlers will soon fight it out on this thin square of canvas. There are the good guys, Wheatie-eaters to a man, competent, modest and clean living.  Opposite them in the pantheon stand the minions of evil, those boastful ones who have a knack for concealing foreign objects in their elbow pads. In between lie the cannon fodder, who pit their inadequate strength between the mighty week after week to whet the crowd’s appetite for gore. Cannon fodder are usually fat (the crowd loves to watch Ken Patera, the World’s Strongest Wrestler, lift Jerry Blackwell, the World’s Fattest Wrestler), long haired (the old boys get a vicarious kick out of seeing Paul Jones grab a handful of Steve Strong’s locks), or both.

Most character development takes place in the interviews, filmed between matches in a far corner of the studio. They are much better seen on television, where a fan can catch the fine points of the Missouri Mauler’s logic or discern the subtle difference between “kill” and “maim” in the dialect of the Mongols. A typical one might feature Nature Boy Ric Flair casting aspersions on the physical and socio-intellectual abilities of Rufus R. Jones, King of Wrestling. Rufus, clad in a purple gown and a crown that would do justice to an Imperial Margarine ad, responds by offering to put “fiss and shoe in Flair’s big mouf.”

The crowd has been whipped to a seething frenzy by the announcers, a pre-match interview and the occasional opening of the dressing room door. The wrestlers are ready.

Waves of cheering and booing collide as two wrestlers enter the ring to be introduced. Paul Jones, self-proclaimed People’s Champion, modestly acknowledges the acclaims of the crowd, while Doug Somers, cannon fodder, stares at the camera through a storm of disapproval. As always, the less popular wrestler is placed nearest the bleachers. Three bovine young things bellow in chorus, “you’re UGLY Somers!” barely managing to finish before collapsing in laughter. The match begins.

Somers comes out strong, laying into the People’s Champ with healthy forearm smashes, but Paul soon hits his stride and begins to punish the upstart. This is what everybody came to see. “One minute, Paul,” hollers a sagging customer on the front row. “Show him who’s boss.” “Pull on that h’ar of his,” adds a deep voice from the bleachers. Then Somers finds an opening and slams the champion into the Solid Steel Turnbuckle at the corner of the ring (inspection shows it to be solid cotton). A father pokes his son to life, “Paul left himself wide open. You watch now.” The Cub Scouts howls for blood.

The tables turn on the canvas. Paul slams the hapless Somers to the mat, applying the Indian Death Lock, which he learned from his old partner, Chief Wahoo. It works. The match is over.

Rufus R. Freight Train Jones doffs his purple robe and glares across the ring at a frightened Doug Gilbert. The crowd loves the ambling, flamboyant Rufus, possessed with the Hardest Head in Wrestling. He is trustworthy. He is upstanding. He doesn’t cast eyes at white women. The bell signals the beginning of his hour upon the stage and he moves warily to the center of the ring.

There is little hope for Gilbert. Aside from his girth and his propensity for wearing his outfit backwards, he is indistinguishable from a host of other hopefuls. Like these mortals, he is susceptible to the power of the King. Rufus cranks up the Freight Train, a ponderously loose-limbed form of head on mayhem, and runs it over Gilbert twice. He then applies the Head-Butt, consisting of slamming his concrete cranium into that of his opponent. No white wrestler in the circuit can manage a proper Head-Butt, but it’s no problem to Rufus. Gilbert collapses to the mat and Rufus falls atop him for the three count.

The taping goes on for two hours, satiating the crowd with violence, stereotyping and the American Way. The Indian Death Lock, the Head-Butt and the Tommyhawk Chop win out again over double-teaming and foreign objects in the pads.  Does anybody take it all seriously? Ask the man who took a knife to Ole Anderson of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Better still, ask Ole.

“It’ll take more than a knife to keep me out of wrestling,” he growls into the camera. “You’ll have to get up in the ring to stop me.”

* * * * * *

Editor's note: Based on the reflections of the (rather snobby) writer and the date of the article, these are a collection of memories and observations over a period of time from 1975 and 1976. The author was Phred Vultee, a staff writer for the Tar Heel at that time, and a bit of a jack-wagon who, at least as evidenced here, made himself feel superior by looking down his nose at wrestling fans. 

Wrestling Section on WRAL History Website

One of the most popular and long-lasting programs in WRAL-TV history was Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. The matches were recorded every Wednesday night in WRAL’s Studio A and were televised on Channel 5 on Saturdays.

WRAL-TV was the main studio home for the wrestling productions that were syndicated throughout the region by Jim Crockett Promotions. Raleigh promoter Joe Murnick coordinated the Raleigh events and is also remembered as the ring announcer for many of the WRAL matches in the 1970s.

The weekly influx of wrestlers and their entourages made for interesting times at WRAL-TV. Colorful personalities like Wahoo McDaniel, Black Jack Mulligan and Ric Flair made WRAL home every Wednesday afternoon–recording promos, playing cards, wandering the halls and occasionally getting into shouting matches that brought a carnival atmosphere to the station. By and large the wrestlers were a genial group, but when the matches got underway in front of hundreds of screaming fans in Studio A – it was all business.

WRAL on-air personalities became some of the most popular play-by-play hosts for the matches. North Carolina Hall-of-Fame sportscaster Ray Reeve was first to call the matches, followed by Nick Pond and the legendary Bob Caudle—who gained his greatest fame as the voice of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. Weatherman Bob DeBardelaben even got in on the action, putting his voice on the famous announcement that always preceded commercial breaks: “Let’s take time for this commercial message about the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling events coming up in your area.”

The first known wrestling program at WRAL-TV was recorded on January 31, 1959. The matches ran continuously for more than two decades before coming to an end July 29, 1981.

* * * * *

The WRAL / CBC history website made significant use of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway's Studio Wrestling section as a reference for this article, and included many historical artifacts collected by the Gateway on their website as well.

Briarbend Drive

Jim Crockett Promotions Briarbend Drive Office - Photo from the Charlotte Observer May 25, 1987
(Click Photo to Enlarge)

Not many people may realize that the Charlotte office of Jim Crockett Promotions on Briarbend Drive (just off South Blvd.) in Charlotte was also home to a small makeshift studio where the local promotional spots were taped in the mid-1980s.

Prior to this time, the promos were taped at the TV studios in the 1960s and 1970s at WRAL in Raleigh, and then at WPCQ in Charlotte when they moved there in 1981. Sometime in the year or two following, those promotional spots were moved to the Briarbend Drive offices which resulted in cost savings by not having to rent TV studio time at WPCQ-36. Those taping sessions had grown in length, too, as the number of markets where Crockett Promotions aired Tv had grown substantially during that time.

I love this photograph, shot by Mark Sluder, that appeared in an article by Tom Sorensen in the business section of the Charlotte Observer on 5/25/87. You can make out the street sign in the foreground, the intersection of South Boulevard and Briarbend Drive. Also of note is a small trailer with the folded up sections of steel fencing that made up the famous cage matches for Jim Crockett Promotions.

You can also make out the convertable small sports car owned by Dusty Rhodes, the same one you see in the famous angle outside this very building where the Horsemen jumped Dusty Rhodes just seven months earlier in the months leading up to Starrcade '86.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Wrestling & Roller Derby Double Feature!

TV ad from May 18, 1974

What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

For roughly a year and a half or so, I was into Roller Derby almost as much I was into wrestling. When I was watching in 1975-1976, it came on WLOS-13 at 12:30 AM Sunday morning, immediately after "Wide World Wrestling" with Ed Capral had ended.

It was the adventures of the Los Angeles Thunderbirds against some of the most dastardly teams and managers in the International Roller Derby League.

The big babyfaces were Ralphie Valadares and Ronnie "Psycho" Rains, along with "Skinny Minnie" Gwen Miller and Patsy Delgado on the girls side. El Fabuloso and Georgia Hass were the heel managers, and John Hall was the manager at that time of the T'birds. 

Here is some video on YouTube from a 1973 T'birds contest with the Chicago Hawks.

* * * * *

Update: I found a great website on the history of the Los Angeles Thunderbirds published by Scott Stephens, himself once a skater.
"Roller Derby was anything but conventional.
It was dark, violent and underground.
It was non-conformist; hip and authentic.
It welcomed all races, genders and sexual orientations.
It was a "people's sport" with low salaries and admission fees; revered by the inner city working classes.
It was Rock & Roll, Funk, Goth and Punk combined and often edgier than all of them.
It was a traveling circus; a dysfunctional but happy band of gypsies including some of the most colorful characters the sports world has ever seen.
This is why I love it!"   -Scott Stephens
Sounds a lot like pro-wrestling, Scott. (Great website!)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Raleigh TV Listings, March 14, 1969 
In March of 1969, Raleigh promoter Joe Murnick was a guest on the Alan Burke Show, along with "Mr. Wrestling" Tim Woods and Sam Steamboat.

Thanks to Carroll Hall for providing this little bit of history.

Sign The Waiver

"The Daily Tar Heel"  - Wednesday, January 29, 1975

A little teaser for an upcoming 1975 newspaper article we'll post here soon regarding promoter Joe Murnick, the live events in Raleigh's Dorton Arena, and the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling television tapings at WRAL TV-5 studios.

I just love Joe's quote to the poor soul on the other end of the telephone. Look for that article coming soon.

(Edit: The article is located here.)

Thanks to Carroll Hall for providing the article.