Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It's Miller Time (1987)

Greensboro Daily News
Friday, April 24, 1987
By Jerry Bledsoe

Had a call the other day from my old buddy, Tom Miller. Tom is one of my more unusual friends. He has an unruly sense of humor and he’s always doing wild and outlandish things. To come right down to it, Tom’s just a little weird.

I could tell a thousand stories about Tom, some of which I might even be able to print here with a few alterations, but I won’t get into that.

Lots of folks in these parts know Tom, of course. He was in radio in Greensboro for many years. He was remembered for other things, too. Tom was bad to take a nip now and then and you never knew how it would affect him. Sometimes he would dress up in a rabbit suit and wander around town.

When you run into a six foot five, 250 pound rabbit sitting on the curb singing to himself, you aren’t apt to forget it any time soon.

Tom also had an elf suit that he was prone to wear on certain occasions, but he quit going out in it after the glue-on Dr. Spock ears that came with it refused to unglue and had to be surgically removed.

Some years later, Tom went off to Charlotte to become “Truckin’ Tom” on a late-night show. Later, he moved to Danville and was at a couple of radio stations there. That’s where he was when I last talked to him, in fact.

I hadn’t heard from him since sometime back about the first of the year. He left a message on my answering machine saying he was in the hospital.  They’d run a garden hose down his throat and discovered an ulcer, he said.

But he was healed and chipper when he called the other day. He called for several reasons.

One was that he had just been to a supermarket and seen one of those tabloid papers with a headline that said, “Baby Born Whistling Dixie.”  He thought I ought to know about it, but he hadn’t taken the time to read any of the details. Must’ve startled the doctor, though, don’t you think? I hope the mother was a Yankee so she didn’t have to struggle to her feet and salute.

Tom Miller and Ric Flair in Greensboro
Another reason Tom called was to let me know he’d left radio. In recent months, he’s been traveling around the country as a free-lance ring announcer at rasslin’ matches. He was enjoying the work, he said, but he wasn’t sure how it was going to work out over the long haul, so he’s been giving some thought to getting back into radio.

Anyway, Tom obviously was in a philosophical mood and clearly had been doing some deep thinking.

“How long have we known each other?” he asked. “Twenty years? Back when we first met, if I’d made these predictions to you, ala Jeanne Dixon, would you have believed any of them?”

“You’ll be writing a book about murder. I’ll no longer be in radio. It’ll snow at the GGO. A 75 year old actor will be President. You won’t be able to buy a ‘Boar & Castle’ steak sandwich. The Old Rebel will be dead. They’ll be making movies in Wilmington. You’ll be able to rent a videocassette of an autopsy. And a funeral will cost more than a Volkswagen used to.”

I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have believed even one.

Apparently, free-lance rasslin’ announcers have a lot of free time between matches, because Tom had come up with another list he wanted to read to me.  This was a list he called “13 crimes that have yet to be committed or have not yet been reported.” It follows:

1. Unauthorized camel vasectomies.
2. Sexual molestation of a car.
3. Church steeple larceny.
4. Assault on a gorilla.
5. Unlawful discharge of a bazooka in an Alaskan library.
6. Bee hive bombing.
7. Theft of all the eyeballs at a bingo game.
8. Threatening phone calls to the school for the deaf.
9. Junkyard vandalism.
10. Illegal use of a weenie in the commission of a felony.
11. Sheep fighting.
12. Concrete arson.
13. Failure to honor a PTL pledge.

You see what I mean about weird?

* * * * * * * * * *

Thanks to Carroll Hall at the "All Star Championship Wrestling" website for providing this article through his research, and thanks to Peggy Lathan for transcribing the article.

The photo of Tom Miller and Ric Flair was not taken from the original article.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Man behind the Mike: Gordon Solie

From Wrestling Revue
February 1966

At the age of twelve, when most boys dream of becoming firemen, policemen or aviators, Gordon Solie was entertaining thoughts of becoming a radio announcer. He followed the idea through high school, taking all available courses in broadcasting and dramatics. Today, at thirty-six, Solie is one of the foremost announcers in the nation. This distinction is due largely to a syndicated television program entitled, "Championship Wrestling From Florida."

After finishing high school, Solie joined the United States Air Force and was sent to Okinawa. Upon returning to the United States, Solie was assigned to the Seventh Geodetic Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base. Here, he became a member of WRCN, the base radio station.

While announcing for Uncle Sam, Gordon got acquainted with Vinn Marshall of KWKH radio. Marshall, an "old pro," gave Solie many valuable "pointers" whenever Gordon visited the commercial station following his own sign-off trick at WRCN. Through it all, Solie managed to eke out three or four hours sleep each night, as he was also working a regular daytime shift with the Air Force. It was sometimes pretty hard to keep going," Gordon recalls, "but the valuable experience I got was worth it." Upon leaving the Air Force, Gordon Solie journeyed to Tampa, Florida, to try his luck as a professional announcer. His first job was at a small independent radio station known as WEBK. The station (now WSOL) had no sports programming whatsoever, and Solie was quick to recognize the opportunity. It wasn't long before he had his own fifteen-minute sports show each evening.

As WEBK's first sports announcer, Gordon interviewed many of the day's top wrestlers, such as the late Gorgeous George, Primo Carnera, Baron Leone and Wild Red Berry.

After one year at WEBK, Solie was contacted by WFLA, then the area's top radio station, and asked to join the staff. He readily accepted. At WFLA, Gordon soon became good friends with Milt Spencer, that station's sports director, and it wasn't long before the two of them came up with a late night show which rapidly became the most popular in the entire area.

Not long thereafter, Solie announced a live automobile race at Speedway Park, just outside of Tampa. He did so well he was offered a full time job at it. After three years with Art Swenson and the Auto Thrillcade, Solie was named as the outstanding outdoor announcer in the country. When he returned to Tampa, weary of the road and looking forward to settling down to a more normal existence, "Cowboy" Luttrall, Tampa's wrestling promoter, offered Solie a job as publicity man. Solie accepted, and it was natural for him to become the wrestling commentator on the now highly popular weekly TV program.

The next big development in Solie's career came when Frank Dery Jr. interested him in building a race track for stock cars in Tampa. The resultant Golden Gate Speedway has become the finest short track stock car race-way in the entire United States. Solie handles the mike for the races at Golden Gate every Friday and Saturday night.

A many-faceted person, Gordon is also half owner of a new motor oil distributorship in Florida, is secretary of the Southeastern Promoters Auto Association and chairman of the Babe Zaharias Cancer Fund Drive in Tampa. Known as "Scrambler" according to a recent story in the Tampa Tribune, Solie continues to look for new fields to conquer.

"My first love is wrestling," he told us. "I feel that wrestling and stock car racing are the two outstanding action sports in the United States. The men I have met in both professions lead me to believe that you will go a long way to find nicer, more sincere people anywhere. Lou Thesz, Don Curtis, Eddie Graham, Haystack Calhoun, Fireball Roberts, Ned Jarrett, Art Malone and Don Garlits are some of my favorite people and I feel that I am privileged to know them."

Married to the former Eileen Thibaut of Lorain, Ohio, Solie has three children, Denise, sixteen, is an athletic young lady with an interest in acrobatics. Greg, a fourteen-year-old wrestles as an amateur. Eric, the eleven-year-old, in interested in be-coming a race driver.

With such a talented family Gordon Solie could even produce his own shows.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks to Carroll Hall at All Star Championship Wrestling who provided this article to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Classic Studio Images: Rich Landrum with Dusty Rhodes

One of the things I loved most when I was a kid watching wrestling was when they would show a taped interview of a wrestler sent in from another territory's TV show. For some reason this was always very cool to me. It was a glimpse into another territory's TV studio, their announcer, their studio backdrop - - anything that gave a little of the flavor of that territory and their program.

Usually it was a tape of the reigning NWA world champion who was getting ready to tour the area and would send in a tape from where ever he happened to be at the moment. All of the NWA promotions cooperated with each other and would send tapes to each other in this regard. Other times it would be of a new or returning wrestler getting ready to come into the territory and he was sending in an interview from the territory he was getting ready to leave.

However, I never really thought about then that there were tapes recorded in our studio (Mid-Atlantic area) that were being sent to other territories, too. It obviously makes sense, but I just hadn't ever really thought about that side of it.

This image of Rich Landrum interviewing Dusty Rhodes is a great example of that. This was likely during the time Dusty was NWA world champion in 1981, and he was taping a promo while in the Mid-Atlantic area that would be sent to air on "Georgia Championship Wrestling" to promote a world title defense at the Omni in Atlanta.

The studio backdrop you see in this image was one of my personal favorites, and was used on "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" in the 1970s until it was replaced in 1977. But it was maintained for use during the local promotional spots taped the afternoon before the Wednesday night WRAL tapings until Crockett relocated their studio television tapings to Charlotte in August of 1981. One of those local promo taping sessions would be when this would have been taped. Rich Landrum wore a suit for those tapings, but would change into a tuxedo for the taping of the "World Wide Wrestling" show that he hosted from 1978-1982.

Studio Wrestling in Augusta, GA

Live Wrestling premiered on channel 12 WRDW in Augusta, Georgia on March 26, 1956. The first commentator was Don McIntyre. He was assisted by Lou Stratton.

(Information from Carroll Hall's "Vintage TV & Wrestling Nostalgia" website.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Close Look at George Harben (WBTV-3)

I'm happy to find some information on George Harben, who was ring announcer on WBTV's "Championship Wrestling in the 1960s and 1970s. His voice was an important part in the fabric of studio wrestling for Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1960s and early 1970s, and I'm glad to have him better represented here on the Studio Wrestling website and the Mid-Atantic Gateway.

by Mike Cline
Mid-Atlantic Grapplin' Greats

Remember George Harben? I certainly do.

I remember George Harben as the ring announcer on WBTV's CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING TV program, which was video taped every Wednesday night in Charlotte and broadcast that following Saturday afternoon.

And for a number of those years, the same program was broadcast over WBTV's 'sister station' in Florence, South Carolina.

However, Mr. Harben's career in the wrestling business went back quite a bit further than announcing on television and at house shows at PARK CENTER and the CHARLOTTE COLISEUM.

Harben was born in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a famous historical spot that is still visited by tourists the year round. He broke into the business as a wrestler in 1933 and had an active career until retiring in 1956.

In 1935, George helped train one of the all-time greats of modern wrestling, none other than LOU THESZ, who went on to become WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION six times. THESZ was a young boy of eighteen when he worked with Harben.

In 1940, during the years of World War 2, George Harben made a trip to Australia by boat to wrestle and was on board when the vessel was struck by a mine off the coast of New Zealand.

He also wrestled in Cuba before Fidel Castro took control of that country.

George Harben wrestled with his brother Charlie over most of the United States as a tag team. The two were in the main event that drew the largest crowd to ever witness a wrestling card at the old CHARLOTTE ARMORY. It was in early 1953, and the Harbens' opponents were GEORGE and BOBBY BECKER.

Besides his ring announcing duties for JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS, Harben also assisted in advertising the company's wrestling shows in several other towns besides Charlotte and for a while promoted house shows in Hickory, North Carolina.

George Harben passed away some years ago, but I can still his voice---
"Good evening Ladies and Gentleman and welcome to another exciting evening of Championship Wrestling on Channel 3."

* * * * * *

Thanks to Mike Cline at "Mid-Atlantic Grapplin' Greats" for allowing us to post his story on George Harbin here on the Studio Wrestling blog, part of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

Visit Mike Cline's "Mid-Atlantic Grapplin' Greats" website.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Landrum & Weaver calling Flair match at WRAL Studio (1980)

This is a nice little Ric Flair match from WRAL TV studios in Raleigh, NC,  Ric Flair vs. Billy Starr from "World Wide Wrestling" in 1980 at WRAL TV-5 studio in Raleigh, NC. WRAL was the longtime home of TV tapings for "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" and "World Wide Wrestling."

Johnny Weaver and Rich Landrum
Any footage from WRAL studio is relatively rare. Jim Crockett Promotions moved taping to Charlotte in the late summer of 1981 before VCRs were in wide use. And the WWE's tape library for Crockett TV largely begins in November 1981 after the move to Charlotte.

The commentary is by Rich Landrum and Johnny Weaver. Landrum began hosting a revamped version of "World Wide Wrestling" in the fall of 1978. He had various guest commentators before settling in with Weaver who became the permanent co-host for World Wide for many years.

The only thing missing is Johnny singing "Turn out the Lights, The Party's Over" at the end of the match, which was Weaver's homage to "Dandy" Don Meredith who would often sing that refrain during Monday Night Football in those years. 

This taped match aired on "NWA Championship Wrestling" from the Knoxville territory in November of 1981. The wrap-arounds are shot in the WBIR TV-10 studios and are hosted by Les Thatcher, the voice of Knoxville wrestling for many years.

(This video was also posted on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.)