Big Bill Ward and WBTV
by Mike Cline
Special to the
Mid-Atlantic Gateway, part of a
feature by Dick Bourne on WBTV studio
During the infancy of that "fad" (some
claimed) called television, a station employee was often called on
to wear many hats. In one day, he might have covered a news story
(shooting his own film footage--and it was real film in those days),
be the on-air weatherman, and then in the early evening, host a
Part of the job.
One such employee at WBTV-Channel 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina
(the first commercial TV station in both Carolinas) was a man named
Bill Ward, or as he was known on the air, "Big" Bill Ward.
My earliest memory of Big Bill is his hosting a children's show on
WBTV called BIG BILL'S CLUBHOUSE. The show would open with children
squeezing through a loose board of a fence and
into the clubhouse. Big Bill would try to get through the fence as
well, but was unsuccessful due to his girth. He would smile at the
camera and walk around the fence.
Later he was part of an ensemble WBTV cast on a one-hour weekday
afternoon program called THREE RING CIRCUS. Big Bill was the ring
announcer in a cast that included singing cowboy FRED KIRBY,
magician PHIL MORRIS (also the station's DR. EVIL, host of Friday
night's SHOCK THEATRE movie presentation. Today, PHIL is worldly
known and owns MORRIS COSTUME in Charlotte), and man of many talents
JIM PATTERSON (who signed the station on in 1949) as Bozo the Clown.
Children filled the bleachers of the circus set and film features
included made-for-TV MR. MAGOO cartoons.
Mr. Ward was also the station's Sports Director (if that title was
used in the 1950's), and every weeknight at 6:25 p.m. following the
6:00 broadcast of THE AMOS 'N' ANDY SHOW (pulled from circulation in
1966), he gave a five-minute sports broadcast called BIG BILL'S
SPORTS BEAT. This was followed by a fifteen-minute news / weather
program with DOUG MAYES and CLYDE "Cloudy" MCLEAN.
Bill probably had other duties at WBTV of which the memories have
evaporated from my brain cells, but his most well-known job in
Charlotte television had to be the long-time host of CHAMPIONSHIP
WRESTLING, provided to the station by JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS, which
aired every Saturday afternoon in the vicinity of 4:00-6:00 p.m.
(the time slot changed throughout the years). At the onset, the show
was actually called LIVE CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING, and was broadcast
live on Saturdays. Later, with the advent of video tape, they
recorded the show on Wednesday nights at WBTV in front of what Bill
always called "a very enthusiastic audience" for broadcast three
I was in the audience around six times during 1965-67.
The original ring announcer, I believe, was Leo Voss, later former
wrestler George Harbin. Sponsors I recall, through the years, were
Baxter Clothes and Charlotte Chrysler-Plymouth. Bill always
announced that viewers could drop by the National Hat Shop in
downtown Charlotte on Mondays, and Jim Crockett would give out free
tickets to that night's show at Park Center. Fans could also see Big
Jim at Park Center on Monday nights for free tickets to the TV
taping at WBTV two nights later.
The program usually followed the same format. After the opening and
welcome by Big Bill, a commercial. Then it was to Bill's announcing
table (desk). A poster of the upcoming Park Center card was on the
front of the table. Bill would go over the card (sometimes with Big
Jim Crockett's participation), then up to the ring for the first
match. There would either be two one-fall single matches followed by
a two-out-of-three fall tag team match, or there would be two
two-of-three tag matches. Participates of the upcoming Park Center
show would be involved in most of the matches. Bill would interview
the winners of the TV matches at ringside following their bouts.
Often, pandemonium would break loose at this time, with Big Bill
heading for cover.
Bill's knowledge of wrestling holds and maneuvers was limited (he
wasn't Gordon Solie for sure), but his down-to-earth, homey approach
got him through each show. Bill always would read a list of names of
folks who faithfully watched the show and those who couldn't get out
to the live matches (he referred to them as "shut-ins".)
Acknowledgment was given on-air to the various Boy Scout, Sunday
School, etc. groups and individuals in attendance for the tapings.
And he would send out birthday wishes of the week to the wrestling
fans who had sent in their names.
During a period of the 1960s, the sponsor, Charlotte
Chrysler-Plymouth furnished Bill with a Plymouth Barracuda which he
drove all around the Charlotte area. It was lettered BIG BILL'S
BARRACUDA across the car's large back glass (remember those?). Bill
would make appearances at the car dealership and, on the air,
invited his friends to drop by the Service Department to see him.
Following the final interview at ringside every week, Bill would
close the show by reminding the viewers to "Take an hour or two out
for Sunday School and Church tomorrow." (Imagine doing that today!)
The last time I saw Big Bill was on a special WBTV program honoring
singing cowboy FRED KIRBY's 80th birthday (circa 1990). According to
Reno Bailey's fantastic website
A project by and for former employees of WBT/WBTV, Big
Bill Ward has passed away.
But viewers of WBTV and fans of CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING shall never
forget having the big guy coming into our homes every Saturday
afternoon to call the action of the Scott Brothers, Becker & Weaver,
Bogni & Lubich, Rip & Swede, the Bolos, the Infernos, and hundreds
So, until next time, using Big Bill's trademark curtain line---"Be
Good Sports Wherever You Go."
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This article is also featured on Reno
William's excellent BT Memories website at
Another wrestling related feature on BT
TV Rasslin by Gene Birke
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