TV Wrestling in East Tennessee:

Check Your Local Listings

Reflections on Convenience Stores, TV Guides, and one Local Hero

by Dick Bourne


 


 

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More about he Garden Basket Photograph shown in this article, from a photo by David Peirce

 

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David Chappell and I joke all the time that to this day when Saturday afternoons roll around, our internal clocks still tell us it is time to watch Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling on TV. It is a feeling I can't seem to shake, even some thirty years later.

When I was a young teenager and first got hooked on Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, I would go to a local convenience store called The Garden Basket every Wednesday afternoon after school and pick up the new TV Guide for 25 cents. I wanted to make sure I knew when wrestling was going to come on that weekend. It typically did air every weekend at the same time, but I never really felt comfortable about that until I saw it in the listings. Once I knew on Wednesday that wrestling was set for 1:00 PM on Saturday, the rest of my week was good. (Wouldn't it be nice if that was the extent of our worries after we got older? But hey, at age 14 I had my priorities in order.)

This photo of the Garden Basket is from 1957, the only photo I've ever been able to find of the old place. (DETAILS) This fruit and vegetable stand had become a full fledged convenience store by the early 1970s when I started dropping by, but that great sign atop the structure, seen here, remained exactly the same.

The Garden Basket, as an aside, was also the same place I bought my wrestling magazines, as well as the occasional cold bottle of Mountain Dew in those classic old hillbilly bottles. When Jim Crockett Promotions began running semi-regular spot shows at Dobyns-Bennett High School in the late 1970s, the American Legion post that sponsored these events put posters up all over town, including one that was always in the front window of the Garden Basket.

One of the owners was James McAninch, who was either the father or uncle of a Dobyns-Bennett High School classmate and football teammate of mine, Brian McAninch. Brian worked after school, on weekends, and during summers stocking shelves and running the cash register behind the counter at the Garden Basket and would save the wrestling posters for me. Regrettably, like those hillbilly-style Mountain Dew bottles I briefly collected, those wrestling posters are long gone.

 Brian also was a bit of a legend within my circle of wrestling friends as he briefly wrestled professionally for a few "outlaw" wrestling groups after high school graduation. He even had a shot or two working as enhancement talent for Angelo Poffo's International Championship Wrestling (ICW) in the late 1970 and early 1980s. We would always talk wrestling when I would go by the Garden Basket and I'll never forget how proud Brian was when he got to wrestle the original Sheik, Ed Farhat, on a local outlaw show.

"He cut me," Brian said with a big smile on his face.

"He what?" I asked in horror.

"He cut me," Brian repeated. "He took a small razor blade and cut my forehead. I never felt it, but I bled like crazy. The sweat sure made it sting." He showed me the scar. This was a rite of passage for a young professional wrestler.

 

But I digress; back to those TV guides -

 

 

Sometimes in life, we just get lucky. Such were the circumstances that allowed me to grow up watching Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. It was a form of unexplained, pure dumb luck.

I grew up in Kingsport, TN, in the 1960s and 1970s and by all rights, based on geography alone, should have never had the privilege of watching the glory years of Mid-Atlantic wrestling. Kingsport was part of the Knoxville wrestling territory, at that time called Southeastern Championship Wrestling run by Ron and Robert Fuller, and their TV program aired in our market on WJHL-11 out of Johnson City. None of the stations we picked up on our small rooftop antenna carried Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. But when cable TV came along, our local cable system carried not only the NBC / ABC / CBS network affiliates from our local TV market in east Tennessee, but also a half dozen other broadcast stations from other cities, including NBC and ABC stations from the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville market. And as fate would also have it, these two stations were the two stations in that market that carried the two Jim Crockett Promotions wrestling programs, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and Wide World Wrestling.

 

 

The two out-of-market stations on my cable system that carried the Jim Crockett Promotions TV shows were major network affiliates: WFBC-4 in Greenville , SC (which later became WYFF) was an affiliate of the NBC network. WLOS in Asheville NC was an ABC affiliate. Our market of course (Kingsport / Bristol / Johnson City) had its own affiliates of these networks.

To this day I've wondered why my east Tennessee cable system carried two stations on the other side of the Great Smokey Mountains, an average of 120 miles away. (See map above.) The answer might have been as simple as  this  - because they could. Back then, before government regulations made changes in what stations could be seen in local broadcast markets (or DMAs - designated market areas), cable systems could carry any broadcast signal they could pull in with their big antennas. Not only did my cable system carry the two signals from Greenville and Asheville mentioned above, but they also carried selected network affiliates from Knoxville TN and Charlotte NC as well. Remember, this was back before the advent of cable-only networks like ESPN or USA, which came along in the early 1980s. Cable systems back then simply delivered clear broadcast signals from local network affiliates like CBS and NBC, without the need of an aerial antenna.

The closest of the two stations that carried Jim Crockett Promotions, Asheville, is approximately 85 miles from Kingsport. Of the two remaining major network affiliates in that market, Spartanburg is closer to Kingsport than Greenville, yet Greenville was the second of the three market stations to be included on Kingsport cable. This apparently had to do with the locations of the broadcast towers for each station, which were located high in the mountains and in range of the my cable system's antennas while Spartanburg was apparently not. Had the second out-of-market station been Spartanburg instead of Greenville, I never would have seen Mid-Atlantic Wrestling until years later when Crockett got on Bristol, Virginia TV.

Our cable system also briefly carried the CBS affiliate from Charlotte NC, WBTV-3, which also carried Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. More good fortune.

 Whatever the exact reasons our cable system carried these out of market stations, I always consider it a special blessing that Brian McAninch and I, and many others, were able to grow up watching Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.

                                                                                                            - Dick Bourne

 

 

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This article is an expanded revision of an earlier article on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway published March 2006, updated with the 1976 TV Guide images in March 2008, and now revised January 2010.

Special thanks to Carroll Hall of WrestlingMemories.com and All-Star Championship Wrestling blog who helped me locate an original 1976 TV Guide from my home market.

 


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