By Mark Wolf - The Charlotte Observer, March 25, 1978

Crunch. Slam. Piledrive. Thud. Smack. Kick. “You turkey neck.” Sleeper. Pin. Professional wrestling is on the air.

The cast changes, heroes and villains arrive and depart, the belts, symbolic of myriad championships, change hands and the sport itself is given the back of the sports establishment’s hand. But televised professional wrestling endures; no, it prospers.

Consider. Except for local news, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling is the longest running show on Charlotte’s Channel 3 (WBTV). “It’s been on at least close to 20 years,” says John Edgerton, WBTV managing director. “I’ve been here since 1957 and I can’t remember when it started. The records probably don’t go back that far.” (Gateway Note: it was Jan. 11th, 1958).

The one-hour show, which airs Saturday afternoon on Channel 3 (the time varies) was watched in 63,000 households during a recent ratings period. A similar show, Wide World Wrestling, is shown at noon Saturdays on Channel 36 (WRET) and drew 43,000 households in the same period.

“It probably enjoys the longest continuing run of any program on television,” says WRET station manager, Dave Uhrich. “I can’t think of any other syndicated show that’s been on that long except maybe some religious show.”

Charlotte promoter Jim Crockett produces and packages both programs and provides them free to the Charlotte stations and 22 other stations in North and South Carolina and Virginia. Crockett gives the show away in return for commercial time during the broadcasts to promote the live wrestling shows he stages in the three states. He also sells the show to stations in West Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kansas.

The wrestling show is an everybody wins situation. Crockett gets an hour’s promotion for his arena shows, and the stations get not only free programming, but can sell commercials during the show.

“Because television is seasonal, there are not commercials in all of the slots that are available,” says WBTV program director John Hutchinson. “Actually, we have movies we could make more money from, but we have a need for a wrestling program. The ratings are very good. If we weren’t getting that particular show, we would go out and look for another one.”

“It (wrestling) appeals to so many different levels. The nostalgia of people who watched it when they were kids, the morality play element of good against bad, the football fan who likes to sit in his armchair and work out his aggressions, older people, kids, it cuts across all strata. With everything else changing in society, wrestling has always been popular on TV. There’s something going on there, something that taps a need in a lot of different people.”

According to Crockett, the show outdraws Wide World of Sports, NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball. “In Greenville, SC, we delivered more adult males than ‘Starsky and Hutch’ or ‘Kojak’, and they’re in prime time.”

Crockett’s shows, produced before a live audience every Wednesday night in the Raleigh studios of WRAL-TV, are technically proficient and include slow-motion replays of winning maneuvers. (“Let’s have another look at that figure four leglock, Bob.”)

Bob Caudle, now a WRAL salesman, formerly an on-air personality, and Crockett’s brother, David, announce the Mid-Atlantic (Channel 3) program. Former wrestler George Scott hosts the Wide World (Channel 36) version with a guest commentator – usually a wrestler, but occasionally Jim Crockett. (“Boy, do I hate doing that,” says Crockett.)

The same corps of wrestlers appear on each show. The format includes four or five matches interspersed with interviews. The interviews afford the wrestlers an opportunity to develop their personalities, bad-mouth upcoming opponents, and hype the next live show. Interviews promoting matches in each market area are spliced into the tape which goes to the station in that market.

Generally, a headline wrestler (Ric Flair, Greg Valentine, Wahoo McDaniel, Ricky Steamboat, or the like) opposes a lesser light. Occasionally, though, Crockett matches a pair of headliners. Recently, Valentine captured the Mid-Atlantic championship from McDaniel on TV and broke Wahoo’s leg in the process.
Whether wrestling is real, semi-real or a complete sham is beside the point (says Crockett). “I don’t believe anybody has ever been able to go to one of our matches and walk away and say it’s fake.”

At its best, wrestling is akin to a superb magic act. It works to the extent that the audience wants it to. Just like the old Mets slogan, “You’ve gotta believe.”


- Mark Wolf - The Charlotte Observer, March 25, 1978