This article is part of a larger feature  on the history of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in the television studios by Dick Bourne.

 

WGHP Studio Wrestling

 


Special thanks to the Harville family, as well as Charlie Harville's friends and professional associates who provided their time and invaluable assistance in the preparation of this article.


 

 

 


PART ONE

PART TWO

PART THREE


 

 

 


RETURN TO THE MID-ATLANTIC GATEWAY


 

 

 

 

In the spring of 1954 Jim Crockett spoke before an audience in the City of Lexington, North Carolina to publicize the debut of professional wrestling at the local YMCA gymnasium.  He announced an agreement that he had entered with the organization whereby a portion of the proceeds would go towards funding the newly constructed arena.  Crockett also told the assembled group about his plans for weekly shows if the initial matches drew adequate crowds. 

 

Marketing the wrestling matches would be through advertisements in local newspapers, along with display cards in store fronts and on utility poles at strategic intersections.  Since locally affiliated wrestling was not televised in the immediate area, Crockett described the need for a strong connection with the population in the Piedmont section of the state.  He then advised the attendees about his new association with a prominent sports authority who would play a significant role in providing a major event atmosphere, while drawing sports fans not previously interested in wrestling.  That prominent authority was Charlie Harville.

 

Charles Edward Harville was born December 15, 1918 in High Point, North Carolina.  From an early age he had a tremendous interest in playing various sports that progressed into his college years.  Not being as successful as he had envisioned in football, Charlie turned to baseball but failed to make the High Point College team.  Showing his lifelong ability to overcome setbacks through trust in his own self-reliance, he would later tell a newspaper reporter that being cut during the baseball tryouts made him strive to succeed in his second ambition – being a sports broadcaster.

 

So while still in college, Charlie went to his hometown WMFR radio and boldly offered his services as a substitute play-by-play announcer for the Thomasville Tommies baseball games.  The station manager was impressed by the articulate young man and decided to give him an opportunity in an on-the-job audition on April 28, 1938.  The next day he was hired as their full time play-by-play announcer for baseball and football games. 

 

World War II interrupted his career, but after an honorable tour of duty in the Army Air Corps, Charlie reemerged in radio working at stations in Martinsville, Virginia, Goldsboro, North Carolina and then LaSalle, Illinois.  During his time at WLPO in LaSalle he created the unique closing phrase that would always end his future sportscasts:  “That’s the best in sports today.”

 

In 1949 WFMY Radio in Greensboro provided an opportunity for him to return to his home area.  The station had made the effort to broadcast the new medium of television and obtained the license to do so later that year.  Charlie was selected as host of what is believed to be the first live local sports show broadcast in North Carolina.  Almost fifty years later he would tell a staff writer for the Greensboro News & Record “It was a gamble on the part of the station.  I practiced by pretending I was looking at a camera during my radio broadcasts.  I had no doubt I’d succeed at it, but I didn’t know if it would go over with the public.  I was surprised at the speed and breadth of its acceptance.  By 1953 WFMY’s venture into TV was so successful that it closed the radio station.”

 

However, radio continued to be a significant part of Charlie’s career.  Through the late 1940s and into the 1950s, he was a part of the Tobacco State Network that broadcast big four Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.  For the next three decades he was the play-by-play announcer for numerous universities’ football and baseball programs, including East Carolina, Appalachian State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida State.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

 

On Saturday night, May 1, 1954 Charlie Harville walked toward the ring, through the then record setting attendance of 4,300, for the first professional wrestling matches ever held at the Lexington YMCA.  Neither he nor those in the arena knew that they were a part of events that would significantly impact him and wrestling in the region for the next thirty years. 

 

While climbing into the ring to open the show, an outbreak of cheers from the capacity crowd swept through the building.  The excitement for the debut of wrestling was obvious, but so was the admiration for the man whose reputation in sports broadcasting was unsurpassed.  Charlie was moved by the shouts of his name and waves from those in the stands, but as the consummate professional he made his opening welcome and comments about the inaugural event, and none to bring attention to himself.

 

Leading up to the Lexington debut Charlie anguished over a decision he needed to make before heading out to the YMCA.  Being a proud man who cared for the impressions that he made on an audience, what to wear was a major issue.  He discussed it in length with his wife and the decision was made – his very best suit.  But there was an issue that had not been discussed.  In the excitement of being offered the Lexington job, he had failed to confirm payment for his services.  However, it was not a priority concern as he was thankful for the new opportunity.

 

The entirety of the event had such an impact on him that many years later, Charlie would tell one of his sons how happy he was in the selection of what he wore before an unexpectedly large and appreciative crowd.  Also unexpected was the generosity shown by Jim Crockett.  The promoter was so impressed that at the end of the matches he handed the young announcer a fifty dollar bill.  That’s fifty dollars in 1954.  Charlie looked at the fifty and told Crockett that he was sorry – he didn’t have enough money with him to make change.  “…you owe me no change…it’s all yours…you earned it…” explained Crockett.  A gratified Charlie Harville left the arena that evening wearing his best suit, with a fifty dollar bill in his pocket.  He celebrated the success by taking his wife out for ice cream at a local café.

 

For many years to come, Charlie and the Lexington YMCA had a connection.  Crockett hired him as ring announcer whenever he was available.  Conflicts with his primary television duties would sometimes keep him away, but wrestling was often a subject on his nightly sports program. This was especially true when a special event occurred in the area.  On May 17, 1958 the first ever World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship match was held at the YMCA. Charlie made sure that his viewers were informed about the contest.  Lexington’s newspaper, The Dispatch, published a report following the event that included:  Television movies were made during the evening by Charlie Harville and Buddy Moore of WFMY-TV, Greensboro.  They will be shown this evening at 11:05 on Harville’s sports show.

 

Charlie had high regard for all athletes, no matter the arena of their performance.  While many mainstream sports reporters looked down on professional wrestlers, he realized the athletic skills and abilities needed by the grapplers to perform at the top of their profession.  He admired the acrobatics of Argentina Rocca, the legitimate wrestling skills of Lou Thesz, and the intimidating presence of The Great Bolo.  He understood the antics of Gorgeous George, Homer O’Dell and other flamboyant heels as being an important part of the psychology in the good-versus-evil show that drew thousands of spectators.  Wrestlers appreciated Charlie for the personal and professional respect shown to them, and many formed friendships that lasted through the years. 

 

It was not unusual for a wrestler to ask Charlie’s opinion of a current wrestling angle or one that they had in mind to use later.  One of those was the villainous Karl von Hess, who wanted to further build the level of disdain fans had for him.  What better way than to accost the popular Charlie Harville during a live show in Lexington!  Von Hess talked to Charlie about his idea and they got the angle approved.  The stage was set.  In those days a large microphone was lowered by a cord from the ceiling.  As it came down to Charlie’s reach, through the ropes charged the evil German.  The chorus of boos from the crowd was resounding.  A back and forth shouting match ensued which further incensed the audience.  Von Hess lunged forward while Charlie defended himself by swinging the microphone.  One of the fan-favorite wrestlers eventually ran in for the “rescue”. 

 

 

CONTINUED IN PART TWO