Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Gateway Interview: Tony Schiavone

Tony Schiavone sporting his navy JCP Sports blazer
on the set of World Championship Wrestling in 1986
When professional wrestling fans think back to the red hot days of Jim Crockett Promotions in the mid 1980s and the even hotter time following the advent of WCW’s Monday Nitro about a decade later, the name Tony Schiavone is front and center. Tony’s face and voice on television brought us many of the most famous angles and events in professional wrestling history, starting at the lead-off for Starrcade 1983 until the demise of WCW in 2001.

What many fans may not know is that Tony grew up in the western section of Virginia as a huge fan of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.

This interview with Tony is different than any he has ever done before, as it will delve into Tony Schiavone the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling fan.

Among the multitude of subjects Tony will touch on are his earliest memories of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling starting in 1974, watching the product on television, his favorite Mid-Atlantic wrestlers and the angles they were part of, his road trips to a number of the Crockett towns and his impressions of why and how the Mid-Atlantic territory captured the enduring love of so many fans to the point that we still want to talk about it today in 2017.
The timeline of this interview will cut off during the year of 1983, when Tony actually went from being a Mid-Atlantic fan to a Mid-Atlantic announcer. The reason for this is that Tony has just begun an exciting new podcasting adventure with the Gateway’s good friend Conrad Thompson, called "What Happened When" (WHW Monday), where Tony and Conrad will dig deep into Tony’s broadcasting career throughout the 1983-2001 time period when Tony was a fixture in the wrestling business. They will discuss a different topic each week as voted on by fans and listeners through a weekly poll on their Twitter account. WHW Monday can be found on the MLW Radio Network, with new episodes dropping every Monday! 

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David Chappell: Tony, thank you for taking the time to chat with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway today. You being a native Virginian I’d like to focus on your memories of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, and then we’ll segue to your tremendous new podcast with Conrad Thompson where you two will be breaking down your time in the wrestling business from 1983-2001. Sound okay? 

Tony Schiavone: Sure, that’s fine.

Chappell: I understand you grew up in the Staunton, Virginia area?

Schiavone: Yeah, my hometown is Craigsville which is west of Staunton; kind of southwest of Staunton. It’s much closer to the mountains than Staunton is. It’s Augusta County, but that’s basically the area.

Chappell: Last August I was up that way for a work conference and stayed at the Stonewall Jackson Conference Center, and that was a great place.

Schiavone: Right, that’s been there forever.

Chappell: It has, but they’ve kept it looking great. I used that occasion to hit a couple of old Crockett towns nearby. One night I went down to Roanoke and met Dick Bourne for dinner, and on another day I went by the Expo in Fishersville on the way back home!

Schiavone: Oh yeah, the Fishersville Expo!

Chappell: One of the great spot show venues in Virginia!

I have heard that you started following Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling around 1974?

Schiavone: Around 1974 I was in Craigsville. We had, I guess they still do, an IGA grocery store and I worked there on the weekends as the bag boy and the stock boy in the grocery store which was owned by my father’s best friend. And I would walk down there on Saturday’s, Saturday mornings, to work and then I would take a lunch break and I would walk back home, which was not too far to go. And I would stop in my Uncle John’s house, he lived on the same street, and I’d stop in during lunch hour and he’d be watching wrestling. And I started watching wrestling with him, and that’s where I kind of got hooked on it.

Chappell: Was this on channel 6 in Richmond, or the station out of Harrisonburg, Virginia?

Schiavone: If I remember correctly, it may have been channel 10 out of Roanoke.

Chappell: Okay, that’s right; you were sort of stuck between the Roanoke and Richmond markets.

Schiavone: Right, we could see Richmond and Roanoke very, very well. And we could also get the station out of Harrisonburg.

But it may have been both. I mean back then, you didn’t have to punch a clock; I don’t know how long [lunch] took. And I can remember wrestling being on back-to-back in those markets. You could watch World Wide [Wrestling] on WSLS in Roanoke I believe, and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling on WTVR in Richmond, if I’m right…

Chappell: Yes, absolutely.

Schiavone: And then like 11:30 at night, late on Saturday nights, you could watch it on the Lynchburg station…World Wide Wrestling.

Chappell: That’s exactly right! Did you watch them all?

Schiavone: Yeah!

Chappell: (laughs) I would have done the same thing if I had a rooftop antenna at my house! It was tough for me to pull in much outside of WTVR in Richmond, but I would grab the rabbit ears on my TV and try to get the shows from Charlottesville and Norfolk if the weather was right.

Schiavone: I want to tell you something…this has really peaked my interest. I don’t know if people realize this, but Craigsville, which is a small, stuck-in-the-mountains, redneck town, was one of the first towns that size to have a cable system.

Chappell: Really?

Schiavone: Yeah, because I remember the Clements guys who came up with the idea of the cable system and they put cable in our house in the 70s!

Chappell: Whoa!

Schiavone: Now, we couldn’t get a ton of stations, but what they did was they gave us great reception for all the stations we could get.

Chappell: Tony, that’s incredible. I lived just north of Richmond at my parent’s house at that time, and my parent’s house has only gotten cable in the last 10-15 years!

Schiavone: And before that, we had the big antenna on top of the house with the rotor on top of the TV prior to that, so we picked up a lot of stuff.

Chappell: What are some of your earliest wrestling memories and wrestlers from that 1974 time frame and through the rest of the 70s?

Schiavone: I remember…I remember Mr. Wrestling, Tim Woods. I think that was about the time that Johnny Valentine and Ric Flair were in their crash? When was the crash?

Chappell: That would have been early October of 1975. And at the time Woods and Valentine were going at it hot and heavy!

Schiavone: Oh yeah, I remember Johnny Valentine. I remember a match, and I think it was on TV, David, where Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel just stood kind of toe to toe and slugged each other…

Chappell: I know exactly what you’re talking about…it was classic! If I remember correctly, that was one of the last tapings at High Point, North Carolina TV and Charlie Harville was the announcer. That would have been in the middle of 1974 and Wahoo had just come in. They would show that clip periodically over the years, just for its sheer brutality!

Schiavone: It was something else!

Chappell: That was also one of my earliest real clear Mid-Atlantic TV memories.

Schiavone: I remember Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones very well…

Chappell: Rufus was a memorable guy, for sure!

Schiavone: I remember Dino Bravo. Obviously Flair, and I remember when Flair dropped the television strap to Steamboat on TV.

Chappell: Yep, Steamboat’s coming out party in 1977.

Schiavone: I remember when Tim Woods put the mask back on and he and Dino Bravo beat the Anderson’s for the World Tag Team Championship on TV.

Chappell: That was one of Dick Bourne’s all-time Mid-Atlantic TV moments.

Schiavone: I seem to remember them putting the figure four on Ole or something, if I recall. I don’t know if they won it with that, but I remember Ole selling the figure four.

And later on, I remember the Flair/Blackjack Mulligan angle!

Chappell: Oh boy! That’s high up on my short list of favorite Mid-Atlantic angles!

Schiavone: Yes, and I remember Dick Murdock who was a big babyface at that time.

Chappell: I really wish Murdock would have had a longer Mid-Atlantic run.

Schiavone: David, I don’t know how many years in a row we did it, but me and my friends would drive down to the matches. In ’74 I’m sixteen, so I get my driver’s license. I remember sneaking out of the house to drive down to Greensboro.

Chappell: I love it!

Schiavone: My Dad had passed away in the summer of ’74, so it was just me and my Mom. And my Mom was older and so she would go to bed and not wake up, so I would sneak out.

Anyway, I went down to Greensboro on Thanksgiving and saw that two ring Battle Royal they had.

Chappell: I think they had those on back-to-back Thanksgivings in 1976-1977.

Schiavone: They would bring Andre the Giant in, and a lot of stars in. I remember there was one Thanksgiving, and we would order our tickets ahead of time…pay for them ahead of time. And we would pick them up at the Will Call window. And we got there, and we had front row ringside tickets for some reason.

Chappell: Wow!

Schiavone: Yeah, they put us front row ringside. And I remember Dick Murdock was thrown out and got the microphone and talked about it wasn’t surprising that something like this would happen to him in a hick town like Greensboro, North Carolina…

Chappell: (laughing)

Schiavone: He was a heel then, and I remember he came back and David [Crockett] talking about the ‘Sensational’ Dickie Murdock!

Chappell: I remember exactly what you’re referring to, Tony. Murdock had a shot in Richmond the day after Thanksgiving in 1977 and he was a heel. Then several months later he came back as a good guy, and they called him Sensational Dick Murdock!

Schiavone: Yeah! I remember that one match when he was a heel. And later I remember how the announcers positioned him as a babyface and it was kind of unique I thought at that time. But I loved Murdock!

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Check out PART TWO of our interview with Tony Schiavone about his days growing up a fan of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.

Don't miss Tony and co-host Conrad Thompson each Monday on their new podcast "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) on the MLW Radio Network.