Sunday, February 05, 2017

Gateway Interview: Tony Schiavone (Part 2)

In PART ONE of our interview, David and Tony talked about how Tony first became a fan of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, plus many of the wrestlers he remembers during that time, and other early memories. That discussion continues in Part Two below.

A reminder that the timeline covered in our interview with Tony runs up to the very early days of his work with the wrestling side Jim Crockett Promotions in 1983. Tony's career beyond that will be part of the ongoing discussion on his new podcast on the MLW Radio Network called "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) where fans and listeners vote each week on WHW Monday's Twitter page for the following week's topic from Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s and WCW in the 1990s.  -D. Bourne

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David Chappell: Who are some memorable Mid-Atlantic wrestlers that worked underneath that come to your mind?

Tony Schiavone
Tony Schiavone: You know, I don’t necessarily remember the names of the job guys but [the announcers] Bob Caudle and later with Rich Landrum and David Crockett…those guys did a good job of making you think those guys were good wrestlers, even though they were going to lose.

Chappell: For sure…

Schiavone: I remember Bill White was one, if I recall. There was this little, kind of a spark plug/fire plug type kid, a guy named Tony Russo?

Chappell: Yes, Tony Russo was actually involved in the famous Hat and Robe TV angle we mentioned a minute ago!

Schiavone: And I remember Klondike Bill; I got to know him very well.

Chappell: Yes, I was going to ask you about Klondike Bill. He was with the Crockett’s for MANY years! Any other names of Mid-Atlantic wrestlers, regardless of where they appeared on the cards that come to mind off the top of your head?

Schiavone: Let’s see, I remember Jay Youngblood. Of course I remember Paul Jones and Angelo Mosca, who was there for a time.

Chappell: Jones and Mosca had a great program in 1976 that I loved. We’ve also mentioned some of the 1970s Mid-Atlantic announcers. Wasn’t Big Bill Ward from Charlotte back doing some announcing right when you started on TV in 1983? Can you take us back to how you made your way into the fold as a wrestling announcer for Crockett?

Schiavone: Yes, Bill Ward had come back and was doing the local inserts…local interviews.

David, I got the job [with the Crockett’s] after the ‘81 [baseball] season. I got the job; I was doing the Greensboro games, the Greensboro minor league team. They were the Hornets then, in ‘81.

Chappell: I didn’t realize you called baseball games for Greensboro.

Schiavone: Yes, and I found out from a friend of mine, named Bob Jamieson, who was the play-by-play guy of the Double A Nashville team…I found out that the Charlotte job was opening up, so I went down and interviewed for it.

Chappell: This would have been the Charlotte Orioles minor league baseball team, which the Crockett’s also owned, right?

Schiavone: That’s right. Now I had kind of known that the Crockett’s owned the baseball team, because I remembered Frances Crockett being named like General Manager of the Year by the Sporting News.

Frances Crockett
So I went down and interviewed with Frances Crockett, and she hired me that day. So my baseball career, in my mind, was off and running. I was two years out of college, my first year was in Single A and now I moved up to Double A…

Chappell: went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, correct?

Schiavone: Yes I did. So I talked to Frances, and as I got the job I would continue to talk to Frances about letting me do wrestling…which nothing ever came about for the whole year.

But I remember one time going to a TV taping, I think they had it at the channel 36 studios in Charlotte. And I remember talking to David [Crockett], and he was very nice to me. He was the first one that I met there, and I told him what I’d like to do. He said he appreciated that, but there wasn’t anything available.

Chappell: But you continued to try to move into the wrestling side of things?

Schiavone: Yes, and eventually I did the interview with Flair. Then they called me in to do the interviews…the local insert interviews, is what I called them.

Chappell: Now, when you say the interview with Flair, what interview are you referring to?

Schiavone: This was the announcement, his reaction to being part of the “Flair for the Gold,” having the World Title match with Harley Race.

Chappell: Oh, okay, the announcement for Starrcade ’83. In the early fall of 1983…

Schiavone: Yes.

Chappell: So after the Starrcade announcement, you started appearing regularly on the Crockett wrestling shows?

Schiavone: I did that with Ric, and then the following week Frances Crockett brought me into her office and she said, ‘Well, I knew this would happen. Now they want you to come and do some more interviews.’ She said, ‘You’re going to be pulled between me and them.’ Them being her brothers.

Chappell: Right…her wrestling brothers.

Schiavone: And she was right, I mean. You know, they would want me and she would want me.

Chappell: Geez…a real tightrope walk for you.

Schiavone: Oh yeah! She threatened to fire me a couple of times!

Chappell: Clearly you had a love for baseball at that time but the wrestling side of things was still on your mind. When or how did wrestling win out in this tug of war? Was there a particular event that pushed you to the wrestling announcing side?

Schiavone: Well financially it did, David, because I was making more with wrestling. I was doing wrestling part-time, and was making twice as much doing wrestling part-time as I was in baseball.

Chappell: That’s a significant difference, no doubt.

Schiavone: Baseball paid nothing, but back in those days we had a son Matt and we had our second child, our daughter in ’84, so I needed both…I needed both incomes.

Chappell: Understandable.

Schiavone: Okay, so I remember I went to a match at the Charlotte Coliseum, and I remember talking to David Crockett…

Chappell: During a live show?

Schiavone: Yes, I remember talking to David and letting him know I was there and everything…I got a ticket, or they gave me a ticket, and I went down and sat in my seat. And I remember the matches were getting ready to start and nothing was happening…thank you for jogging my memory on this! ...

Chappell: Yes sir!

C.J. Underwood
Longtime ring announcer at
the Charlotte Coliseum
(Photo -
Schiavone: I remember David came out and was looking up in the stands, and I knew instantly he was looking for me. And I went down and he said, ‘C.J. Underwood, is not here. Can you do the ring announcing for us?’ So I did the ring announcing that night in the Charlotte Coliseum.

Chappell: Wow!

Schiavone: And they gave me a 100 dollar bill, okay? And the reason I remember this is because I went home to my wife Lois, and we were living in this old rickety house in Charlotte…and I showed her this 100 dollar bill. We were so excited about it, that I got paid 100 dollars for doing the ring announcing.

Chappell: Tony, that’s reminiscent of others I’ve talked with that got their break when they were at the matches, somebody didn’t show up and they filled in, and the rest is history. I believe Rich Landrum got his break in a similar fashion.

Schiavone: And you know, I did the interview with Ric and I started doing the local interviews with Big Bill Ward. They brought me in, and Bill would do a couple and I’d do a couple. I remember Bill was so nice…

Bill Ward hosted "Championship
Wrestling" on WBTV-3 in Charlotte
from 1958-1974. He returned to
wrestling in 1982 to host the local
promos during JCP shows.
Chappell: He sure came off that way on TV.

Schiavone: You know, he said, ‘You need to wear some comfortable shoes because you’re going to be standing all day!’

Chappell: I’m sure that was true!

Schiavone: He kept saying, ‘Boy, I’m glad you’re here to help me out. Anything I can do just let me know.’ He was just a genuinely nice man, but David I kind of knew what was going on…I knew that eventually it would just be me. And that’s not arrogance. I could just see what was happening then…I was young and kind of moving into his role.

Chappell: Bill had been around for a real long time. In fact, when we both started getting into watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in 1974, Bill pretty much seemed to be winding it down then, and lo and behold he pops back up nearly a decade later.

It’s nice to hear that he was helpful to you in your very early TV wrestling announcing days.

Schiavone: Yes, he really was and he was such a nice man.

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Stay tuned for PART THREE of our ongoing interview with Tony Schiavone. And don't miss Tony's podcast this Monday with co-host Conrad Thompson. It's "What Happened When" (WHW Monday) and it drops every Monday on the MLW Radio Network and everywhere you get your podcasts.

Follow Tony Schiavone at @tonyschiavone24
Follow Conrad Thompson at @heyheyitsconrad
Follow the MLW Radio Network at @MWL
Follow Tony's podcast at @WHWMonday