J.R.'s history in the broadcasting booth
Over the years, I’ve had many talented broadcast partners that have helped me grow as an announcer. Broadcasting is a team effort and two, or three, individuals not functioning as a team cannot be as effective as they can if they set aside their own agendas and focus on what they see on their TV monitors and embellish the TV personas of the talents involved. I’ve been blessed to have had many outstanding partners.
Over the next few weeks, I will address many of these broadcasting partnerships, starting off with some that I worked with prior to arriving in WWE in 1993. ( PHOTOS)
My first broadcast partner provided color commentary even though he was totally blind. Leroy McGuirk was a former NCAA Wrestling Champion at Oklahoma State University and long time kingpin of the NWA Junior Heavyweight Division before losing his sight in a car accident in Little Rock in the early 1950’s. My calls of the action had to be visual and descriptive. I attempted to paint a picture of what was occurring in the ring so that my sightless partner could contribute. It was a unique way to break into the world of broadcasting pro wrestling, especially if the boss (McGuirk was also the owner of the territory) enjoyed a taste or two of his favorite bourbon prior to going on the air. Production was barebones as we used hand mics, no headsets and a two camera shoot back in the mid ’70s to do the weekly, one hour TV show that aired in many markets throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Missouri and north Texas.
After buying McGuirk out, Cowboy Bill Watts expanded the territory to include the aforementioned areas while adding Louisiana, Mississippi and Houston. Watts named his company Mid-South Wrestling, which would later become the Universal Wrestling Federation or UWF. Watts was the territory’s owner, oftentimes its top wrestling star, TV producer/writer and broadcaster. In the beginning, my claim to fame was stating, “Hello everyone and welcome to Mid-South Wrestling! I’m Jim Ross alongside Cowboy Bill Watts . . . here’s Bill.” Then, at the end of the hour, after throwing in a minimum of thoughts during the show, I’d come with, “For Cowboy Bill Watts, I’m Jim Ross and we’ll see you next week for more Mid-South Wrestling.” I didn’t say too much, but I received a great education.
My role working for Watts changed over the years to where Cowboy was confident enough in what he had taught me that he left the broadcast booth completely to focus more on producing the TV show and managing the talent while overseeing the overall business of Mid-South. I learned a tremendous amount from Watts about in-ring psychology and how to tell a story that was believable to the viewers. Watts was a genius when it came to producing episodic, one hour TV shows that drove fans to the live events, which was our primary business before PPV became a major income stream.
Watts was known as a great promo talent in his wrestling days and he brought that same passion and attention to detail to broadcasting. Plus, he was always intensely prepared because he was the one who actually created the storylines. Certainly, without Cowboy Bill Watts being a great mentor and teacher, I would never have had my journey in sports-entertainment broadcasting. Watts taught me in-ring psychology, as did many veteran wrestlers who Watts utilized, and that preparation was key. With Watts’ info in place, I added the natural passion that came with being a devout wrestling fan-turned-broadcaster and things seemed to click.
Cowboy’s stepson, Joel Watts, who was brilliant at editing vignettes and overall TV production, was my partner in the mid-80s after Cowboy decided to go younger by adding Joel alongside me and making veteran TV announcer Boyd Pierce the ring announcer. Joel was an intelligent young man but he was much more comfortable, or so it seemed to me, being behind the cameras instead of in front of them. Joel’s vignettes over the years were way ahead of their time. His work would easily stand up today as he ‘felt’ the genre and had excellent instincts.
Freebird Michael Hayes was my first broadcast partner who was a pure, 100% antagonist. Hayes and I joined forces during Cowboy Bill Watts’ attempt at expanding the Mid-South brand by renaming Mid-South Wrestling the Universal Wrestling Federation. We were on over 120 local TV stations before eventually selling the company to Jim Crockett Promotions. Hayes was the vocal leader of The Fabulous Freebirds and was still an active in-ring competitor, but was an excellent color commentator. We had natural chemistry as I tried to balance his over-the-top, villain verbiage with some degree of objectivity, which generally led to some heated on-air debate.
Many may argue that Jesse Ventura was the best antagonist broadcaster ever. “The Body” was very good and certainly unique, but Hayes could hold his own with any villain broadcaster with whom I ever worked. Ventura or Roddy Piper got more national exposure as antagonistic wrestling broadcasters, but I can assure one and all that Hayes was as good as any who ever sat in that chair during that era.
Before we move to my Crockett/NWA years and pick up with arguably the most underrated TV wrestling broadcaster that I ever worked with, let’s not forget my broadcasting experiences with Paul Boesch who hosted Houston Wrestling for years while also being the promoter there.
When Bill Watts and Mr. Boesch became business partners in the Houston promotion, I became a somewhat of a reluctant broadcast sidekick to Mr. Boesch — that is reluctant on Mr. Boesch’s behalf.
Today, I consider myself to be an “old school” guy, but in the mid-80s, Mr. Boesch was very old school and I was perceived by him to be somewhat of a radical outsider, because I wanted to aggressively promote wrestling using all the tools at our disposal. For example, using radio ads was sound marketing in my view, but Mr. Boesch felt otherwise. Strongly. Also, I had an aggressive on-air style that could be somewhat excitable, in case you haven’t noticed. Mr. Boesch, on the other hand, generally maintained a somewhat calm ringside decorum.
It’s easy to see why our styles clashed. Don’t get me wrong, I will always have great respect for the late Paul Boesch. He was a beloved figure in Houston and a man who was active in many charitable organizations in the community. Houston Wrestling on Friday nights at the Sam Houston Coliseum was an entertainment staple in the city for decades. ( PHOTOS)
Mr. Boesch and I used a single stick mic for our broadcasts while sitting without a table on metal folding chairs at ringside. Mr. Boesch held the mic … all the time. So, by holding the only mic, Paul controlled when he talked and when he allowed his “sidekick” to speak.
I vividly remember talking an unmerciful butt chewing from the “Big Cowboy” Bill Watts after a TV taping in Houston, because I did not get in some viable points that Bill felt was imperative to the storyline. I was honest with Bill and told him that I had tried, but Paul controlled the mic and he refused to let me get in my sound bites. Come to find out that Paul had disagreed with the storyline direction that Watts had decided to travel with the Mid-South talent in Houston, so that was Paul’s way of protesting and doing what he could to make sure that the storyline didn’t succeed.
Politics can be unsavory in Washington D.C., but they aren’t so flattering in the pro wrestling biz either.
Working with a headset has its challenges (and can also provide some memorable adventures), but sitting at ringside working off a stick mic with no headset and without any communication to the TV truck is borderline insanity as I look back upon it.
Paul’s issues weren’t so much with me, a young, ambitious broadcaster who also handled much of Watts’ marketing and promotions, but with his large, demanding business partner who was just as headstrong as Boesch. I just happened to be caught in the middle.
Nonetheless, it was a great learning experience as Paul Boesch, a former wrestler originally from Long Island, was a wise man with a wealth of knowledge who, like many aging, wrestling promoters of that era, went reluctantly and figuratively kicking and screaming into a more modern era of promoting the genre.
It was sad in a way because I feel that Paul Boesch, again like so many of his contemporaries, knew that his way of promoting pro wrestling in his respective territory was on life support and would soon fade away.
Boesch and Watts, after doing some record setting business, would eventually part ways and Houston Wrestling would become affiliated with WWE but that relationship would also, predictably, fall by the wayside.
If WWE ever has the opportunity to buy the Houston Wrestling tape library, you’ll see what I mean regarding the stick mic scenario. Ironically, traveling to Houston for the Friday night events was some of the best times of my life.
My first broadcast partner when Jim Crockett Promotions bought the UWF from Bill Watts was North Carolina native and Mid Atlantic Wrestling broadcast legend Bob Caudle.
To my ears, Bob Caudle, a former TV newsman at WRAL TV in Raleigh, N.C., is the most underrated pro wrestling broadcaster ever.
The established voice of NWA Pro Wrestling for years and years, Bob was willing to step aside and become the show’s color analyst when I came on board. Bob’s voice was synonymous with honesty and when he spoke, the fans believed what Bob said. It was that way in Bob’s real life, too, by the way.
A broadcaster with no credibility had little value then and even less in today’s cynical world.
Bob and I were broadcasting in the UTC Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn. back in the late 80’s when someone threw an egg at one of the villains that missed its target, but hit Bob right in his somewhat prominent comb over. We happened to be in a commercial break on TBS and were coming back live in mere seconds and “Rowdy Bob” — as I used to call him because he was anything but rowdy — was frantically trying to get his imploded comb over back in place.
I did all I could to restrain my laughter, but to no avail as the guys in the truck were laughing hysterically in my headsets, which only made matters worse as “Rowdy Bob” scrambled. (See what I did there? Scrambled . . . eggs.) Bob got it together and when the red light came on we were business as usual. I’m sure that tape exists in the WWE library and if you ever see it you’ll know the rest of the story.
On another live broadcast, Bob was hit in the temple with a coin, but thought for a moment that he was having an aneurism. An errant missive thrown by an angry fan of Jim Cornette was intended for the controversial manager, but unfortunately nailed “Rowdy Bob.” Bob realized after a couple of scary moments that he had been hit with a coin that stung him pretty good. After ruling out the potential medical emergency of an aneurism, he promptly picked up the coin and put it in his pocket.
Someday, check out the live TBS Clash of Champions that we broadcast in the summer from a non-air conditioned facility in Fort Bragg, N.C.. I swear on a case of JR’s Original BBQ Sauce that it was 100 degrees that night under those TV lights. Bob and I both sweat through our suits with Bob saying dryly, no pun intended, that his socks were ringing wet with sweat and that he felt like he was standing in a creek. The profuse sweating from both of us had to be inadvertently hilarious, especially for “Rowdy Bob” and his mischievous and problematic comb over, which wanted to do a follicle tap out.
That was the worst physical environment that I can ever recall working through. I’ve had some partners over the years that would not have endured it as professionally as Mr. Bob Caudle did.
Bob Caudle was an objective, reliable, talented broadcaster who was a trusted voice to generations for years in the Mid Atlantic region. My nights with Bob on TBS were some of the best in my career as I always knew that Bob would never make the in-ring action about him or attempt to get himself “over.” Instead, Bob embellished the skill and personas of the athletes that we were watching on our monitors while furthering the storylines
Bob Caudle was a natural born storyteller who never changed his demeanor even if we were deciding on where to stop for lunch (the days before catering), sitting together in the afternoon preparing for our broadcast or doing a live national television show from ringside
I truly believe that I am a better broadcaster and certainly a better man for having known and worked with Bob Caudle. Much like another important friend/broadcaster that came along later in my career, Bob made me feel at home in an organization when many others there did not.
When we continue … Tony Schiavone.