In 1950 Louisville wrestling promoter Francis McDonogh signed an agreement with WHAS TV to broadcast live professional wrestling in Louisville from the Columbia Gym on Fourth Street. McDonogh had been offered television a few years earlier, but he was reluctant to sign on fearing (as many promoters did) that television would cut into the live audience.
TV did not hurt the live crowds in Louisville any more than it had elsewhere in the country. Not only did TV bring more fans to the live events, wrestling proved to be the catalyst for many in the Louisville area to purchase their first television.
The two photos below were taken when McDonogh signed the deal with WHAS TV. The first photo appeared in the February 12, 1950 edition of the Courier-Journal when the TV deal was announced.
The photo below came from the personal collection of Dr. Gary McDonogh, Francis’s son. Same location, same faces. A fun “behind the scenes” look at this solemn and seminal moment in Louisville sports history.
WHAS carried live wrestling from the Columbia Gym sponsored by Fehr’s Beer for an hour every Tuesday night for more than three years, ending the run in the fall of 1953. Sadly no tape exists of this show because WHAS did not tape anything until just a few years later.
Lord Carlton’s daughter, the “Lady Carlton” K.K. Fluegeman, sent me a link to a recently posted video of her father. Not only do you get to see Lord Carlton in action with the nefarious Swami by his side, at the end of the video, Carlton gives a rather lengthy interview. It’s the best clip I’ve found of his lordship yet, and it’s amusing to listen to this native Californian’s attempt at a British accent.
The Great Brian Last from the 6:05 Superpodcast just posted an episode of Memphis wrestling featuring Ric Flair vs. Jerry Lawler on YouTube. What’s cool is this is a recording of the Louisville television feed from August 14, 1982, commercials included!
Click play below to get a glimpse of Louisville TV past. And be sure to listen and subscribe to the 6:05 Superpodcast.
A month or so back, I was surfing the Channel Store on Roku and came across a new wrestling channel simply called ‘Rasslin. Featuring a Rob Van Dam caricature on its channel graphic, ‘Rasslin promised to be a free channel boasting lots of old school wrestling. I decided to give it a try.
Simply put: ‘Rasslin is a free Roku channel with content you would gladly pay for.
The first video I watched on ‘Rasslin was an episode of WCCW from the old Sportatorium featuring the Von Erichs and the Freebirds in the main event. As if that wasn’t enough to keep me watching, the episode itself had a recently filmed introduction hosted by Kevin Von Erich and Michael Hayes. I was immediately taken back to my middle school days, when I used to watch WCCW on ESPN every afternoon after school on my Mom and Dad’s bedroom TV.
I let ‘Rasslin run for a few hours and I was treated to surprise after surprise. I saw Dick the Bruiser, Mean Gene Okerland, Dusty Rhodes, Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin, Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express, the Fabulous Kangaroos, Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Andre the Giant, Roddy Piper, Dr. D David Schultz, Sgt. Slaughter. I saw matches and even full TV episodes from the AWA, Memphis Wrestling, Crockett Promotions, and more. Almost every new video brought a new surprise.
‘Rasslin has a seemingly endless supply of wrestling content, but unlike most Roku channels, they do not have a searchable menu. When you open ‘Rasslin, a live stream begins, feeding you one video after another, interrupted by the occasional commercial.
There are some more recent independent wrestling videos on ‘Rasslin, as well as some hotel room women’s wrestling and other strange matches, but ‘Rasslin does allow you to skip any video by hitting the fast forward button on your remote.
‘Rasslin is a must-have for fans of old school wrestling. It’s the perfect compliment to paid wrestling channels, full if binge worthy matches, promos, and memories. It’s a channel you can put on and leave on that feeds surprise after surprise with every new video.
Tuesday night, the WWE will mark the 900th episode of Smackdown. Wednesday, Ohio Valley Wrestling will equal that mark with their 900th episode – the first ever broadcast in HD.
OVW has come a long way. Founded by Danny Davis as the Nightmare Wrestling Academy in Jeffersonville, OVW broke into the national wrestling consciousness when they were made the official training school for the WWE. When the fabled first class of OVW made its way to the main roster, wrestlers across the country began flocking to Louisville, knowing that OVW represented their best chance to make it to the big time.
The WWE banners are long gone, and the brief stint with TNA is now ancient history as well. Yet OVW today is as strong as ever, with a new generation taking the reigns in the ring as well as backstage.
It’s one thing for a multi-million dollar promotion to make it to 900 shows. It’s quite another for an independent promotion to reach the same milestone. It’s a tribute to the talent of the teachers, the quality of the program’s graduates, and the devotion of the OVW fans.
Congratulations goes to Danny Davis, Rip Rogers, Gilbert Corsey, Adam Revolver, Dean Hill, and everyone at OVW keeping the proud tradition alive. OVW is still one of the best places to learn your craft from master teachers. Their commitment to new technology is a signal that this small town promotion has hundreds more television programs in its future.
A few months ago I posted a story here about how WHAS began broadcasting live wrestling from the Columbia Gym in Louisville. The show went on the air in the spring of 1950 and was abruptly canceled in September of 1953. Turns out there was a reason for the show’s sudden disappearance.
The weekly wrestling program presented by the Allen Athletic Club was the highest rated show in the Louisville television market, much to the delight of sponsor Fehr’s Brewery and much to the dismay of the so-called defenders of good taste. Those who longed to see the show yanked from the air got their wish thanks to an on-air interview not with a wrestler, but with a fan.
WHAS sports director Jimmy Finegan, who called the action during the weekly program, would interview fans about the action in between bouts. One week, a fan who was upset over the actions of a negligent referee became a little too colorful with his language, and as it turns out… that was that.
The Allen Athletic Club had a brief run on WAVE-TV a few years later when they ran on Friday nights, but it only lasted a few months. One of the aforementioned defenders of good taste wrote a scathing article for the Courier-Journal in 1961, celebrating the demise of professional wrestling on the local air waves so many years before. Little did he know that Memphis would come to town nine years later, making live and televised wrestling bigger than ever in the River City.
Incidentally, Fehr’s Beer is poised to make a comeback in the Louisville area just a few weeks from now. A recent post on their Facebook page promised that the first batch of Fehr’s XL, made from the original recipe, will be available shortly after Thanksgiving.
You can read the original story about wrestling on WHAS by clicking here.
The Allen Athletic Club was the premiere wrestling promotion in Louisville for 22 years. Founder Heywood Allen and Francis McDonough had the contacts to bring in the best talent and a strong sense of what kept the fans coming. Week after week, Allen and then McDonough filled the Columbia Gym on Tuesday nights with fans eager to see their favorite local and national stars do battle.
In the fall of 1948 McDonough moved the Allen Club from the friendly confines of the Columbia Gym down the street to the Jefferson County Armory, now known as Louisville Gardens. McDonough ran every other week in the Armory, trading the weekly pay day for a chance to draw larger crowds, but the move left a vacancy and an opportunity for a new challenger.
In March of 1949, Kentucky Athletic Commissioner George S. Wetherby issued a one year license to the Columbia Wrestling Club, a new wrestling promotion that would fill the vacancy in the Columbia Gym. The man behind the Columbia Club was D.A. “Red” Fassas, a native of Lexington who had run the Lexington Athletic Club for three years.
Fassas promised fans that he would “the best heavyweights and junior-heavyweights in the business to Louisville.” He delivered on his very first show on March 25 with a main event featuring NWA champion Orville Brown and a show-stealing bout between Don Evans and Tug Carlson.
Fassas ran a handful of shows that spring featuring the likes of Don Eagle, Karol Krauser, Martino Angelo, and “Big Jim Wright” before announcing that the Columbia Wrestling Club would go on hiatus for the summer, citing the heat and lack of air conditioning in the Columbia Gym. There were promises of more shows in the early fall and even rumors of a merger with the Allen Club, but the Columbia Wrestling Club never resumed operations.
It appears Fassas did stick around Louisville in some capacity though not as a promoter. He applied for and received a liquor license for the Columbia Wrestling Club in May of 1949, but in 1953, he was indicted for selling liquor to minors. He was fined $30, and his license was suspended.
The Allen Club returned to the Columbia Gym in the fall of 1949. In 1950 they were not only running weekly shows but broadcasting live on WHAS-TV every Tuesday. When the Allen Club reached its fifteenth anniversary in the summer of 1950, Courier-Journal sports editor Earl Ruby noted hat the promotion had welcomed more than 800,000 fans and outlasted seven other wrestling promotions since its inception. As successful as they had been the first fifteen years, the glory days were still ahead for the Allen Club.
In 1949 professional wrestling was struggling. Fan interest was waning, box offices were down, and the business appeared to be on the ropes. A year later, 18,000 people packed Madison Square Garden, bringing in $52,000 in just once night.
What caused the dramatic turn around? Television.
So goes the March 12, 1950 article from the Louisville Courier-Journal, announcing that wrestling was coming to the local air waves. From New York to Chicago to Memphis, wrestling had become the number one program on television and the number one reason many folks were buying their first TV set. Twenty years before Memphis Wrestling took the city by storm, WHAS struck a deal with Francis McDonough and the Allen Athletic Club to broadcast wrestling live every Tuesday night.
The Allen Club was in its fifteenth year, and McDonough was in his third as the man in charge. Founded by Heywood Allen, Sr., the promotion ran wrestling shows almost every Tuesday night, usually at the Columbia Gym.
By contract, WHAS had not yet signed on the air when the announcement was made, but the station was doing test runs with their camera crew and broadcast equipment in the Columbia Gym well in advance. “The WHAS-TV cameras will have you right at ringside – in your own living room. You’ll get a closer look at what’s what an who’s who than the fans in the front row. You’ll see every moment of action in the ring… whereas the fan is confined to his seat, the camera can roam to every nook and corner.”
Wrestling was tailor-made for television, with all the action taking place in a well-lit, stationary ring, making it much easier to broadcast than sports like football and baseball. WHAS-TV had a two camera set up for the broadcast. Both were in the balcony, stationed at different angles. The cameramen were selected for their intimate knowledge of wrestling, and the camera feeds went outside to a remote broadcast truck, “a specially-designed remote truck, containing what appears to be a Television station all its own.”
WHAS went live on March 27, 1950, and the Allen Club appeared on television for the first time on Tuesday night, March 28. Fred Davis, a Louisville native who also played for the Chicago Bears, appeared in the main event that night against “Jumpin’ Joe” Savoldi. Fear Brewing Company became the first program sponsor.
Television proved to be a boon for the Allen Club just as it was in every city where promoters were willing to give TV a chance. Despite initial fears that TV would cut into their ticket sales, the live broadcasts actually increased awareness and interest in the sport. McDonough brought the biggest names in the sport to town for the Tuesday shows, including the biggest television star of them all, Gorgeous George. Just a few short years later, McDonough would be hosting the largest crowds ever seen in Louisville for wrestling at the Jefferson County Armory (later the Louisville Gardens).
When Vince McMahon was facing legal troubles in the 90s and needed a steady hand to help out at WWF, he turned to long time Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett to keep the ship on course. Perhaps Vince should have turned to Jerry when he decided to reboot Tough Enough because Jerry’s new wrestling promotion is taking Tough Enough to a whole new level – and it just might work!
Like many veterans of professional wrestling, Jarrett believes the old days and the old territories did a better job grooming new stars than the WWE’s Developmental Center ever will. Having seen what is happening in today’s independent scene, Jarrett saw an opportunity to recapture that magic, creating a new wrestling show designed to identify and elevate the superstars of tomorrow now toiling in the indies.
Jarrett’s program will start where the action is, in the warehouses, high school gyms, and other buildings that house today’s indy wrestling promos. It’s a far cry from the days of the Mid-South Colisseum and Louisville Gardens, but it’s where hundreds of young men and women are working hard every day to make their wrestling dream come true.
The show will take viewers into these venues to discover the talent right under their noses. Then, the best of the best will be invited to show what they can do on a larger scale, as Jarrett brings them together in a larger venue and shines a brighter spotlight on potential superstars.
This is not a WWE fabricated program. This is a new vision for the future from one of the most innovative minds in wrestling’s past. Instead of cherry picking and pushing stars on us. Jarrett intends to bring us along on a search and share with us what he finds.
Right now, Jarrett is scouting locations for the first half of the season. This is when he needs to hear from promoters who have talent to show off and a building to show them in. If you’re interested in hosting for Jarrett’s new program, take some photos of the inside and the outside of your facility and send them to Jerry’s email: email@example.com. Yes, it’s okay to use your phone to take the pictures, and please include the address and your contact info.
Please note, Jarrett is not searching for talent at this time; that will come later. He also respectfully asks fans NOT to use this email address for fan mail.
Kickstarters have been funded with more money in far less time.
If you haven’t read up on LA fights, go to Nigel’s Kickstarter now and check it out. This is your chance to do more than complain about the current state of wrestling. This is your chance to DO SOMETHING.