Wednesdays in the Video Tape Room at WRAL

An Insider's Story on Wrestling at WRAL-TV Studios in Raleigh

by Tom Gallagher


Return to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway


Studio Wrestling at WRAL

by Dick Bourne

Wednesdays Behind the Camera in the Studio at WRAL

by Rick Armstrong


A Night at the WRAL Studio Tapings

by Bruce Mitchell

WRAL TV Promos

Interview with Les Thatcher

Photos courtesy of Lee Collins.

The cozy confines of WRAL television studios in Raleigh NC is wrestling Mecca for me. Others might suggest it ought to be some old traditional venue where the big matches took place like the Charlotte Park Center or the Richmond Arena. But the television studio was the place where the real magic happened, there in Raleigh as well as in our living rooms, where the wrestlers spoke their mind, showed their moves, and stood their ground, all for the sake of getting you out to that arena. The small setting of the TV studio was just the right size to help make those characters larger than life, and when the crowd of a couple hundred (larger at WRAL than most other studio settings of the era) all cheered or booed, it was amplified in the small setting.

I was fortunate enough to attend one television taping at WRAL in the spring of 1981, only months before Crockett Promotions moved tapings to Charlotte. It was better than Disneyland. I watched wide-eyed as Bob Caudle and Rich Landrum prepared to start their shows, the cameramen took their positions, the wrestlers entered the ring so close to where we sat you could almost reach out and grab them. 

But there was so much that went into making those sessions happen. Little did I realize that the wrestlers had been there all day doing local promos before they would come out for their wrestling appearances. Little did I know that the whole day's events had to coordinate with the noon and six o'clock local newscasts. They all shared the same cameras and facilities. And since that time that I  attended the taping, I had always wondered how all those local promos got inserted into all those shows and how it was all put together. Since I began publishing the Mid-Atlantic Gateway in 2000, several of the people involved on camera and to some extent behind the scenes, like Bob Caudle, Les Thatcher and others, helped put it all in better focus. We learned the basics about "bicycling" and long hours of doing the local promos.

But we never had the benefit of someone's story who actually was involved in the production at WRAL - until now.

Tom Gallagher worked in videotape at WRAL from 1979 until 1982 and his adventures with the wrestling crew that moved in every Wednesday (including his respect for Carl Murnick and a motivational moment with Gene Anderson) paint the most complete picture of a day at WRAL wrestling tapings that has yet been published to our knowledge.

Tom and I were introduced via e-mail by Greg Price, and I asked Tom to share with us his role in the wrestling tapings. Presented below is Tom's recent letter to me regarding those memorable Wednesdays.

- Dick Bourne

January 2009

From Tom Gallagher

Most of what I would contribute regards the technical nature of the show, from 1979 to 1982 when I worked videotape at WRAL-TV.

To orient you, the videotape room at WRAL was in the basement, near the corner below the “WRAL-5” message sign that can be seen behind Bob Caudle in a picture on the Gateway. The studio was on the ground floor, and the production control room was on the second floor almost directly over the VTR room.

Just about every Wednesday, wrestling would take over production at WRAL-TV after the noon news and, except for the six o’clock news, was about the only thing that would happen for the rest of the day. It’s pretty well documented elsewhere that the shows (World Wide Wrestling and Mid-Atlantic Wrestling) were taped in the evening, so I’ll deal with the afternoon session.

On Wednesday afternoons we produced the 2:20 commercials that followed the announcement “Let’s take time out for these commercial messages about the [World Wide / Mid-Atlantic] wrestling events coming up in your area.”  This was the whole basis of the economics of these shows: stations got an hour of programming material that they didn’t have to pay money for, and the promoters got almost five minutes of commercial time to plug their local arena matches. ("Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling has been furnished to this station for broadcast at this time by Jim Crockett Promotions, in exchange for commercial consideration.") These spots ran at about twenty and forty minutes into the show. To sweeten the deal, there were commercial positions within the show that the station could sell to even make a profit, or maybe just pay the electric bill to keep the transmitter running.

The studio was set up with just the background flats; the ring was kept on the truck and set up during the six-o’clock news break. As you can see from the pictures, we had exactly four high-quality (“quadruplex”, or “quad”) recorders that used 2” tape. Only two of them had the modules that allowed electronic editing, the alternative being a razor blade and adhesive tape. Almost all the stations that aired wrestling did it from 2” tape (the exception was Bluefield, which used BVU ¾” tape). I don’t believe any station got the show on 1” BVH. Those were the days when VTRs weighed half a ton and cost a quarter-million apiece. WRAL was lucky to have four (FOUR!) 2” VTRs. Since only four copies of each show existed, and they had to be air-shipped on Thursday to get to the stations on Friday before the program managers went away for the weekend, there was no time to make copies of shows.

What happened to the tape reels was described as a bicycle wheel, or “the bicycle.” No, we didn’t send the shows out on the back of a bicycle! If you imagine Raleigh as the hub, and the various cities on the rim, the show tapes travelled up and down the spokes. I don’t recall the specific order, of course, but the show that aired in High Point, for example, would come back, have new commercials edited in, and get sent back out to Louisville, come back, get new commercials edited in again, and then be sent back out to Buffalo. After the first week, each show would air in only four markets (Bluefield would always get the new show on ¾”, which would make five the first week.) Each show might be airing each week, somewhere, for as long as a month or more.

Producing and editing the commercials is what happened Wednesday afternoon. We edited live-to-tape, which means that as the talent was promoting the match for a city we were recording on the tape that would go to that city. On the production side, the floor crew usually had the likes of David Gill, Leonard Peebles, Rick Armstrong, Art Howard, Tilla Fern, Kara Carite, and others. The control room had Ruth Miller or Joe Johnson on audio and, depending on the week, directors George Pemberton, Bob Gubar, Kevin Duffus, Bud Brown, Tom Lawrence, Pam Parrish (Pam Paris?), or Connie Goodman. I was all alone in VTR.

My job started during the noon news. Carl Murnick would bring down about two-dozen tapes. I would cue each tape to the beginning of the first 2:20 (two-minute twenty-second) commercial, then dismount both the supply reel and the take-up reel from the tape machine. In the wide shot of the tape room (above) you can see the last eight tapes for the day stacked on the floor. To make an edit, I would load a tape onto the machine, find the exact beginning of the commercial to be replaced by the edit, zero the tape time counter, and then rewind the tape about thirty seconds. From thirty seconds back, I would play the tape and make several mechanical and electronic adjustments to the machine, while watching the timer and counting-down to the beginning of the commercial so that the studio could cue the talent (Mr. Landrum or Mr. Caudle). There was a 2/3-second delay between when I pressed the “edit” button and the actual edit, so I had to account for that. As soon as the recording started, I would move to the second machine and load that tape, cue it up, and get ready for that edit--- hopefully before the first 2:20 commercial was done, because I had to have my finger on the button to end the edit recording, otherwise we would be recording over the show! After ending that first edit on the first tape, I would put that tape into fast-forward to get to the second commercial, move to the second machine and make the first edit there, move back and cue-up the first machine to the second spot while the second was recording, end the second machine and edit the first, cue up the second, end the first and rewind and take off and cue up a new tape, and so on and on.

If it sounds complicated, it sure was. It was OK once you got used to it.

I would record the commercials to be edited into the shows recorded that night onto the 1” tape machine, and Carter Bing or Walter Armstrong would edit those commercials into the tapes before they were shipped.

About halfway through the afternoon, we took a break from production while the studio flipped the background flats around from the “A” show to the “B” show; yep, as folks who went to the studio tapings will attest, the only difference between the shows was which side of the background flats faced the camera! One side had “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wresting” on it, and the other side was “World-Wide Wrestling.”

As soon as we finished taping the commercials, everyone split for dinner or some other sort of refreshment.

As I mentioned above, the late Carl Murnick handled all the tape routing and shipping. Now, I can’t say anything about Elliot or Sonny Murnick or any of the Crocketts--- they hardly ever made it down to videotape--- but I’d give anything to work with the likes of Carl again. He always treated me well, and on the numerous occasions when I made mistakes he always took it good-naturedly, shrugged it off, and simply trusted me to do better in the future. Every week, he brought down a box of chicken and a corn-cob from the Church’s chicken down the street, and that was my dinner every Wednesday. I appreciated that more than he ever could imagine, because I wasn’t making very much working in TV and it would often be the best meal I had all week. When C&M eventually got their own remote truck I was urged to go after the tape job, but I had gone back to school and wasn’t where I could change jobs, but I was sorely tempted based on the good treatment I got from Carl.

Also, as I mentioned above, the tape job was a bit complicated and, when I first started, I was a bit slow. So slow, in fact, that we’d finish the afternoon session after five-thirty, a bad thing since they had to move the cameras back over to another studio to do the six-o’clock news. (WRAL had three studio cameras. At $65,000 a pop, most stations only had two. Field cameras for ENG and EFP were about the same price.) A late finish was not desired by either the client or the crew, to put it mildly. After a couple of weeks of late wrap-ups on the promos, the wrestlers decided that enough was enough and deputized Gene Anderson to take care of the problem, which was me.

Gene came down to the tape room, which you can tell from the pictures had a pretty low ceiling, and proceeded to impress on me how desirable it was for me to do a bit better in my job. I don’t remember what he said, but I can tell you that it was the most inspirational, motivational, sensational talking to I have ever heard. I was scared witless. I just knew the cane he carried was going to impact me somewhere (it never did.)

Over the next week, I carefully laid out plans, practiced my editing, reviewed my plans again, practiced editing some more, and did a whole lot of praying that it would be enough.

By the following Wednesday, I was one of the best VTR guys on the East Coast.

As weeks went by, I got even better, which led to some eventual mischief. You probably noticed that the 2:20 promos started out the same way --- Rich Landrum giving the where and when for the local arena shows--- and the wrestlers would amble into the shot for a few moments to shout threats of violence at their opponent in that town (who was likely sitting on the bleachers a few feet away munching on some chicken.) All the while, Rich stood there holding the microphone. As a matter of fact, Rich had to stand there through all those 2:20 promos, and the only break he would get was between promos, while the studio and control room waited for the guy in VTR (me) to set up for the next edit. Well, I got things so fine-tuned that I all but eliminated the pause between promos; Rich would be lucky to have ten or fifteen seconds to rest his arm, and forget about stepping out from under the lights (still quite warm, back then!) We got the rhythm going, and before you knew it Rich had been out there continuously for about forty-five minutes without much of a break at all. Finally, HE had to ask the entire production to stop so he could take a break. I can’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was some wise-butt remark.

Anyway, sorry Mr. Landrum. You just have to know, some of those other guys were bigger than you, and they wanted me to do things as fast as could be done!

 - Tom Gallagher

January 22, 2009


The credits roll at the end of another edition of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.


Copyright © 2009 Mid-Atlantic Gateway • Photos courtesy of Lee Collins

Photo (from newspaper clipping) of Carl Murnick courtesy of David Bullock

Published 1/23/09