I recently interviewed one of the main voices of the Monday Night Wars, former WCW Monday Nitro lead announcer Tony Schiavone. Schiavone recently debuted his What Happened When? podcast on MLW Radio, with new episodes dropping every Monday. The latest episode features 2017 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Diamond Dallas Page, you can listen to it by clicking here.
In part one of the interview below, Schiavone discussed the new podcast, breaking into the business, why he left WCW for the WWF, returning to WCW and regretting the decision, calling Bash at the Beach '96 which featured Hulk Hogan's heel turn, working with Bobby Heenan and why they had heat and much more.
Make sure to check back next week where Schiavone discussed WCW going off the rails, if Eric Bischoff changed during his time there, WCW being sold to WWF for $2.2 million, what the last night in WCW was like, working for Bischoff vs. Vince, CM Punk, his TNA run and why it was so short, Vince Russo and much more.
I'm here with one of the main voices of the Monday Night Wars, former WCW Monday Nitro lead announcer Tony Schiavone. Tony, how are you doing?
"Raj, I am okay. Good talking to you. Things are going well here as I guess fans now are in the nostalgia mode and I guess that's why everybody wants to hear from me now. So, it's good being with you. Thank you!"
Absolutely. I'm telling you, a lot of fans are really missing that era with the Monday Night Wars. It seems like so long ago now.
"Yeah, yeah. It was long ago. And I was talking to someone about it today. It's an era that I don't think we can capture again because television has changed. The industry has changed a great deal. But it was an era that I was very proud to be a part of."
You first started with Jim Crockett in the NWA, right?
"Yeah, that was back in the 80s. My first venture into wrestling was 1983. I was doing baseball for the Crockett Family, minor league baseball, their play-by-play announcer. And I had Frances Crockett, of the Crockett Family had run the baseball team, and I kept telling Frances that 'if you guys ever need a wrestling announcer, I can do this stuff' and they kind of hemmed and hawed and finally in '83, because I had been a big fan of the NWA and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling growing up in Virginia, finally, '83, they said, 'okay, we'd like for you to go to Ric Flair's house and do an interview with him for Starrcade '83, 'A Flair For The Gold'. And that really shocked me because I had known Ric Flair, and I knew who he was, and I was a big fan. It was a big moment and it kind of blossomed into doing interviews after that and eventually the play-by-play. And, of course, in '85, Crockett started putting his product on TBS and that's when David Crockett and I showed up in April of '85 for the first time, so for about a two-year period there I just did interviews, and then, I started doing the play-by-play after that."
That has got to be wild because you were there from the first Starrcade till the last, basically.
"Yeah, yeah. I missed one, I think, because I was with the WWE, but I was with all of them."
What made you decide to jump to the WWF at the time?
"Well, Raj, to be honest with you, when Jim Crockett Promotions sold to Turner Broadcasting, I didn't want to work for Turner Broadcasting. I never was too impressed with their operation. Vince called me. JJ Dillon had just gone to the WWE. And JJ called me. He said, 'Vince wants to talk to you.' I said, 'you've got to be kidding me.' He said, 'no, he wants to talk to you.' So Vince called. Set up and I went to see him and, keep in mind, Raj, I had been working for a very small, family-run operation, and I went to the WWE and I saw that operation.
"It just blew my mind, so I naturally jumped thinking that I was going to stay in the WWE, really, for the rest of my career. But it didn't turn out that way. But that's why I jumped. Jim Herd had taken over WCW. I met with him and I didn't really like him, not on a personal level. I had gone out with Jim Herd a couple of times since then and really enjoyed his company. But I just didn't like Turner taking over wrestling. And I think, I was right, eventually! I just didn't think they'd do a good job of promoting professional wrestling, and so I went with a wrestling company back then that I thought could do it, and, of course, they did.
What ultimately made you decide to jump back to WCW?
"They called me about a year later and offered me incredible money. And I had five kids and they were five very young kids at the time. It was '89 or '90, so my oldest was seven, and I had a daughter, five, a son, four, and twins, two. Very young family. We couldn't afford, even though Vince was paying me a very good salary, we could not afford to live up there, as far as buying a house. It was just, the real estate up there was just incredible. And I was offered a lot more money to come back. My wife, she said it was my decision and she's right. She didn't force me to, but she always wanted to move back to the south, so I made that decision. And I agonized over that decision for a long, long time. I did one of those things where I wrote down on a piece of paper, on a tablet, the pros and cons and agonized on it for a long time before I finally made the decision to go back. It was purely financial and I really… I still regret that move, to be honest with you."
"I really enjoyed working there. Yeah."
How was it working with Vince?
"He was great. He was demanding. He was tough. But he loved the business and you could tell. He cared about it. He ran very organized meetings. He and his wife, Linda, were very good to me and very good to my family. And I remember one of the things when I told him I was going back to WCW, he said, 'do you think the people at WCW are going to care for your family like we have?' I didn't have an answer to that and the answer is 'no'.
"They were good, so from what I'm telling you, you're probably thinking, 'man, that was a really dumb move.' But we came back here to the south; we've had a great life here; kids have gone on to college here at the University of Georgia; I've made some great friends; I've made some inroads; I've got some great jobs I'm working on. So for the family life and everything, it was a great decision. Professionally, I probably should have stayed where I was. It was a good place to work.
When you did go back to WCW, were you happy with your decision at first?
"No, no, not at all. I cried I laid in the family room and cried and my wife said, 'what's wrong?' I said, 'man, I've made a terrible decision,' so I called Vince back and I didn't speak to Vince. I spoke to Emily, who was his secretary at the time. And I said, 'you tell Vince I want to come back. I've made a terrible decision.' And I say that because I went back to WCW and it was still a very small promotion at that time. It was just a step up from Jim Crockett Promotions, very small. The facilities weren't anything like what Vince had and I just think I made a horrible move. So I called and Emily said, 'well, we'll get back in touch with you' and she called me back and said, 'Vince said, 'you don't want to move your family back up here a second time. That's not right. Stay there.'' So I did.
"Vince and I talked a couple of times after that. He has always taken my call, at least he did through, I guess, through the 90s when I've called him, so we've had a pretty good relationship. But I thought at first that it was terrible, but I hung in there. And, of course, after that we started to do very, very well and my money continued to rise up and I made a very good living, living in the south, and being able to buy a house."
When was that point when you thought, 'okay, this move is going to work out'? Was it when [Eric] Bischoff brought in [Hulk] Hogan or did it take a while? When did you really start to feel that there was some growth coming along?
"I think you're exactly right. I think it was when Hogan came aboard. I think the numbers, although I don't know the buyrates for the pay-per-views prior to Hogan and after, but I do know from what I heard that the buyrates after we got Hogan skyrocketed from what we were doing prior to that. So I think when Eric brought in Hogan, which I guess was the summertime of '94, I think I knew that we were on the right road. I knew we were on the right road when Eric took the job because Eric and I were friendly, and I knew Eric had a purpose about him, a vision, if I could use that well-worn term, about what he wanted and I felt very comfortable that he was going to do that. He was a very smart, very shrewd guy. And, gee wiz, look what WCW did with him at the helm. We had never done that business before and, obviously, we'd never do it again."
You called Hogan's, pretty much most of his WCW matches. His first match, he came in and faced Ric Flair, it's amazing they didn't do that match on pay-per-view in the WWF.
"I agree. I agree. I remember when Flair went there that they should have built this up as the biggest pay-per-view ever, and they didn't! So yeah, I got to call that. I guess it was from the Orlando Arena that I called that, which, ironically, was the same place where I did Royal Rumble of 1990, if I remember correctly.
"I don't remember a lot about that match. I just remember the reception that night, and, of course, Shaq walking out with Hogan. And, see, that told me too because all the years prior to Hogan arriving, from when I first came back to WCW in 1990 until that time, 1994, we certainly attempted to be a kind of a crossover promotion, in other words, have celebrities from other walks, be it sports, or movies, or whatever get involved in us. We tried very hard. Now that we had Hogan, it was easy. So I think I realized that we had become really a big-time national promotion with Hogan in our camp."
You mentioned Shaq. I don't know how much you're following the current product, but Shaq is supposed to be wrestling at WrestleMania against The Big Show.
"Wow! Well, I'm sure it's not the same Shaq that came out with Hogan!
"But I'm not really watching [the current product] that much. I did watch Royal Rumble, so I started to watch it again and it has piqued my interest. And so, yeah, The Big Show and Shaq should be tremendous. I'm really looking forward to WrestleMania weekend. I'm going to get a little bit of money, and, obviously, that's part of what I'm doing, but just being able to see people I haven't seen in a long, long, long time is going to be wonderful. I'm really looking forward to that."
Yeah, wrestling fans haven't been able to see you much. You'll be at WrestleCon during WrestleMania weekend, correct?
"That's correct. We'll be there. That's all I can tell you right now. I guess you can go to the WrestleCon website and they'll have more about it."
Obviously, the Monday Night Wars, everyone's curious about that. With your podcast, What Happened When? on MLW Radio, how is it to look back now on that time period?
"Well, it's odd because I very much do not like Monday morning quarterbacking. I don't like it. I mean, the Falcons recently just lost the Super Bowl and every Monday morning quarterback is talking about the Falcons not running the ball, and throwing the ball to Kyle Shanahan, and all of that stuff. That's so easy to do and I traveled with sports teams and I know that talk is cheap. So I feel kind of odd doing it because here we are 20 years later, and, to be honest with you, Raj, some of those things I don't remember. We did so much stuff. And when Nitro took the air, I was just an announcer. I wasn't a producer, so I didn't get involved in some of that stuff, some of the behind-the-scenes stuff from that show. I did produce Saturday Night.
"I did produce WorldWide. I was a producer on those shows and those were shows that were basically pretaped, that we kind of put together. But looking back on the shows, it's kind of odd. Now, I watched Souled Out because, according to Conrad, and Conrad does a heck of a lot, Conrad Thompson, is the workhorse behind all of this. I owe him a lot. He did a lot of a work and he came up with this whole thing about Souled Out and I read over all of the notes that he said. And we went for it and I said, 'wait a minute, I've got to watch Souled Out first to see if it is as bad as everyone says it was' because I guess everyone, not everyone, but I guess a lot of people said it was the worst pay-per-view ever. Well, about seven minutes into that I realized, 'well, this is not good.'
"But again, it's Monday morning quarterbacking to sit back and look because I thought that the open was too long. And I think as we finished it up, and we're looking back at it some 20 years later, an all heel pay-per-view, with the announcers being heels, the referee being a heel, just does not work in the context of what wrestling is about, which is good against bad. So that's one of the reasons I think people didn't like it. There's a lot of good things in that pay-per-view, but there were more bad things than good. And, gee wiz, as we go along with our What Happened When? on Mondays, I'm sure we're going to find a lot more wrong in events, which is kind of odd.
"I work for… one of my jobs here in Atlanta is working for a radio station, 92.9 The Game. It's the number one sports radio station in town, got good people, and they were talking to me. They said, 'do you want to do a show, a talk show?' and they didn't say, 'wrestling'. They just said, 'do a talk show' and I said, 'no, I don't' because I don't like sports talk that well because I don't always agree with these guys. They make me mad giving their opinions and I don't think I would be a good guy doing that because I would feel kind of uncomfortable making opinions on these great athletes. So I said, 'you've got good sports talk guys' and they just had like an anchor, like on ESPN, where their SportsCenter breaks to ESPN Radio, so I do the anchor sometimes and I do some writing for their website, so I'm very much not into that. But who knows? I get involved in this. The first two podcasts have been phenomenal. The first one was number two on iTunes sports downloaded that week. It was unbelievable. I didn't even think we'd get anywhere near this. I didn't know what we could do, but Conrad was pretty optimistic. And so we're going to try and forge ahead and keep the momentum up."
It is a really entertaining podcast. I've been a wrestling fan since the 80s and I was starting to lose interest in the early 90s, and then, the Monday Night Wars really piqued my interest and got me to create this website. With the Monday Night Wars, in my opinion, one of the biggest nights in pro wrestling history was Bash At The Beach '96, when Hogan turned heel and joined the nWo. What do you remember from that night? Did you know… did you have any idea that Hogan was going to be turning heel that night?
"I knew that, and again, I'm racking my brain, I knew that there was a chance. And I also remember that he had to be talked into it because I think at that point we had realized that Hogan, at that time, had complete control over his character, so I believe, if I am right, I was thinking Hogan was going to come out, but I wasn't sure. So I was kind of surprised. I think, from what I've heard, and you may have heard this more than I have, I think that whole night was just to sell him on doing it.
"But it was a heck of a scene, if you recall, with all that trash being thrown in the ring and everything. And he cut a heck of a heel promo. It was good. It was a good night. So I think, if I recall, I thought that's what would happen, but I don't think anyone was really, really sure."
That night, the reaction, was something unlike… I don't think we've seen anything like that, at least on the big scale, WWE or WCW, since that night."
"Yeah. The thing, you know, the business is not what it used to be. I mean, it's full disclosure on our podcast now and even when I'm watching Royal Rumble the other night, I'm thinking, 'we know what's going on, and we know it's all preplanned now, we know it's all a work, what are the fans reacting to? Are they reacting to good booking? Are they reacting to high spots? Are they reacting to good storylines?' I'm not sure. But the heat that was generated back then, we're not going to see again because the business is not what it was. It could be, you may think the business is good or better or worse than it used to be. It's not the same. Nothing's the same.
"Television's not the same. There's so many things that you can tune into. My wife and I spend most of our time watching shows on Netflix. So all crowding around a live wrestling show now is not what it used to be."
How was it working with Bobby Heenan during the Monday Night Wars?
"He was phenomenal. Bobby was, and probably still is, one of the funniest men alive. He kept us always laughing from the time we got off the air, till the time we ran to the rental car, to the time we would go to the next house, we would drive to the next show, he was a comedian. He was tremendous to work with. He would do anything and all and was a pleasure to work with. I remember one time, we, Heenan and I, did this thing, and [Mike] Tenay, and then, Lee Marshall, and all of us working on Nitro back then, we'd do this thing where we would, we would get dressed, this would be late in the evening, late in the day after we had our meetings and went over all of our stuff, we'd get dressed, put our makeup on, and we would load up the rental car, and then, as soon as we went dark, we sprinted - sprinted - to the car, hopped in the car, and we'd get out before the crowd. And it worked.
"I remember, one time, I had read somewhere, it was in one of the sheets that a fan had said that somebody had got hurt and a fan had written that, apparently, the injury was very serious because Schiavone, Heenan, and Tenay were running to the back after it was over to see how he was. Naw, we were running to our rental car, bud. And I thought Heenan was entertaining, did a lot of stunts for us out of the ring. There I saw recently someone had sent me, I don't know if it was on Twitter or a link to a YouTube thing where when Scott Steiner came out, Heenan was trying to jump over the desk and got his foot caught, okay? He just did stuff like that all the time. He was tremendous. He was wonderful."
There were rumors that you and Bobby had heat. Was that an exaggerated or was that something that got worked out?
"No, that got worked out. We did have heat. It was, Bobby got fired. I handled it the wrong way because I was Bobby's… actually, I was in charge of all the announcers for WCW. Now, Raj, when I was in charge of all the announcers in WCW, that means I just approved all their expense reports. That's all. But they would just pawn it off on me. And Heenan got fired and when Heenan got fired, I got a call from Craig Leathers that day at my house because I wasn't at the office. Craig said, 'we just fired Heenan' and this was, they fired him because they were cutting back, cutting back, cutting back, and he said, 'you're probably going to get a call from Bobby, but as your supervisor, I want to tell you, do not take that call. Do not talk to him.' And I said, 'What? What do you mean?' And he said, 'well, he has threatened a lawsuit, so don't talk to him.' I said, 'okay. I won't.' Well, me being a good worker and a company guy, I didn't call him. I should have told Craig, 'okay, I won't call him' and turned around and still called him as a friend. And he was very angry about that and said some very unkind things about me, some of which are not true, and I understand his anger. But years later, we were doing a video game together in Cincinnati, a video game for which none of us got paid for, and we mended our ways. But he did say to me upon parting, he said, 'I'm glad all of this got worked out - call me sometimes'. I said, 'okay, I will.' And I didn't and he probably got mad at me again because Heenan was always one of those guys who wanted to hear from his friends. He'd call you and want you to call him. I did't call him. And, of course, I understand how ill he has been as of late, so that's kind of, in a nutshell, the story with me and Heenan.
"It was my fault I didn't call him and he was very angry with me and had a right to be because I should have told Craig, 'I won't call him' and still called him and told Craig, 'yeah, I didn't call him.'
It has got to be a tough job in that position backstage, because you were working in the office as well, right?
"Yeah, right. Well, I was a producer, again, on WorldWide and WCW Saturday Night, responsible to make sure those shows were formatted and make sure they were put together. And, yeah, it was tough. And then, Heenan moved. Heenan moved from Florida to here in Atlanta and he'd lived like three miles from me, from us. We went over there one New Year's Eve and that was it. We never, I never, went back. And he even told me that, 'you lived three miles from me. You never called me. You never came to see me.' Yeah, he's right. I'm an odd person like that, I really am. I'm not good at… I'm not good at following up on relationships. I'm not good at keeping touch with old friends. I'm not. I'm not good at that. I wish I was, but I'm not."
You can listen to Schiavone on the What Happened When? podcast on MLW Radio, with new episodes dropping every Monday. The latest episode features 2017 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Diamond Dallas Page, you can listen to it by clicking here. Make sure to check back next week where Schiavone discussed WCW going off the rails, if Eric Bischoff changed during his time there, WCW being sold to WWF for $2.2 million, what the last night in WCW was like, working for Bischoff vs. Vince, CM Punk, his TNA run and why it was so short, Vince Russo and much more.