As noted, 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 Schiavone and Conrad Thompson talking about the historic and tragic final WCW Monday Nitro from March 2001, you can listen to it by clicking here.
In the second and final part of the interview below, 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.
Part one of the interview with Schiavone is here, where 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.
You went back to WCW in 1990 and were there until the end. When did you start feel like things started to kind of go off the rails?
"Well, I guess it's about the time, and we were talking about this on our recent podcast, it was about the time that we had Hogan and The Giant in a Monday Nitro main event, and we were promoting Robin Hood on TNT, and we let fans know that they would be able to watch the remainder of the match during the commercial breaks. And, again, once what we sent them, the footage we sent them, we had no control about what they were going to air. But, I think at the end of it, Raj, it all came across being very, very bad. And I think I knew we were really going in the wrong direction at that time.
"And, of course, that… we still had some good years after that. Don't get me wrong. But I got the feeling that decisions were being made, and I know Eric can speak on this more than I can because he was right in the middle of it, I got the feeling decisions were being made by people above Eric in Turner Broadcasting that was not for the best of the company and that made me feel that we were going in the wrong direction.
"I mean, to put it bluntly, I thought Eric knew what he was doing and I thought Eric could do a lot more. But every time we had a little bit of success, the people above him got involved in it and screwed it up. I mean, there was rumors that Eric had a deal with us to be on NBC. And Turner screwed that up."
Yeah, that would've been big. I believe that was during the NBA strike."
"I believe so, yeah."
Do you, did Eric change much from when you first started working with him till the end because you'd hear stories about him getting harder to work with?
"Yes, he did, but… and I told him he would be. I said, 'you're going to change.' I remember when he got the job and we shook hands and we talked for a long time. I said, 'you're going to change.' He said, 'naw.' I said, 'yeah, you're going to have to change because you're going to be the boss now.' And he did. And, but, he and I always kind of had the same relationship. He would jump on me. And I remember when he would jump on me at meetings, he would apologize to me later. Look, Raj, I had my most profitable years, and if you consider what I had a run, my best run was with Eric running the company. He trusted me to do a lot of stuff. So I have no problem with him."
When he was taken out of power and Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara were brought in, did you think that was a mistake or were you on board?
"I remember thinking it was probably the right move because I think that Eric couldn't do what he wanted to do and was probably burned out. So, again, [I'm] a company guy, 'whatever you want guys - I'm behind you.'
Did you hear anything outside of what was kind of on the internet regarding Eric Bischoff buying WCW with Fusient?
"Yeah, I think we all thought that was going to happen."
Were you shocked when WWF bought it for $2.2 million?
"Yeah, I was."
What was your reaction to that?
"My reaction was that Jamie Kellner, was that his name, who was head of AOL at that time, should never have had another job in television. How can you sell your library for $2.5 million when, if you don't have enough foresight and vision to know that down the road, you'll be able to package it, be it CDs or digital downloaded, for multimillion dollars? How can someone be in our industry and be that stupid?
"It just blows me away only from a pure financial and business perspective. I mean, they could have said, and they didn't want to do wrestling anymore and I understand that, AOL could have said, 'we don't want to do wrestling anymore, but, by golly, we're going to keep the footage, we're going to keep the library, and we will see what we can do with it to make money.' Wow. Dumbest move ever. If he is still in the TV business, the people who hired him ought to check with some other people. I don't know what he's doing now."
What was it like backstage at that last Monday Nitro?
"I remember there was a lot of, there were a lot of girls that worked behind-the-scenes for us, they were crying when it was over and I was very relieved it was over."
"I think I was relieved because I finally knew something. I didn't know if I was going to the WWE at that time or not and I was very relieved. I still didn't know what was going to happen.
"There were a lot of people crying in the back. I don't think I saw any of the wrestlers crying or anything like that, but I remember Wendy Turner, who I called on TV all the time, Wendy Turnbuckle, who was our stage manager, she was crying. There were some other girls from marketing were crying. It was kind of surreal when the WWE came in that day. But I remember, as soon as it was over and they were all crying, I got in my car and drove and I left. [I] got away from it. I'm not a group-hug type guy. I'm not."
Did you get to interact with Shane McMahon at all?
"Yeah, just a little bit. 'Hello, how are you doing?', 'nice to see you again', and that was it. We knew what was… I kind of didn't at the time, but we knew what was going on. They were going to come in and say, 'okay, thank you, guys. Take a hike.', was basically what it was. 'We won the war.' And I think we all knew that, so I just took off."
You talked about playing Monday morning quarterback, but I think a lot of people will look back at WWF trying to relaunch WCW as just a bad idea from the beginning with what they were doing. They didn't have any of their original talent, the names, the big stars, the Goldberg's, the Hogan's, the nWo. And they didn't have you, the voice of Monday Nitro. Were you surprised that they didn't contact you when they were looking to revamp WCW?
"Kind of, but in hindsight, in hindsight, I think what we failed to take into consideration here was Vince's ego. He wanted to absolutely slam the door on Turner Broadcasting wrestling and he did. And then, in hindsight, you look back and it was the war that made us all good. It made us all great. And now, the war was gone. He won the war and he didn't give a flip about us and he wanted to drive us into the ground and he did."
It just seems that it doesn't make much sense.
" No, it doesn't make much sense at all. But, again, Monday morning quarterbacking, right? But he has done quite well with what he has done."
Now, I know you worked one year for Vince and 10 years for Bischoff, so I'm not sure if this is a fair question, but how would you compare working for the two?
"Vince was kind of more hands-on with what was going on. For instance, Vince ran, when I was there, Vince ran the meetings, ran the production meetings. Eric did not. Booking, the bookers did, so Eric kind of let the bookers do a lot of the work. I think Vince had more hands-on, or, I don't know, maybe he was more of a micromanager than Eric was. That could have been, but I would just say they both had their own way. But Eric was always there, don't get me wrong. I think he missed one pay-per-view because of some sort of meeting. But Vince was kind of like me. You went to a WWE, or back then a WWF production meeting during the day for Challenge or Superstars, and this was before RAW and all of that, there was no question who was in charge and he ran the meeting. Eric didn't do that."
Now, you said you watched the  Royal Rumble, had you been following it a bit before that or was that kind of your first jump in?
"No, it was my first jump in. The only thing I know, I knew that… well, let me say this, and I can't remember who told me this… Two things happened before the Royal Rumble with me watching wrestling. Number one, Scott Hudson got in touch with me and said, 'you're not going to believe it,' because Scott has got his ear to the ground on this good stuff, 'you're not going to believe it - Bischoff is going to be on RAW tonight.' And I went, 'holy, I've got to see that!' So I tuned it in and I saw him walk out and say something and it didn't take me long to say, 'ahh, to heck with it' and I turned it off, but I watched to see him walk out.
"And then, somebody had told me, I don't know who it was, to watch CM Punk, that he really does great old school type interviews. So I made it a point one night to watch him do an old school interview and it was tremendous. And then, I got to meet him later on because he came into one of our radio stations in Atlanta and he was promoting RAW coming to Philips Arena and I got to talk to him. And… so those are the two times it really piqued my interest. I heard about Roman Reigns because he was a Georgia Tech football player, but that has been it. I just started watching it because Conrad's my buddy now and he watched all that stuff. I've got to get back into it. I really do. I've got to get back into what's going on."
There's a lot! I mean, we're 17 years almost coming up on the last Monday Nitro. And there's more wrestling on now than almost ever. There's about, on a non-pay-per-view week, there's about 11 hours of first-run wrestling on American TV, so it's a lot.
"And how much of that is Vince?"
Probably about nine hours of that or eight hours.
"I don't see how they do it. I just don't know. But, again, there's demand out there for programming because there are a gillion, zillion stations, so you've got to come up with something."
When you met CM Punk, how was he?
"He was great! He told me, he said, 'I met you,' I guess CM Punk was a… I don't know if he was up-and-coming or just starting his career. I don't know if you remember that angle that I did for TNA, when I walked out an Tenay and I got into an argument. Apparently, CM Punk was there that night and he said, 'I was there and I was talking to you.' He said, 'you don't remember me?' I said, 'I'm sorry. I don't.' But he was great and he even tweeted out, 'big thrill today meeting Tony Schiavone' and that was a big thrill for me because he was a big star thinking I was a big thrill, that I was, that he was, that we were meeting, so he was a great kid. Most of those guys are. They really are. They're hardworking guys. They take bumps. They do whatever you want and they all thought at that time that I was important to their careers, so I guess I was. I know many thought, probably, that if I would talk… if they would be nice to me, that I would talk better about them on TV. What they didn't know was that it had no impact on it at all. It was my job to talk well about them on TV. Whether you be nice to me or not, so they were all nice to me. They were all good guys. I mean, only a handful of guys were pompous asses and I still got along with them."
You mentioned TNA and you had that promo with Vince Russo. Was that supposed to go somewhere? You were off TV pretty soon after that.
"Yep. Let me say that Vince Russo and I have always been close. Vince was a big supporter of mine, a big fan of mine, and Vince… and everybody has got a different opinion of him. People say he was a guy who helped destroy WCW. Nobody put more time and effort into those television shows, that format and organized things better than we ever had seen before at WCW. And he depended on me a lot, so I have a lot of good feelings about Vince and so I liked him a lot.
"Okay, so Vince called me. Vince called me and he said, 'I've got a thing I'd like you to do. I'd like for you to come to TNA and be a heel' and we talked about this and I said, 'alright, I'll do it.' He said, 'I'll get you a $300 payday' and I said, 'sure.' Now I was working at a radio station at that time. I think I was full-time by then. I may have not been full-time. So we drove in a van from Atlanta to Nashville. And we did our angle, and I remember Disco Inferno was with us, and a couple of the other guys. And I was talking to… I was talking to, I guess Jerry Jarrett backstage, and I listened to the announcers, and I guess it was Mike Tenay and Don West at that time.
"I listened to them scream and put over every lousy bump that I saw because it was their job. And as we're driving back, I have to drive right back to the radio station because I had an airship that started at like 4 a.m. and when I was at the radio station that day I just decided, 'I just can't do this anymore. I'm done.' And I called Vince the next day. I said, 'Vince, I love you, buddy, and I appreciate you wanting to bring me back, but I just can't. I cannot do it anymore.' And he said, 'okay' and that was it."
Is that something you would entertain today, returning to pro wrestling commentary or is that just something that's in the rearview mirror?
"Yeah, I think it's in the rearview mirror. I don't think I have the… I don't think I have the voice for it anymore. I don't know if I could bellow that stuff out like I used to. And I did get in touch with Vince recently. I wanted to be a producer. I thought the Network was phenomenal and a chance for me to go through all that old footage? Holy smokes, that'd been great. And I heard they needed a producer, but I never heard back from him.
"I got in touch with them and Kevin Dunn called me and said, 'well, we have announcers. We don't need any other. Don't take this the wrong way, but we've got announcers that we want and they're younger guys.' And I said, 'I understand. Younger guys work for a lot less and you've got some good guys.' I said, 'Kevin,' and I can't remember who all I talked to, who all I sent texts to, I said, 'I don't want to announce wrestling anymore. I want to be a producer. I want to work on The Network.'
"That's what I want to do. I want to produce. And he said, 'well, I'll get back in touch with you' and he never did. So that again tells me that… I don't know if you call that 'blacklisted' or not, but that's fine. But, again, to answer your question, I just don't know. I could probably do it again. My voice was going, Raj. It was I was screaming a lot, two hours and forty-five minutes on a pay-per-view, three hours on a Nitro, and then, taping a Thunder, about Wednesday, my voice was shot, so I don't know if I've got that in me anymore."
With your podcast that you're doing, have you thought about going back and watching some of those old Nitros on the Network?
"Oh yeah. I've got to. As we are talking right now, our next podcast is talking about the very first Nitro and I've been watching that from the Mall Of America."
That's another historic one.
"Yes, it is!"
And it really set the tone. Lex Luger coming out, yeah. Is it bittersweet kind of looking back on those or is it just a job?
"Just a job. It's not bittersweet! There are some good memories. I'm not bitter about it at all."
I guess I didn't mean it that way. Like for me, it's bittersweet watching that stuff because it was such a phenomenal time period of the business and I wish stuff like that could happen again.
"I don't wish it could happen again. I'm happy with my life. Again, the word I keep coming back to is honored to be a part of it. When people tell me, 'you were a part of my childhood,' that means a lot. That means a lot because not many people can say that. And my two oldest sons were big wrestling fans. Well, all four of my sons are wrestling fans, but my two oldest were big wrestling fans and they always say, 'you need to get back into it' and 'you need to get back into it and the first thing you need to say is 'this is the greatest night in the history of professional wrestling.'' And I tell them, I said, 'you need a freaking life.' And… but they were in that age group, so it was a big deal for their friends for us to go to the Georgia Dome, or the Philips Arena, or even we would drive out to Birmingham, and it was a big deal. We had some fond memories. I remember my three youngest boys, who right now 29, 29, and 31, when they were kids, we went to Birmingham one time and this was back, we had our meeting and everything, and they had a whole run of the arena and they jumped in the ring with The Giant and The Giant was throwing them around and everything. And it was… when I think about that, those were wonderful days.
"I miss the friends, Raj. I can tell you that. And that's one of the reasons I'm excited about WrestleCon because I've looked at the list of wrestlers, and announcers, and whatever there, and a lot of them are my friends I haven't seen in a long time."
I do got to ask you, I know you've talked about partying with Ric Flair on Jim Ross' podcast, do you have a funny story from a night you partied with Flair?
"I don't know if it's funny or not, but we were in Chicago and we were in a limousine and we were drinking heavily. And we ended up in Cicero and I just remember that it got really early morning, like 2 a.m., so it was 3 a.m. Atlanta time, and I was working for a radio station in Atlanta or in Charlotte at that time and I had to call in the sports report. Now, the way I called in my sports report, I got on the phone, the guy at the station, this is before the information age, the guy back at the station would tell me the highlights or tell me the headlines and I would write them down and I would do like a 30-second sportscast. So we were in this real shady bar and I was, like, up near a men's bathroom, on a payphone, drunk out of my freaking mind, writing down this stuff in Cicero. And I turned around and Flair had left me. Left me!
"I was alone and Bruce MacArthur, as he was always called 'The General' by Flair, half way to Chicago said, 'hey, Schiavone's not here'. And Flair said, 'he'll be okay'. He said, 'no, we've got to turn around and get him!', so they turned around and they got me. But that's one of the funnier stories that I can tell without getting myself in trouble. But I've seen Flair stand up on a bar and jump off and do a body splash onto Nikita Koloff. And, I mean, I think we all saw Flair with his pants down, eventually. And that's… we all got numb to that! We had all seen Flair naked so many times that it isn't a big deal now."
So you're back podcasting. How has the experience been? Is it pretty fun?
"Yeah, it's challenging, to be honest with you. It challenges me to remember and try to defend some of that stuff. You don't need to… Conrad really does his research. He'll come up with… like he's Perry Mason, 'Tony, how could you sit there and say this was a good pay-per-view?' So when I run out of stuff to say, I just cuss and try to make it as light and as entertaining as possible.
"You know, Raj, this all kind of stemmed back from last August. I went to the NWA fanfest in Charlotte, the old Mid-Atlantic people and everything and it was a wonderful experience. I hope to be able to go back this year. I truly enjoyed it. They had a Q&A with me and Jim Valley, and, apparently, it was a big hit. So I got to thinking, people out there don't know the real me. They just know the voice on Nitro and it's time they know exactly about me. I come from a very small town. I've traveled with sports teams my whole life. My language is colorful. That's me. That's how it is, so it has been a lot of fun. I would like to remind everyone that we download… or we download on Mondays at 6 a.m. And you can send us… we have these poll questions every week, 'what do you want to talk about next week?' It's @WHWMonday on Twitter, you can vote on next week's topic and we're on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, I Heart Play, on every platform, it's free. It's on MLWradio.com. And here's the one that blew me away: our first week, we debuted number two on iTunes' sports charts. Number two! It blew me away! I couldn't believe it!"
Wrestling fans nationwide haven't heard you on the platform for so long, since that TNA appearance and you're number two. That's fantastic.
"I don't know if we can keep up that momentum, but I can promise everyone that I will try to be irreverent, and try to be entertaining, and I will try to say exactly what I remembered, and tell stories that I can remember."
You can listen to Schiavone on the What Happened When? podcast on MLW Radio, with new episodes dropping every Monday. The latest episode features Schiavone and Conrad Thompson talking about the historic and tragic final WCW Monday Nitro from March 2001, you can listen to it by clicking here.
Click here for part one of the interview with Schiavone, where 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.