I had the opportunity to speak with legendary wrestling journalist Bill Apter in promotion of his successful new book, Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken! Apter talks about why he left Pro Wrestling Illustrated, interacting with Vince McMahon, and much more.
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Why did you leave the Apter Mags?
"The business was changing. Paul Heyman and Taz were doing ECW magazine with the same company that did WOW magazine. They told WOW that if they didn't have Bill Apter, they didn't have a magazine. Blake Norton was the editor, and I got a call one day for a lot of money to be the editor of WOW. I didn't know if I wanted to leave my family at the magazines. They weren't under the same ownership anymore though. They went from Stanley Weston to Nick Karabots, a great man, but he was a publisher with no feel for the wrestling business. I went into editor-in-chief Stu Saks' office one day and said WOW magazine called me. They wanted to fly me out and talk to me, and were going to offer me a lot of money, so I was going to listen. Stu asked if I was leaving, and I said no, but I was going to listen. I went there, they treated me great, and said I could have anything I want and I could be in charge of the magazine. I went back and said I couldn't do it. Then they offered me a $25,000 signing bonus. The business was changing. Fans were becoming smarter to the business. Craig Peters, who left to manage Ringling Brothers, said to me that at my age was a great time to start a new career, so I did it."
I thought that magazine was awesome. Really provocative, full-color, vivid stuff.
"WWE hated it. It was going head-to-head with them on the newsstands and it looked better than theirs. Also the publisher was paying their wrestlers to be on the cover. Nobody else had done that. They weren't going through the WWF to do that, they were contacting the wrestlers on their own. They were like outlaws of wrestling magazines. I remember seeing Linda McMahon at an event, and she said that if I went to them, I was still family, but they wouldn't be able to help me. So I became an outlaw."
WOW Magazine ended in 2001. What was your reaction to that happening, and why did it go down?
"They were having financial problems within the company there. I was crushed. I signed a three year contract, and the middle of year two they were running out of money. I knew it was happening, because I would take out wrestlers on their credit card and it was bouncing back. Then they put a penis enlargement ad in the magazine. I was like 'you can't do this,' and they said we needed the money. They were having issues with some of their other magazines. They had Beanie Baby magazines and a lot of teen magazines that had posters that maybe they should have got licensing for. I don't know, I'm not a legal person. They were eventually gone. The company in England that was producing WOW in England came up with POW- Power of Wrestling, which sounded like a copycat, so they had to change it. They were putting out things like Total Electronics, so Steve May said they should call it Total Wrestling. That lasted about two and a half years.
"During that period where there were no magazines at all for me, my wife reminded me that we have a mortgage to pay. Car payments, kids. She said I needed to go down to a employment center downtown. I said 'I can't, people know me,' and she said 'well, what are we going to do?' So I went to career link, and the woman asked me what kind of work I'd done. I told her that I'd taken pictures and wrote about half naked men in their bathing suits making like they're beating each other up, and she said 'oh, you're in wreslting? My husband made 300 t-shirts for a local wrestler, and he never paid, do you know this guy?' I did very well. I told her I could get the money, and she told me the next day they were having a job fair for non-profit companies. I got her the money, one call was all it took. I went back, and this company, AHEDD, was a group that helped people with disabilities get quality employment. I've been doing that for nine years outside pro wrestling. It's every level of disability, physical and mental. A couple of years ago I invited Wiseguy Jimmy Cicero and his wife, who have two autistic children, to be the keynote speakers. It was great because both of my worlds were together. I love what I do. I get up every day wondering what's new in the wrestling world, and who's life I'm going to change. When someone like that gets a job, it trickles down to their family and you're changing lives in a positive way."
How did you get Jerry Lawler to write the foreword?
"It was just one call, and it was like 'yeah, of course I'll do it.'
Is that something he has to clear with WWE?
"I never asked him. He wrote the foreword and Joey Styles wrote the backword. He works for WWE, and I helped him get into the business. I asked him and he said 'absolutely.'
You've been at 1Wrestling for a while, when did that start?
"I started 1Wrestling when I was working with Total Wrestling, and there was no issue with doing freelance, even though I was making salary from them. When that all collapsed, Joey Styles and his partner hired me. I've been doing it ever since. I've also put a bunch of audio tapes up, because I have all these classic cassette tapes that WWE is borrowing to see if they can use any of it for the old school documentaries now. I have Buddy Rogers life story from 1979."
That had to be one of the first shoot interviews, right?
"The first one I ever did was with Bruno Sammartino, he was very hot about a life story that came out that was wrong. I did a shoot interview, and it was probably the first ever. That started my fabulous relationship with Bruno that continues to this day. I just called him recently on his 80th birthday. "
What are you most excited for people to learn about you in this book?
"All of the other things I've done besides wrestling. The things in boxing, country music, entertaining at senior homes. The other things I've done. How I got into the wrestling business, which nobody can get into it that way now because the territories don't exist anymore."
You mentioned that you were on the outs with WWE for a long time. Did you interact with Vince McMahon at all during that period?
"Oh yeah. I'd see him in hotels, they were always pleasant with me. You'd never know there were any issues with me as long as I wasn't in there shooting pictures. I was sending people, but it would be embarrassing for them and me if they had me thrown out."
How has the photography end changed?
"Well Stu Saks and the magazine from Japan are still there for spot shows, but nobody's around the ring anymore on TV. When they went to HD the producers said nobody else except for their own guys."
How did the PWI Scouting Report on WCW TV happen?
"What a great question. I was down in Jim Crockett's territory a lot. I never was paid by them, never worked for them. Everybody said 'Oh, Apter's putting Dusty number one because they're paying him!' Dusty sold magazines. That was the key to this thing, selling magazines for the publisher. I get a steady salary, but the publisher is interested in selling magazines. You don't put just anyone on the cover because his relatives will buy it.
"Jim Crockett liked me a lot. During the magazine wars, we took the world championship recognition away from the WWF. The NWA was the world title, and the AWA title. Ole Anderson, who I loved, put me and Craig Peters on TV at times in Georgia to do press conferences. One day Crockett called me and said 'I know you want to be on TV, and we'll be on TBS soon and need content. What if I put you on and give you a magazine segment for about 15 minutes or so each week? I said 'let me think about it,' called the boss and said 'please let me do this.'
Could you imagine WWE Raw giving WrestlingInc or 1Wrestling a 15 minute plug on their show?
"Sometimes people didn't associate it with the magazines, it was starting to get me over. We did one after Magnum TA slapped Bob Geigel. I got Magnum on and asked why he did it, and he took the microphone, threw it and walked off. That week we started to get hundreds of letters from people wanting to kill me. They were that hot. We were getting letters saying people would kill me if I showed up in Philadelphia at the Great American Bash. I went to the Bash and asked some of the bad guys what to do when I got death threats, they said when you start getting booed, go over, smile and shake their hands. I came out of the dugout and you'd hear people say 'Apter sucks' or 'Apter's a bum.' I went over and asked how they were doing and they'd tell me they loved the thing with Magnum TA. Go figure. "
Is Bill Apter a Juggalo? I remember seeing that you were booked at ICP's Gathering of the Juggalos.
"Well you know I'm a rapper. I take old songs when I'm entertaining at retirement homes and turn Sinatra songs into rap songs. They love it. So anyway, they picked me up at about 3:30 from the airport, I had a tux on and they wanted me to do a few interviews. They said they didn't know how long I was going to last. I thought 'Oh, good. I'm going to die here, but look at all of these great people.' They had not booked me a hotel there, they wanted to get me in and out, but the last flight out was like 9 o'clock. So I missed the whole show. I did my interviews with Tito Santana and Terry Funk, they paid me graciously. Down in Apter's Alley, I have a Juggalo jersey with my name on it. They treat people great, I was thrilled to be there. I didn't smoke anything there though. I drank orange soda, though."
Tell the fans where they can buy your book, and where they can follow you on social media, as well as any upcoming appearances you have.
"Twitter is Apter1Wrestling, there's no 'n' in my name! Dusty used to call me 'Willie Aptner,' but there's no 'n!" 1wrestling.com, of course. I'll be honored by Southern Illinois Championship Wrestling soon, where I'll be inducted into the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame, depending on when you're reading this. November 7 & 8 I'll be at Comic Con in Brighton, England, signing books and photos. November 15 I'll be back in New York City for The Big Event, go to BigEventNewYork.com for more info. The 28th of November, WrestleCade in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I'm never going to retire, I'm more active now than I was in my active days."