During the infancy of that "fad" (some claimed) called television, a station employee was often called on to wear many hats. In one day, he might have covered a news story (shooting his own film footage—and it was real film in those days), be the on-air weatherman, and then in the early evening, host a prime-time movie.
Part of the job.
Bill Ward in 1990 on Fred Kirby's
80th Birthday Special
One such employee at WBTV (the first commercial TV station in both Carolinas) was a man named Bill Ward, or as he was known on the air, "Big" Bill Ward.
My earliest memory of Big Bill is his hosting a children's show on WBTV called "Big Bill's Clubhouse." The show would open with children squeezing through a loose board of a fence and running into the clubhouse. Big Bill would try to get through the fence as well, but was unsuccessful due to his girth. He would smile at the camera and walk around the fence.
Later he was part of an ensemble WBTV cast on a one-hour weekday afternoon program called "Three Ring Circus." Big Bill was the ring announcer in a cast that included singing cowboy Fred Kirby; that man of many talents Jim Patterson as Bozo the Clown; and magician Phil Morris, who was also the station's Dr. Evil, host of Friday night's "Shock Theatre" movie presentation. (Today, Phil is known world-wide and owns Morris Costumes in Charlotte). Children filled the bleachers of the circus set and film features included made-for-TV Mr. Magoo cartoons.
Mr. Ward was also the station's Sports Director (if that title was used in the 1950's), and every weeknight at 6:25 p.m. following the 6:00 broadcast of "The Amos 'n' Andy Show" (pulled from circulation in 1966), he gave a five-minute sports broadcast called "Big Bill's Sports Beat." This was followed by a fifteen-minute news/weather program with Doug Mayes and Clyde "Cloudy" McLean.
Bill probably had other duties at WBTV (the memories of which have evaporated from my brain cells), but his most well-known job in Charlotte television had to be the long-time host of "Championship Wrestling," provided to the station by Jim Crockett Promotions. It aired every Saturday afternoon in the vicinity of 4:00-6:00 p.m (the time slot changed throughout the years). At the onset, the show was actually called "Live Championship Wrestling," and was broadcast live on Saturdays. Later, with the advent of video tape, they recorded the show on Wednesday nights at WBTV in front of what Bill always called "a very enthusiastic audience" for broadcast three days later.
I was in the audience around six times during 1965-67.
The original ring announcer, I believe, was Leo Bost, later former wrestler George Harbin. Sponsors I recall, through the years, were Baxter Clothes and Charlotte Chrysler-Plymouth. Bill always announced that viewers could drop by the National Hat Shop in downtown Charlotte on Mondays, and Jim Crockett would give out free tickets to that night's show at Park Center. Fans could also see Big Jim at Park Center on Monday nights for free tickets to the TV taping at WBTV two night later.
The program usually followed the same format. After the opening and welcome by Big Bill, a commercial. Then it was to Bill's announcing table (desk). A poster of the upcoming Park Center card was on the front of the table. Bill would go over the card (sometimes with Big Jim Crockett's participation), then up to the ring for the first match. There would either be two one-fall single matches followed by a two-out-of-three fall tag team match, or there would be two two-of-three tag matches. Participates of the upcoming Park Center show would be involved in most of the matches. Bill would interview the winners of the TV matches at ringside following their bouts. Often, pandimonium would break loose at this time, with Big Bill heading for cover.
Bill's knowledge of wrestling holds and maneuvers was limited (he wasn't Gordon Solie for sure), but his down-to-earth, homey approach got him through each show. Bill always would read a list of names of folks who faithfully watched the show and those who couldn't get out to the live matches (he referred to them as "shut-ins.") Acknowledgment was given on-air to the various Boy Scout, Sunday School, and other groups and individuals in attendance for the tapings. And he would send out birthday wishes of the week to the wrestling fans who had sent in their names.
During a period of the 1960s, the sponsor, Charlotte Chrysler-Plymouth furnished Bill with a Plymouth Barracuda which he drove all around the Charlotte area. It was lettered Big Bill's Barracuda across the car's large back glass (remember those?). Bill would make appearances at the car dealership and, on the air, invited his friends to drop by the Service Department to see him.
Following the final interview at ringside every week, Bill would close the show by reminding the viewers to "Take an hour or two out for Sunday School and Church tomorrow." (Imagine doing that today!)
The last time I saw Big Bill was on a special WBTV program honoring singing cowboy Fred Kirby's 80th birthday in 1990.
Big Bill Ward has passed away, but viewers of WBTV and fans of "Championship Wrestling will never forget having the big guy coming into our homes every Saturday afternoon to call the action of the Scott Bros., Becker & Weaver, Bogni & Lubich, Rip & Swede, the Bolos, the Infernos and hundreds more.
So, until next time, using Big Bill's trademark curtain line—"Be good sports wherever you go."
This article is part of a larger feature by Mike Cline that appears on Dick Bourne's Mid-Atlantic Gateway. Our thanks to Mike for sharing his work with readers of BT Memories.