In previous posts I have talked about some of my favorite wrestlers and matches, but this week I thought I would give kudos to the unsung heroes of professional wrestling: the announcers. Because pro wrestling is so story-driven, it is crucial to have announcers who can help viewers make sense of the narrative the wrestlers are creating. Of course, it is ultimately up to the guys in the ring to get the story over, but the announcers calling the action are absolutely essential in making sure the viewers know what to pick up on.
There have been some great announcers through the years. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were outstanding, as was Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse the Body Ventura. Of all the WWF teams, my favorite was Gorilla and Bobby the Brain Heenan. There was tangible personal chemistry between the two guys, and they were both hilarious.
Dating back even further, Gordon Solie was a mainstay on Georgia Championship Wrestling (the first wrestling program to have national appeal due to TBS), as well as Florida Championship Wrestling. Many of Solie's phrases are now commonplace, such as "the crimson mask" of blood.
But my favorite announcing team of all time was (predictably) the one I grew up with watching Memphis wrestling, Lance Russell and Dave Brown. Both men were well established professionals in the TV industry in Memphis (Russell as a program director and Brown as a weatherman), so they brought an air of (ahem) legitimacy to the crazy world of wrestling. But there was an easy chemistry between the two, and unlike more recent announcers who play the role of "good guy" or "bad guy" announcers, Lance and Dave were there to call the action as just announcers.
Lance was usually the play-by-play man, and his work was exceptional. I think I know enough about communication and enough about sports to say that Lance could have been a GREAT play-by-play announcer for any sport. His relaxed, non-technical but highly descriptive calls, his command of the English language, and his instinct for what was important to communicate, were simply impeccable.
Lance is retired and lives in Florida now. In a couple of weeks he will turn 87 (wow am I getting old!). I think Dave Brown still works as a meteorologist in Memphis, and still commands tremendous respect (and considering the kind of business pro wrestling is, that says a lot about him!).
Here is a simple clip of the start of an episode of Championship Wrestling which gives you an idea of the great work these guys did week after week and year after year.