The "television boom" in professional wrestling didn't spark immediately. In fact, while
wrestling was seen as a positive form of entertainment on newly developing TV stations, it
wasn't extraordinarily popular during the 1946-'48 time-period. Promoters were still trying
to figure out how to use TV to their advantage, and pulling out of the depression
wrestling had been seeing was a very difficult chore.
In Chicago, for instance, wrestling on television debut on July 10, 1946 on WBKB from
the Rainbo Arena, and promoted by Fred Kohler. Technical problems hindered the
broadcast and after a month, it was taken off the air until the problem was fixed. WBKB
was a staunch supporter of pro wrestling and began offering Kohler's Monday Midway
Arena program, and because there were so few other programs available on the new
medium, wrestling was seen as a cost effective way to provide amusing content.
Kohler saw gate receipts for his live events double, and considered television the reason.
WGN, when it began broadcasting in April 1948, had wrestling on its schedule from the
beginning, showing a live program from the Madison Athletic Club with Jack Brickhouse
behind the microphone. Yet another program from Chicago was featured, this one from
the Rainbo Arena and broadcast across the ABC TV Network, making it one of the very
first national wrestling programs.
Soon thereafter, the DuMont Network's interest in Kohler's product intensified. Having
made impressive gains with his wrestling show on ABC, Kohler was a hot commodity, and
when DuMont executives decided to schedule a weekly show, the Chicago promoter was
the obvious choice. Since Kohler was a leading booking agent and member of the
National Wrestling Alliance, he had access to many wrestlers to fill his various TV and live
programs, and could feature the top names in the sport. To the DuMont Network,
Kohler's position in the wrestling business was an attractive part of the deal, and his
knowledge of TV and promotions made him an important figure in the growing TV arena.
The DuMont show debut on Saturday, September 17, 1949 from the Marigold Arena in
Chicago and the first main event was the Schnabels against Benito Gardini and Rudy
Kay. It was seen in New York City on WABD and a week later debut in Boston on WNAC.
Before long, it was shown on numerous DuMont affiliates from St. Louis to Buffalo. For
this period of time, between September and around December 1949, Kohler was the
force behind two semi-national television programs.
The importance of the DuMont show in professional wrestling cannot be understated. It
was the most significant wrestling program on television, at any point, in the 1940s and
'50s. Spotlighting amazing talent, colorful commentary and awe-inspiring action, the
program was addicting to television viewers home (or in front of store windows, at
bars...etc.) on Saturday evenings. By 1953, Kohler was making more than $50,000 a
year because of the DuMont show alone.
The popularity of the DuMont program created a demand for the wrestlers shown in the
cities the show was featured in. That meant local NWA bookers wanted Kohler's talent,
and to protect his interests, and cut him into the money to be made from out-of-town
bookings, Kohler inked his wrestlers into exclusive contracts. That meant that Kohler
received money from a wrestler's earnings when the wrestler was in another territory
being booked by another NWA member. But the earnings for those same wrestlers
increased measurably because they had been featured on the DuMont telecast. In the
promotion for their appearances, it was noted that the "TV Wrestling Stars" were going to
be in town, and fans did pour into arenas to see them live.
An example of how much a wrestler's pay increased because of being featured on
Kohler's DuMont show can be shown by looking at Sonny Myers' annual income for years
1952 and 1953. Beginning in late November 1952, when he signed an official agreement
with Jim Barnett, representing Kohler, Myers was featured on the DuMont network and
worked the circuit as a "TV Star." In 1952, without the kind of exposure he received the
next year on television, he made only $11,000. The next year, he made over $18,000.
And there were other wrestlers who did much better than that.
The March 23, 1955 edition of the Ames Daily Tribune (Ames, IA) stated that the DuMont
Network cancelled live Saturday telecasts of the Marigold Arena shows from Chicago
"several months ago." DuMont continued to carry wrestling on film in some markets,
including on WOI (channel 5) in Iowa, but that was also cancelled.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
December 18, 2010
|DuMont Television Wrestling Show from Chicago