Pro Wrestling Hotline, 1980’s
Unless you were a fan in the mid 1980’s to the turn of the century, I don’t think you can fully grasp just how prevalent hotlines were in the world of professional wrestling. In the days before the world wide webs, getting wrestling news wasn’t very easy. Sure, you could hit the local Super-X and grab a copy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated (and heaven knows how many of those mags I purchased back in the day), but despite my love for them, even I will admit that they were more storyline and fantasy than anything that could tell you what was really happening behind the scenes in professional wrestling. And while the Observer and other newsletters existed, you had to be somewhat of what I would classify as an insider to even know how you could get them.
Hotlines on the other hand…they were everywhere.
There were ads for them in the aforementioned magazines certainly. Not just like one here and there, but all over the magazines, specifically in the prime locations like the back cover. Seriously, look at that one – Hulk Hogan is waiting for your call, brother! And at just $1.99 per minute, you’d almost be a Benedict Arnold of a Hulkamaniac at not risk the wrath of your parents by giving him a ring!
Other folks had their hotlines as well. I guarantee you that when I start typing 1-900-909…anyone over the age of 35 will immediately be screaming out “9900!” Yep, that was the old WCW hotline, and that thing had to have paid off Gene Okerlund’s mortgage ten times over.
Heck, even local folks would have their phone lines…including this one, that still is in existence to this very day!
That there is the DIAMOND DAN HOTTLINE. Once upon forever ago, a young heel RD was one of the options you could choose, just by pushing a digit on your touch tone phone. Think I was option 3. And get this, people could actually leave us messages too. By golly, I’ll never forget that old hag Vera leaving me this one (and even though I’ve bleeped it out, trust me, this is in no way suitable for work!).
Here’s a fun fact for you too: you know f4wonline.com, arguably the biggest wrestling site in the world? It’s run by my co-author of The Death of WCW, my friend Bryan Alvarez. He met his partner in crime, Dave Meltzer, courtesy of DAVE’S hotline.
Hopefully I’ve made my point about the importance of these silly things.
But today, we’re not here to talk Hogan or WCW or Bryan and Dave or even the Splendid Gem of Professional Wrestling. Instead, we’re going to talk about the Captain himself…
And here you thought I was going to post a picture of Mike Rotundo, half man, half boat.
No no, we need to talk about one Louis Albano.
And here I thought trying to explain the concept of a wrestling hotline was tough – how on earth do I try to explain to newer fans who…or what…Captain Lou Albano was?
The simple version, I guess, is that Lou was a wrestler in the 1950s and 1960s, transitioning to a role as a manager in the 19770s. Around the time I became a fan, he was knee deep in the legendary Rock n Wrestling connection, joined at the hip with Cyndi Lauper, Wendi Richter, and the Fabulous Moolah.
He had a pretty diverse career to say the very least. While some will recall Lou as being “The Guiding Light” of tag team champions, others may hear his name and remember his stint as one of the first live action versions of Super Mario (“Do the Mario!”).
I’ll always think of the time he was in that weird Goonies video where Nikolai Volkoff was milking a plastic cow.
Today, though, I want to tell you about how Lou was a mainstay in the hotline scene. I guess it made sense – he had ‘retired’ from the WWF at the time and he could easily use his decades of fame to make some bones while staying off the road. As Lou was blessed with the gift of gab, it was a natural fit.
While I sadly have no recordings of these old hotline calls (and there seems to be VERY few of these that ever wound up recorded from any of the numbers), finding commercials for them is no problem. No idea how many of these Lou recorded, but it seemed like dozens of them. Either they were super cheap to produce or Lou was making so much fat cash on the phone that he had money to burn.
So let’s go through my some of those old commercials- pretty sure they will give you an idea of what kind of lunacy you were going to hear.
Wait, did I say lunacy?
I meant LOUnacy!
Before we hit the more famous hotlines, here’s a very early one the Captain did on WWF television. I note that because the vast majority of these were not approved by the WWF. This one somehow did make the cut, likely because, bizarrely enough, the guy barely mentions wrestling at all.
Instead, it’s all about safety…BICYCLE SAFETY. Lou rides in on one in fact! The fact his first foray into making money in this manner consisted of lecturing wrestling fans to properly inspect their bikes kinda blows my mind.
But from now on, I promise you – any time I lubricate a bicycle chain, I’ll be doing so with rubber bands in my beard!
Lou obviously saw the cash coming in and soon enough the “Guiding Light” retired from the WWF, diving headfirst into the hotline business. And let me tell ya, he went in guns a blazin!
So much so in fact, that he created what appears to be a five square foot wood paneled headquarters, a LAIR if you will, he dubbed WRESTLING CENTRAL. In this epitome of a three ring circus, we get not only the hottest gossip, but also slide whistles, phones ringing, dot matrixes printing, you name it!
Listen closely and you’ll hear a theremin!
Indeed as the Captain says – your friends will want to know how you got so “wrestling smart”!
I can only surmise that rent at Wrestling Central got too pricey, as in our next advert we just get Lou at a desk manning approximately 37 phones at once. Hands off screen throw various items at the Captain, including but not limited to folders, envelopes, and even more phones.
It’s enough to drive a man to pitch shift his voice!
Not only that, but now we learn that Lou sometimes has special guests on the line. The mind whirls at just who that non-mentioned wrestling celebrity might be.
Anyone less than Salvatore Bellomo, and I’m calling Ma Bell and requesting a refund!
As the sign says, the Cap’n is in on our next spot, where we start off with a touching moment where Lou gazes longingly at a picture of his mom. This heartwarming time is shattered by a cop busting in and telling Lou he’s heading to jail. At this point, some Samoans and a Native American (Strongbow, is that you?) grab Lou and pull him over a couch and out the door.
The narrator (!!!) tells us that the hotline will be “available until further notice…or a hearing!”
Why I can almost picture Jerry McDevitt dialing 1-900-909-4LOU, can’t you?
At this point Lou actually DID deliver on his promise to bring along some friends…and I can’t mock him this time, as he delivered BRUNO FREAKING SAMMARTINO!
Ok, so Bruno had also left the WWF at the time, as he felt Vince was turning the business he loved into a circus. Amazingly enough, there is a lot of truth in what is told in this commercial – most wrestling fans would never have heard Bruno’s side of things. Many of them probably did learn of the heat between the Living Legend and Vince on the Captain Lou hotline.
Bruno would continue on with Lou, as they expanded to challenge fans on their knowledge of pro wrestling…and this time, PRIZES were on the line. For just a couple bucks a minute, you could win cash, VCRs, video tapes, and big screen TVs! Not only that, but if you could “get past the big guy”, you could win a Nintendo Entertainment System with the ultimate game controller.
Yes, kids, you could win a POWER GLOVE.
And some of you have the audacity to question the greatness of the 1980’s.
You’re probably thinking there’s nothing that could possibly top that one, but I counter with my personal favorite Captain Lou hotline commercial. I can only guess this one came out around Thanksgiving of 1988 as it features, oh yes, live turkeys.
And tons of them!
In this one, Lou and guest Luscious Johnny V are hanging out on the farm with some of the angriest looking fowls you ever did see. Can’t blame them to be honest – going from Bruno to Johnny V is a pretty steep downgrade.
The wrestling hotline era was huge. It made some folks very rich, it changed lives in bizarre and special ways.
And best of all…at least at one number…the legend of the hotlines lives on.
For while others are long gone, one still remains:
Call it today!