When DVDs were released to the consumer market, we watched VHS die a slow, painful death. I mean, you could walk into the electronics department of Wal-Mart and see one of the Lord of the Rings super-duper 8 million disc sets selling for $20, or find a tiny clearance section with the same movie on VHS for $1.99.
During it’s heyday, VHS was the format of choice for consumers to record programs from television, as well as memories from home video cameras. Newsletters were even spawned from those wanting to trade tapes with other aficionados who wanted to see shows not broadcast in their area. (You can view a Beta-oriented cousin of one of these newsletters HERE.) This included wrestling fans in a day when the sport was still divided into geographically-based territories with their own television programs and stars.
Professional Wrestling made a huge mark on television in the 1950’s. While the sport had been in an organized state for around 50 years, it experienced a huge renaissance with the wider acceptance of television. Wrestling, you see, was cheap programming. All you needed was some cameras, wrestlers, and fans.
Major television networks (such as the Dumont Network) added wrestling to their programming schedules. Wrestlers such as Buddy Rodgers (the original “Nature Boy”) and Gorgeous George became television icons.
But nobody could see into the future back then. In a practice that would continue well into the 1980’s in some regions, promoters would record their shows, get them on the air, erase them, and then reuse the tapes for the next week’s show. Tapes back then were rather expensive, sometimes up to $50 a pop. It was all done in the name of cost-cutting.
To bring some additional perspective into all this, Portland Wrestling began airing in 1948. At one point, television station KPTV offered to archive episodes of the Portland Wrestling program for promoter Don Owen at a cost of $25 per week. Owen declined the offer, feeling it was money better spent elsewhere. Instead, he continued to do as many others had for years - he erased the tapes and reused them. Sometimes, tapes were reused to the point that audio from past episodes could be heard faintly in the background.
Even to this day in television stations and production houses, a bulk eraser (pretty much a giant magnet that destroys all information recorded on a tape) is a key piece of equipment.
That’s why some wrestling footage out there is either very rare, very expensive, or in very rough shape. In some cases the original tapes don’t exist, and all that is left is footage recorded on the earliest home recording units, including on our long-lost friend, VHS.
Of course, this must be a practice that was exclusive to wrestling, right? Wrong! Many programs, including news shows, followed this practice, and with the 40th anniversary of the first Lunar landing just days away comes some downright boggling information.
NASA taped over the original tapes!
That’s right…NASA, run by the U.S. government, who many feel are akin to Big Brother, keeping tabs on anyone and everyone, didn’t even keep the tapes of one of the most significant historical events in the history of science and mankind.
As a result, they’ve had to do what many wrestling fans have done when searched for their favorite historical match - they’ve salvaged some old copies, several generations removed from the originals.
If you think I’m kidding, and this is just a fake story about a classic act of boneheadery, check out THIS CNN ARTICLE.
To their credit, NASA is shelling out well over $200,000 to get what footage exists digitally restored and remastered. Sadly, it appears that much of what was originally broadcast from space has been lost forever.
If pro wrestling is fake, then it really is true when they say that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.