The Voice of Portland Wrestling
TOM ZENK IN THE PACIFIC NORTH WEST
Don Coss interviews Tommy Zenk in the crows nest of the Portland Arena for "Portland Wrestling"
Part 1 - “I saw these guys get hit, get hurt and bleed!"
During his 10-year stint as ring announcer, Don Coss saw it all. From bad interviews to good matches, from flubbed intros to fabulous athletes, from connecting punches to undone heroes - Coss was there in the middle of it all - in the Pacific Northwest Wrestling Federation.
Coss worked full-time in radio and at Portland's KPTV, Channel 12 on the weekends. In 1972 he began filling in several times a year as announcer/interviewer for "Portland Wrestling" when main announcer, Frank Bonnena, was out or ill. In 1982, Bonnena died and Coss became the full-time announcer for the show which aired on Saturday nights until its closure in 1992. “Frank had worked with the (PNW owners Don and Barry) Owens for 15 years, so I was stepping into some big shoes. I remember Frank was there in the black and white days of PNW but the night of the first color broadcast, he became ill and I stepped in.”
“Portland was a Mecca, a hotbed of professional wrestling! Often times it was a springboard for wrestlers going on to larger territories. And after the WWF came to town, it was a springboard into that federation. I remember Jesse Ventura in the 70s made his way through PNW and Roddy Piper - although he didn’t get his start here - certainly honed his craft in the Owens' fed. Other guys who came through were Steve Doll, Playboy Buddy Rose (who got his start, left and came back) and, of course, Tommy Zenk."
"Tommy was one of those wrestlers who was an immediate hit. He was a tremendous athlete and good-looking guy and the ladies took to him right away! Tommy is very intelligent and a good wrestler to interview. He thinks about what he says before he says it. He has that charisma, a kind of electricity about him, that the fans took to - and there were very few wrestlers like that. Tommy was a good guy in and out of the ring.”
“One time, he called me up to come help him out with some car trouble. I went to his apartment, in the Raleigh Hills area off Beaverton Highway, and helped him as I could. He and Scott Doring were rooming together and he had my home phone number and would call on occasions. We got along very well."
"Most of the wrestlers started out living at the Bomber Motel. Many of them moved out when they saw that PNW was going to be a long gig for them, but some lived there during their stay with the fed. A lot of the guys gathered there for parties and the fans followed them. I heard that the girls did their runs down there every week and it got pretty wild sometimes!”
A typical Saturday evening for Don Coss consisted of arriving at the Portland Sports Arena around 7:45pm. He would head to Don Owen’s office and get the lineup for that night’s taping. Owen would tell Coss some things he would want promoted in the course of the interviews or ring announcements and that was it.
“Sometimes I would go into the locker room and meet up with Don, Barry or whoever was booking (The Grappler did some booking in the 80s during Zenk’s stay) and get the information. Then I’d head to the 'crow’s nest' and make out my cue boards (a list of special things about that night or upcoming matches) for reference. When I started, everything was live, but in the late 70s, they went to a ‘live to tape’ format which allowed for some editing, if there was an injury or something. But almost all of what the TV audience saw was the way it happened. Channel 12 never went out of their way producing the show. There was no third camera at ringside, just the two from the 'crow’s nest' that caught the action in the ring, then swung around for the interview segments where I was.”
“Those interviews were always on the fly. I knew who was up next, but sometimes another guy would try to horn in or the interview went badly. One time I was filling in for Tom Peterson (the local sponsor) and doing his commercials. He got me the script and told me not to let anything happen to his products (some TV sets). Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Bull Ramos, a mountain of a man, came to the interview segment and started out talking. That turned into yelling, then shoving and Snuka fell backward into some chicken wire. He jumped up and shoved Ramos. Pretty soon one punch led to another and Snuka went down. I was backing off, trying not to be involved, when Snuka got up and headed for one of the sets on the desk. He hit Ramos with it. The set bounced off his shoulder, and hit the floor and broke. We got some police to end it and went to a commercial! Funny thing about it all - that set sold for way more than it was worth because it had been used in a fight! You just never knew what would happen during an interview.”
“Another night Tommy Zenk was being interviewed. Bobby Jaggers came up from behind and attacked him. We were talking when Jaggers came up and hit him hard, and cut him too. I remember Tommy being hit very hard in the back and I could see it all."
"I didn’t realize this was going to happen but it was very real. We went to a commercial as I stepped back and watched. Sometimes I would grab the house mike and ask for help, I think I did that time. But I went over to Tom and asked if he was okay. He said he’d be all right. I never stepped into try and stop those melees.”
“I saw these guys get hit, get hurt and bleed, and I saw the broken bones and sure it’s entertainment, but these guys were working.”
PART TWO - "When ...Tommy Zenk came on the scene, I knew THERE was a star! I was impressed with his intelligence and he looked like a movie star, and he had the body to go with it! In the ring he was a real fierce competitor and was always very popular... the fans latched onto him quick .... and that didn’t sit well with Billy Jack Haynes" click here
"TOM ZENK IN THE PNW"
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