Every industry, topic and hobby is experiencing a podcast explosion. For example, there might be more true crime podcasts than actual true crimes.
Sports podcasts dominate the top of the iTunes charts, with professional wrestling-focused offers often breaking into the top episodes of the week.
At the forefront of the professional wrestling podcast boom is Conrad Thompson, a mortgage agent turned host and producer at the helm of some of the most popular pro wrestling shows today.
Thompson currently co-hosts four shows - “Something to Wrestle” with Bruce Prichard, “83 Weeks” with Eric Bischoff, “What Happened When” with Tony Schiavone, “Grilling JR” with Jim Ross, and the recently launched “The Arn Show” with Arn Anderson.
Thompson, once just the average fan, cut his teeth in the podcast business by co-hosting “Wooo! Nation” with friend and eventual father-in-law, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
Professional wrestling is on the precipice of another explosion in popularity thanks in part to an influx of programming on cable television.
Industry leader WWE will bookend the week as the federation still has a stranglehold on Monday nights with WWE Raw on USA and Smackdown jumping to Fridays in a new partnership with Fox Sports.
NXT, once considered a developmental proving ground for future WWE stars, left the WWE Network last month and launched a show on Wednesday nights to go head-to-head with upstart promotion All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and their brand new TNT show, "All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite" which debuted on October 3rd.
Thompson took a moment from recording his shows, and break from mortgage dealing, to discuss the pending resurgence of professional wrestling, the possibility of the "Monday Night Wars" reigniting on Wednesdays, the career resurgence of his podcast co-conspirators and his new view of the business from the inside.
First off, congratulations on finding new jobs for legends in the wrestling business. Every time you start a podcast with a partner, he finds work in the industry again. Are you running some type of employment agency?
Conrad Thompson: Ain't it a beautiful thing? But I'm not so surprised.
When you get news like that, do you get nervous and think “this is going to change the podcast” or maybe one of the guys won’t be able to fit it into his schedule anymore?
Thompson: Each co-host has signed the richest contract of their wrestling career. When you hear that your friend is going to make more money in a business they love than any other time in their life, there's only one emotion, and that’s happiness. I'm thrilled for them.
Bruce, Tony, Eric and Jim Ross, each signed the biggest contracts of their wrestling careers right now, and it’s so rewarding to realize that I had a small part in that outcome.
I'm incredibly thankful that those guys trusted me with the opportunity to do a podcast with them, and maybe we helped change the narrative of what people thought about those individuals.
How do you find time to do all five?
Thompson: Very little sleep and a fantastic support staff. It really is an “all hands on deck” effort.
Behind the scenes, I have a staff helping me with some research and piecing together show formats. It’s become a collaborative effort.
Once upon a time, I did it all by myself.
Is there any interest in extending the brand to other podcasts without having you involved?
Thompson: Counting the new Arn Anderson podcast, I'll be co-hosting five shows a week. At some point, I wouldn't be opposed to developing our own miniature network.
Maybe we could program it almost like a radio station. I'm on during morning drive and then we have a slate of afternoon drive shows. But we'll see how it goes and see what the appetite is for more podcasts.
I know it’s not fun to make people play favorites but which podcast do you enjoy doing the most?
Thompson: There's no question that I have the most fun doing the podcast with Tony Schiavone. There's less structure, less planning, and honestly, less preparation.
The process is more fun. It's just two friends shootin' the breeze.
That said, I have such chemistry with Bruce because we spend so much time together. We've done so many live shows together, and now at this point, we've done so many podcasts that --we really look at the show as a collaborative effort. We really almost can almost complete each other's sentences. I know where he's going with a thought, and he knows where I'm going, and we developed that from just hanging out for so many years.
"83 weeks" with Eric Bischoff is a fascinating listen for two specific reasons: First, fans are realizing how much crap Eric had to put up with behind the scenes. He gets blamed for a lot that went wrong with WCW that he was really powerless to stop. And second, you're not afraid to call Eric out on his b.s. when he defends certain decisions that seemed terrible from the start.
Thompson: I feel that dynamic is one of the things that's makes our shows different.
For many podcasts, when there’s a celebrity host and then just a regular fan like myself as the co-host, the cohosts just becomes the "yes man." He or she doesn't really have a voice. The person is maybe just steering the ship and keeping things on task, and the other celebrity co-host can get away with whatever and say whatever.
I've been in that format before, when I worked with Ric Flair. People weren't listening to that show to hear Ric and I debate. People were listening to hear Ric Flair tell stories. My job was to tee him up, be his point guard, and stay out of the way.
The other podcasts were much different from the start. The idea behind each being a dive into what the newsletter said happened and my co-host is going to tell the audience what REALLY happened, from his perspective. And then it's up to the listener to decide who they want to believe.
Eric and I often wind up on different sides of the aisle. And I find myself siding with the newsletters more often than Eric.
You hear that on the show and it becomes a bit of a knockdown, drag out, war of words. It's not a performance. We really are arguing our points. Sometimes when we get past the point of pleasantries it winds up being fairly entertaining.
Do you think part of the problem is that the wrestling newsletters and dirt sheets rely on second- and third-hand information? It’s kinda like the game telephone. The information starts with one person and by the time it reaches writers it’s been manipulated a million different ways.
Thompson: I don't think under any circumstance Dave Meltzer, or any of the other newsletter writers, have ever made anything up. Anyone who thinks that doesn't really know a guy like Dave. Dave puts a lot of time, effort, and energy into being right, and you know I know for sure that he has trusted sources which he knows if this person says something they don't have an agenda.
They are straightforward and factual to the best of their ability but I also know that there's so much misinformation in wrestling.
Let’s briefly mention on your Starrcast work. When's the next event?
Thompson: It's coming up. It's going to be right in Baltimore on November 7-10th. For all the information on the show and tickets, check out Starrcast.com.
After doing all the shows, and listening about everything that happened backstage, has it changed your perspective on some of the things that you remember like looking back and watching it now?
Thompson: Absolutely. As fans, we really have no idea what's going on behind the scenes.
So we say things like, "Why didn’t they do this with this guy?"
For example, one of the things I argued with Bruce about for a long time is why, in 1998 and 1999, Ken Shamrock didn't get a more significant push. Shamrock always got a significant crowd reaction, he was very believable, a true badass, and he should've been a viable opponent.
But then doing the shows with Jim Ross, he would explain why Shamrock wasn’t a bigger star. He’d say Ken wasn't reliable, he’d show up late or go missing for a few days and miss some shots.
Management tried to talk to Ken, tried to counsel him, but eventually had to fine him and give him a warning. So when you really understand hey, the reason why Ken isn't in the main event is that management didn’t completely trust him.
That’s a completely valid reason, but as a fan in the crowd, I didn't understand that side of the business. Some of the challenges are just real-life and real-world situations the general audience isn’t privy to.
Do you think part of the problem with why wrestling’s popularity took a dive in the late 1990s and early 2000s is because it was just on TV too much? And if so, can you see that happening again with so many shows on TV now?
Thompson: I don't think that overexposure was necessarily the issue. I think that's great. I think there's a lot of choices you know, especially it's calling everyone to sort of step up their game.
As far as a possible Wednesday night war with AEW on TV, well I mean, ready or not, people are going to call it that.
I don't think it’s a war for people like myself. I'm going to do sort of what I did back in the 90s. I'm going to watch one live, and then I'll go back and watch the other on DVR.
I think most wrestling fans, the hardcore fans, are going to do that. I think the diehard WWE fans, well that's all they watch, they're probably just going to watch NXT.
And I don't think many fans will be forced to choose. The technology that we have now, you can do both.