By conventional podcast standards, Something To Wrestle with Bruce Prichard should not be a hit. The episodes often shoot past the three-hour mark. The topics sometimes are the kind of minutiae only hardcore wrestling fans from 30 years ago would remember. And the hosts aren’t household names—Prichard was a memorable WWE, then known as WWF, character in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but spent most of his wrestling career behind the cameras. Co-host Conrad Thompson owns a mortgage company in Alabama.
But somehow, the two have sliced open a vein in wrestling fans’ conscience, and though the podcast is only eight months old, close to a million people are downloading Something To Wrestle every week.
There are no stars. There are no guests. There are no short shows. Why, then, does this podcast work so well, even when it probably shouldn’t?
“People aren’t as interested in star power as they are in content,” Thompson, who owns 1st Family Mortgage Company, told the Daily Dot. “Maybe it’s enough to start a podcast. But is it going to be enough to bring them back? Contrast that with our show. We’ve involved our listeners. It’s because of our inside jokes, it’s because of our chemistry, it’s because of Bruce’s storytelling. It’s as close as anybody is going to get to being inside Vince McMahon’s head.”
The mind of the WWE CEO is still real estate people want to explore. Pro wrestling is that way, in general, especially if you grew up watching Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the Rock, or John Cena. Prichard and Thompson have no problem feeding listeners with oodles of information—some of it arcane, some of it absolutely essential—about a variety of topics in yesterday’s world of pro wrestling.
It’s a world the two have been obsessed with for decades. Thompson grew up watching the WWF in Huntsville, Alabama, and he continues to be a fan. He also co-hosts What Happened When, a podcast that is focused on the disbanded NWA/WCW promotion with former commentator Tony Schiavone.
Prichard is a lifer in the business. He started selling posters for the Houston Wrestling promotion when he was 10 years old, and as he says, if something in the company needed to be done, Prichard was the one to do it. By 12, he was the assistant director of the promotion’s local TV show. By 14, he was announcing matches. Two years later, he was a referee, and “by 18 years old, I was running the place,” he said.
Prichard was passionate about the business and hungry to learn as much as he could. He listened to the stories of old-time wrestlers. He asked questions. He learned something new every day. He wasn’t interested in becoming a full-time in-ring performer. He wanted to stay in the shadows and have a hand in controlling the entire thing.
“You can go out and be one character, or you could be behind the scenes, create many characters, and develop all of them,” Prichard told the Daily Dot. “I got to be everybody.”
By his mid-20s, Prichard had joined the WWF, and eventually, he would become one of the most important people in the front office, helping write storylines, produce promos, engage in talent relations, and run the TV shows. Oh, and he got to perform in front of thousands of people as Brother Love, the fake televangelist with a bright red face who had a penchant for telling everybody (in his smarmy way) that he loved them.
Perhaps the main reason Something To Wrestle works so well is because Prichard has an uncanny ability to remember most everything that happened around him during his 22 years in the WWF/WWE. Thompson asks him a question about minor details from a match that happened in 1997, and most of the time, Prichard can answer him with precise description.
Still, Prichard originally wasn’t sold on participating in a podcast. He didn’t think people would care about the memories of an old wrestling hand, and he didn’t realize the appetite fans had for nostalgia. He met Thompson through wrestling legend Ric Flair a few years back, and they became casual friends, then co-workers in Thompson’s mortgage business. Prichard would tell Thompson old wrestling stories, and one day, after Prichard recounted the tale of how a group of WCW wrestlers, known as the Radicalz, jumped to the WWF in 2000, Thompson looked at Prichard and said, “This is a podcast.”
Prichard laughed it off—he wasn’t keen on sharing his stories, because they were his stories and because he didn’t think anybody would care.
“I guess I was wrong,” Prichard said.
The first podcast, which told the tale of Dusty Rhodes in the WWF, garnered about 60,000 downloads. Eight months later, on the Wrestlemania 13 episode, it scored 400,000 downloads in the first 24 hours.
Thompson thought a podcast could work, because instead of recapping the latest WWE TV shows and storylines, this would be a longform discussion on a singular topic from the past. The podcast has stayed true to that initial idea, but it’s also morphed into something more.
There’s an undeniable chemistry between Thompson and Prichard—they yell at each other and insult each other, though it’s also clear the two are great friends with a bevy of inside jokes that seem to never stop being funny—and Prichard has a talent for impersonating the wrestlers and characters with whom he worked. Those caricatures have become a highlight of every episode, especially when Prichard goes into an impression of McMahon, Rhodes, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, or former wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett. (Prichard’s impersonation of Jarrett explaining to a waiter how to make chicken salad might be the top moment in Something To Wrestle history.)
Thompson and Prichard want to make their listeners feel like part of the family—as Thompson said, it’s not unlike the way Howard Stern built his enormous fanbase—and for pro wrestling fans who already are trained to love these kinds of insider gags and lingo, it’s a godsend.
“I realized there was an appetite for it,” Prichard said. “That people were interested in the business. They love the business, and they wanted more. They wanted to feel more a part of it. They were longing for an opinion from someone other than somebody who had never been there and who had never done it.”
And people stay and listen. Though Prichard and Thompson were told they shouldn’t run over 90 minutes on each podcast episode—that the audience would lose interest and hit the stop button—the opposite has happened. If a podcast is less than three hours in length, Prichard and Thompson hear complaints. Not only that, but they said their research has shown that 86 percent of people listen to the podcast all the way through, a statistical anomaly in the podcasting world.
Said Prichard: “We’ve broken the rules on everything.”
They’ve also introduced innovative marketing ideas. Whenever a fan buys a shirt from Prichard on Pro Wrestling Tees, Prichard makes sure to give that person a phone call to chat for a few minutes and to say thank you. But even more inclusive is the fact that the podcast listeners get to choose the topics of the next show. The show posts new episodes every Friday, and on that same day, Thompson and Prichard unveil a poll to the @PrichardShow Twitter account. Whichever topic gets the most votes wins for the next week.
Said Thompson: “It’s sales 101. In sales, you should ask the buyers, ‘What are you in the mood to buy?’ Rather than us playing darts in the dark.”
The two also implemented a strategy to procure iTunes reviews—which has helped make them one of the highest-ranked and best-rated wrestling podcasts around. If they could get 1,000 reviews, they tell viewers they’ll post a bonus show. For 1,500 reviews, they’d post another bonus show. And for 2,000 reviews, they’d post a show detailing why and how Prichard was twice fired by the WWE. As of this writing, Something To Wrestle has nearly 2,500 reviews.
But the podcast also eats up plenty of Thompson’s time. One reason the show works so well is because Thompson asks such probing questions about the tiniest details. The reason Thompson knows to ask is because he spends about eight hours per episode researching the topic, which involves re-watching old pay-per-views, reading archived wrestling newsletters, and skimming through wrestler autobiographies.
There are no restrictions on what Thompson can ask, and unless the query is about the amount of money earned by specific wrestlers, Prichard answers just about everything. That kind of honesty on this kind of show has also led Prichard back to the wrestling ring. He was released by the WWE for the final time in 2008, but after seeing the impact of Something To Wrestle, Impact Wrestling (basically, the second most important wrestling promotion in the U.S. today) hired him last month as a consultant (probably in part because Prichard’s show attracts exponentially more listeners than Impact does for its TV shows).
On Sunday, the WWE will present Wrestlemania 33 on its biggest day of the year. Prichard and Thompson will have already completed their first live show, an event in Orlando, Florida, the night before that sold out within a few weeks of it being announced. Fans will watch the current-day wrestlers win titles and take crazy bumps and try to make themselves legends.
But next week, when the wrestling world goes back to normal, nearly a million people will download the latest episode of Something To Wrestle and journey back to a time when Hulk Hogan ruled the world and when fans chanted for Austin and the Rock all night long. Prichard and Thompson will trade insults, gags, inside jokes, and impersonations. People will listen for three hours.
Then, they’ll wait hungrily for more.