May 23, 1959, St. Louis, Missouri
One of the longest-running and most influential television programs in history, Sam Muchnick’s legendary Wrestling At The Chase debuts on KPLR in St. Louis. Muchnick’s groundbreaking series, which originally emanated from the Khorassan Room at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel (and later, the KPLR studios) easily qualifies as one of the five most important and influential wrestling programs in history. The result of a partnership between Muchnick and KPLR & Chase Hotel owner Harold Koplar, the program eventually produced over 1,100 episodes during the quarter-century that it aired and featured four play-by-play commentators during that time; future baseball announcing legend Joe Garagiola, followed by Don Cunningham, George Abel, and Larry Matysik.
Wrestling At The Chase stood out among other professional wrestling programs, both past and present, in many ways, not the least of which was its visual presentation. Originally, the wrestling ring was placed inside of the Chase’s lavish 900-seat Khorassan Room, surrounded by chandeliers, silk tablecloths, and spectators dressed in their best formal wear. The setting was unlike anything the sport has ever known, before or since, and lent an air of sophistication and class that was a marked change from the way wrestling had traditionally been displayed on television. Additionally, Muchnick presented his wrestling as a genuine sport, with his athletes keeping the action inside of the ring, competing in seemingly legitimate contests. The formal setting of the Khorassan Room lent itself perfectly to Muchnick’s brand of professional wrestling and the show quickly became one of the highest-rated programs in St. Louis, often drawing in excess of 100,000 viewers per episode, and it emerged as a genuine calling card of the Gateway City.
When the program was eventually moved from the Chase hotel to KPLR’s studio in the early 1970s, the high standard of no-nonsense, realistic wrestling action that Muchnick presented came along as well. However, when Muchnick retired in 1982 and the St. Louis Wrestling Club was purchased by a consortium led by Central States owner Bob Geigel, television ratings and the lofty status of professional wrestling in the city experienced a sharp decline. On September 10, 1983, KPLR ended its lengthy tenure with the St. Louis Wrestling Club and its new owners in order to begin working with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. Soon, Wrestling At The Chase was being taped at the Kiel Auditorium and, by the Fall of 1984, the WWF had made the decision to forego producing original local content in St. Louis in favor of its syndicated programs such as Superstars and Wrestling Challenge. While the WWF’s syndicated shows remained a strong part of KPLR’s weekend schedule, the change in programming philosophy led to Wrestling At The Chase’s inevitable cancellation early in 1985.