OAK HILL, W.Va. — Legendary broadcaster a former state lawmaker Shirley Love died Friday at the age of 87.
Love, who had been in hospice care in recent days, served one term in the House of Delegates and 14 years in the State Senate from Fayette County. But he’s best known for his days as a broadcaster which spanned more than five decades. He worked fro WOAY from 1954 to 1997.
“I started in television after I worked in radio,” Love said in an interview about his career in the late 1980’s.
Love worked in both mediums for a long time.
“I worked as a DJ and did football and basketball games, then when they started the television station I graduated over to there. Actually I was a combination man, I worked radio and television for years and years. I would do a split shift and do certain TV shows and certain radio programs,” Love said.
Love did the “Juke Box Review” for more than 20 years on radio. He was the voice of Oak Hill High School football and basketball games from 1954 until the early 1990’s. During the early days of television, stations had to produce their own long form local programming. Love was on the ground floor of the brand new technology. He hosted the West Virginia Bandstand with local high school students in the studio dancing and rating the top new music of the day. The show was a takeoff of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. He also hosted the Friday Night Barn Dance which featured local country and western musicians every Friday night and another show on Saturday afternoon called the West Virginia Jamboree which was very similar.
Despite his many tasks, the one show for which he’s most fondly remembered is Saturday Night Wrestling, which was always pronounced “rasslin'”.
“That was the big one. The one everybody enjoyed. In the early years it was all live and it was held in the studio,” Love explained about the show which he hosted for more than 20 years. “We would give away the tickets and you could write in and get up to six free tickets and you could come and watch it in the studio.”
To avoid paying a rights fee to the West Virginia Athletic Commission for the broadcast of a live sporting event, the station always made an announcement prior to the show the matches were prearranged. Love recalled that didn’t make any difference to the audience members, many of whom he would often interview during the broadcast.
“There was no fake about the audience. It made it a lot of fun, but in the early years of the live wrestling, you’d be talking to somebody who was inflamed, you never knew what they were going to say and you had to be quick on the trigger to disconnect the microphone,” he laughed.
Love admitted he wasn’t always quick enough and occasionally a foul utterance would make it onto the air.
Love got the job hosting Saturday Night Wrestling when the original host tried it for two weeks and didn’t want to do it anymore. Love got the job and did it for the next 20 plus years.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 17, 2020
“The boss said, ‘Shirley, you’ll do Saturday Night Wrestling.’ I would do anything–even though I didn’t know I couldn’t do it. So I developed my own style. I didn’t know an arm lock to a Boston club. I made them up as I went along–and it worked pretty good.”
Saturday Night Wrestling came to an end when the WOAY studio burned down.
“He was the guy. He was WOAY TV,” said fellow Hall of Fame Broadcaster Fred Persinger.
Persinger, remembering Love on Metronews Talkline Friday, recalled getting to know Shirley during high school sports broadcasts.
“Shirley was always Shirley-and he didn’t care what you thought about him. He brought his equipment to the press box in a cardboard box. It wasn’t a bag or a suitcase, it was a cardboard box. He would set it down, pull stuff out, put it together and go,” he said.
Love also worked for a period of time as an anchor and reporter for WOAY. He often recalled the 1967 Sil Tix Mine Disaster in Mount Hope, W.Va. as his signature story. It happened on a Saturday and he and a fellow station employee went to the mine and filmed footage for the broadcast and went on the air with developments as the bodies of the miners were brought to the surface. They were the only reporters on the scene.
“Every newsman who does news likes to have an exclusive. This was my exclusive,” he said.
Love eventually retired from broadcasting and went into sales for WOAY and later into politics. He’s also a member of the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame.