It’s with great sadness that I read the news that radio personality and former voice of “Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling,” Bill Cardille passed away earlier this week at the age of 87. He was diagnosed with liver cancer just a few weeks ago, which prompted thousands of messages from fans of his extensive and stellar career. Cardille, who first started on the air in 1957, had a broadcasting career that spanned over five decades until he retired in 2014. Nearly 40 years of Cardille’s career was his work on Pittsburgh Channel 11, WPXI, where he was involved in several different roles, both in television and radio.
Among his many accomplishments in the media was the well-known “Chiller Theater” show that ran for twenty years in the western Pennsylvania area before its conclusion in 1984. The show featured a variety of horror movies and as the host, Cardille earned the nickname, “Chilly Billy.”
His time on Chiller Theater earned Cardille a cameo appearance in George A. Romero’s classic film, “Night of the Living Dead,” which was filmed primarily in Western Pennsylvania in 1968. As he continued to be a Pittsburgh staple for decades, Cardille had another on screen role for the remake of the cult classic in 1990.
Pittsburgh, the home of the legendary Bruno Sammartino, has a storied history of professional wrestling. In 1958, the station manager for the newly created channel 11, Shelton Weaver wanted to bring matches to the studio and his first choice as the voice of the program was Cardille. However, Cardille was hosting a game show at the time along with his usual broadcasting duties so he initially declined the offer. But, just a few years later, he signed on for the project in 1961 and through syndication, the show became extremely popular. During the 15 years that the studio league was on the air, Cardille hosted the show as Bruno, “The Carnegie Cop” Frank Holtz, Frank Durso, Bobby “Hurricane” Hunt, George Steele, Dominic DeNucci, Larry Zbyszko, and other local favorites were featured. When villains such as The Crusher were scheduled to battle the heroic Bruno, the heel infuriated fans, including the well-known “Ringside Rosie” Ann Buckalew, an elderly woman who brought enthusiasm to the matches from her front row seat every week. The western Pennsylvania region was such a strong wrestling city that Vince McMahon Sr. and Joe “Toots” Mondt made it one of their primarily locations for the Capital Sports promotion, the predecessor to the WWWF, in the early 1960s. It’s disappointing that because of the cost of tape at the time, many of the original episodes of Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling were taped over each week and it’s very rare to find existing footage of the show today.
In his later years, Bill Cardille hosted various morning radio shows throughout the area, and did play-by-play for high school sports on the PBS affiliate WQED before settling into the role of a mid-day talk radio host in his final years on the air for the WJAS station.
As well-known as he was for his extensive work in almost every form of media, Bill Cardille is known just as well for his kindness and generosity. Along with local charity work for many years, Cardille helped raise money for Muscular Dystrophy Association and took part in fundraising events despite his advanced age.
Despite decades as a local celebrity, Bill Cardille was always polite and welcoming to fans of his various work. Cardille didn’t present himself as the iconic figure that he was, he was simply one of the people and his down to earth nature endeared him even more so to the blue-collar population of Pittsburgh. But, make no mistake about it, as humble as he was, Bill Cardille is a media icon and not many in his line of work can claim the 57 years on the air that he had. Cardille often appeared on multiple programs at any given time, doing weather reports in the afternoon before hosting as “Chilly Billy” for a horror film at night. He announced Zbyszko matches and appeared on screen in zombie movies. Most importantly, he was a genuinely polite person that used his array of media exposure to help contribute to charity work. After such an extensive and accomplished career, Bill Cardille is undoubtedly a Pittsburgh legend.
Sincere condolences to Bill Cardille’s friends and family at this difficult time
Until next week