If you watched WWE, or the WWF as it was called back then, during the “New Generation Era” between the years of 1993 and 1997, Todd Pettengill is no stranger to you. He played a prominent on-air role as a backstage interviewer as well as host to programs such as WWF Mania, WWF Blast-Off, WWF LiveWire, and WWF Action Zone. As a kid, I would forward to Saturday mornings where I would watch Pettengill recap the very best moments of the week alongside Macho Man Randy Savage, Stephanie Wiand, and Sunny on USA’s WWF Mania at 10 am EST. This and the TV series Weird Science packed a good one-two punch for many a Saturday morning for me (and many others, I’m sure)!
Todd’s quirky and warm personality fit perfectly with the tone of the product back then and was a big part of many memorable moments during that era. How can one forget him hanging out in the audience at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas while wearing sunglasses, a toga, and a headband with fake golden leaves glued onto the sides at WrestleMania 9?
Or how about the time Todd Pettengill and Stephanie Wiand gave away a house to a lucky fan during the inaugural In Your House pay-per-view?
You better believe I was one of the fans who sent in a postcard with my details watching live hoping with bated breath that I would win! Unfortunately, I did not, but one lucky eleven-year-old fan named Matt Pompaselli did. For those wondering, he ended up selling his Florida home about six months after he won it to the tune of $175,000. Not a bad investment for an eleven-year-old!
“Once you find something you really love to do, you’re not working a day in your life.” – Todd Pettengill
Before Todd Pettengill played a role in the lives of WWF fans, he got a start in the entertainment industry at the young age of thirteen.
“My mom just wanted me to have a job,” Pettengill opens up to James Delow of the weekly WWE fancast, Gorilla Position. “You know, at thirteen apparently it was important that I start to work right away! I thought it might have been a little bit early but she knew a guy at a local radio station where I grew up in upstate New York and I went over and fell in love with it.
“They paid me in records because I was too young to earn money,” Pettengill continued. “I wasn’t even old enough to have working papers yet! My voice changed at a very young age, I always had a deeper voice so when people listened, they always thought that I was older. When they would come to the radio station or something to meet me they were like, ‘You’re only a kid!’
“I would ride my bike over to the radio station after school and work and then my dad would come and pick me up because it was dark. We’d put the bike in the back and go home. That’s how it started and that was many, many years ago! You know, I found a love. They say once you find something you really love to do, you’re not working a day in your life.”
His outgoing personality is what helped gravitate Pettengill towards radio. By his own admission, he was the class clown and it was “either radio or end up in jail” for him, and he preferred the former!
“Radio became a way for me to express this comedy and energy, and man, after a while they paid you to do it which is even cooler!”
Getting involved with WWF
Right out of high school, Todd moved to Albany, New York where he got a job at WFLY radio station where he would do the morning show on ‘Fly 92’ for seven years. To this day, his breakfast radio show is the highest rated in Albany history.
In ’91, an opportunity came up for him to do radio in New York City, and by age 25, he became the youngest breakfast radio show host in New York City. This is where he has worked ever since. It was around this time Vince McMahon first took notice of him.
“Vince McMahon was listening to my radio show and just called and said, ‘Hey, you’re kind of funny. You’re kind of a weird guy, what do you think about coming up here and maybe having an interview?'”
Vince was looking for a replacement for Sean Mooney who had chosen not to renew his contract with the company.
“I said, ‘Well, I really don’t know anything about wrestling…’
“Vince responded, ‘Perfect!'”
Vince wanted somebody with an outsider’s point-of-view, someone who wouldn’t bring misconceptions to the role and Todd was up for the challenge.
“The first person I met was Linda McMahon. She was the one who was running the business day-to-day. I had a nice meeting with Linda and she said, ‘Alright, well, Vince would like to see you in one of the studios.’ So I went into a studio and there was Vince, not quite as big as he is now but a big and intimidating figure nonetheless, and he threw me a bottle of water and said, ‘Sell it to me!’ So I did.
“I could talk about anything. You know, ‘This is the most unbelievable water! It’s fresh, it’ll soothe you! You can pour it on your feet if you’re in the desert…’ I went through this whole thing and he goes, ‘That’s unbelievable! Let’s try this!’ And that’s how it all started.”
“Here’s a story I have never told publicly about Vince McMahon.”
After the interview process was over, Vince was assumed to have left the building. Pettengill went to use the bathroom when he noticed somebody in one of the stalls.
“There was a fella in the stall who had clearly been doing some work! It was not a pleasant odor. So I, being me, said, ‘Hey, how about a courtesy flush!’
“I heard this laugh behind the stall and it was Vince. When he came out I was like, ‘Well I didn’t get this job!’ and he goes, ‘That’s hysterical! Now I gotta hire you!'”
Throughout Pettengill’s four years with the WWF, he continued working his radio show full time in New York City while also fulfilling obligations to Vince McMahon which included all pay-per-views and traveling to Stamford, Connecticut two or three times a week (an hour and forty-five-minute journey each direction).
Describing what his first WrestleMania was like, he said, “My very first pay-per-view I was wearing a toga at Caesars Palace. That’s where I broke in!”
He continued, “The pageantry that surrounds [WrestleMania] and the number of people that it takes to pull off something like that was just mind-boggling to me. It’s really like doing a football or baseball game where it’s forty cameras, sound trucks, producers in your ear- it’s a major production. The talent was just- those guys were just amazing to work with.”
When Todd first got a start with the company, he fit right in with the process. In radio, he was used to working live and having to pitch to packages with a producer in his ear as the tape was rolling. All of this was like muscle memory to him. But as WWF was new to him, he had to learn all the names, the timing for everybody, as well as how things worked in this different environment. But throughout the process, there were many people behind-the-scenes who helped him out.
“Kevin Dunn, who is the executive producer over there, was absolutely amazing to me. Really really great. Another person I really enjoyed was Gorilla Monsoon. Gorilla and I were really good friends. The Macho Man Randy Savage when we did a show together, Ted DiBiase ‘The Million Dollar Man’. There were so many guys that, you know, Jim Ross, that sort of showed me the ropes. Howard Finkel I loved. All of these guys took the time to say, ‘Hey kid, come here. We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.’ I loved it.”
For being an outsider and not knowing much about the industry, it’s amazing how warm and welcoming everybody was.
A day in the life of Todd Pettengill while with WWE
“I would get up at 2:30, quarter to three in the morning. I’d be in New York City by four o’clock. We’d do the radio show and I’d be out of there by ten o’clock with a Town Car waiting for me to take me to Stamford. We’d go to Stamford and we’d either do Mania, or Superstars, or Challenge, or there’s a segment taping for Raw. I’m happy to say I was on the first Raw which was very, very cool. I would be there for four or five hours and then get back in the Town Car and head back to my home in New Jersey. When I started, I was living in Manhattan so the car would go there.
“You’d go to makeup, you’d go to a show, you’d knock out packages, sometimes there would be more sometimes there would be less, you’d do your voice-overs and then back in the car and I’d come back and do it again two or three times a week. Keep in mind some of those shows were live, and when we did those shows on Saturday mornings, those shows were live too and it was the same drill only I didn’t have to do the radio show first.”
Sometimes pulling double duty with the radio station and working for Vince wasn’t always easy, particularly when Monday Night Raw started airing live on Monday nights.
“For the first Monday Night Raw, it was at the Manhattan Center which was right around the block from me. Nobody knew what to expect, it was like, ‘What’s he doing? Monday Night Raw? This is unbelievable!’ For me, it was like I have to do my radio show in the morning, I better sleep a little during the day but there was no sleeping because you had all this nervous energy and you were doing it live.”
Describing his memories of the first ever Raw, “I don’t remember exactly what I did. I think I did a package somewhere but it was live and really exciting!”
What it was like to work for Vince McMahon during the New Generation Era
While Todd Pettengill worked for the WWF, it was an interesting time for the company. While there was talent like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), and Diesel (Kevin Nash) coming into their own, The Golden Era had passed, and from a business standpoint, WWF hadn’t hit the strides of the Attitude Era quite yet.
Describing what Vince was like to work with at the time and whether he was showing the pressures of the business being down, Pettengill said, “Vince was always the same. He was always kind, always welcoming, always the first guy to crack a joke. I always thought that he never really ever took himself too seriously. If he was performing it was a totally different thing but the day-to-day, human-to-human contact was just so genuine and so real that if you ever hear a story of Vince not being a good guy it’s just not true. From my perspective, it was just fantastic. He was, like I said, very genuine and very welcoming. If I ever had a question he was sure to say, ‘Hey, ask, don’t worry about it. There are no stupid questions.’ So he was amazing to work with.”
“I think [Vince] got that I knew the business [with my radio background] or understood the business, but one of the things he said that I think I’ll never forget was, ‘Listen, television is movement. We gotta move. We gotta move. We gotta move, constantly, be moving. Change your angles, let’s do different things. Television is movement, and in my mind, WWE’s production is one of the best. It’s unbelievable and that’s because of Vince. He hires great people but it starts there [with him]. It really is unparallel.”
Working with Sunny
During his time with the company, Pettengill got to work with many colorful characters from Macho Man Randy Savage, Doc Hendrix (Michael ‘PS’ Hayes), to Sunny (Tammy Sytch).
“Sunny was great. I mean, very self-deprecating, very entertaining, friendly. I think she was involved with one of the wrestlers at the time (Chris Candido), but she was great. We had a lot of laughs and we did a couple of shows together as a matter of fact but just a terrific person.”
In regards to whether or not he heard about the rumors of her and HBK, Todd replied, “At the time, there really wasn’t anything that I knew of. I certainly didn’t hear of it but maybe not being there full time in the office helped with me not hearing that kind of stuff. I would sort of come in, do my taping, and then shoot back to Manhattan.”
Best and worst memories of working with the WWF and his run-in with Scott Hall
In talking about some of his best and worst memories from his time with the company, Todd Pettengill stated, “WrestleMania 9 at Caesars Palace was unbelievable and is so hard to beat. The ‘In Your House’ broadcasts to me were awesome, too. Stephanie Wiand, who I did some of those with later on where we actually gave away a house, that was pretty cool! Things like that were very, very memorable.
“In regards to the worst, I don’t really have any bad memories but I think the only thing I could say is one time I got yelled at by Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) because I had my hair long and I had some stubble and he goes, ‘Hey, Chico, somebody’s already got that gig!’ I was like, ‘Yes, sir!’ No real problem there but I think one of the things that happened there for me was while I was working there, as sometimes happens in your life, you go through a little weight gain. I got kind of fat while I was on camera! I was heavy. At one point I had a really bad ’90s mullet, too, and looking back on it I’m going, ‘What were you thinking? Why would you do that?’ But, I did it!”
Why Todd Pettengill left the WWF and if there were regrets about leaving just before the Attitude Era began
During Todd’s time with the WWF, his interviews with the talent backstage placed so much importance on the matches and he did such an incredible job selling what you saw on television. He made everything feel so important and must-see.
“If you’re not into it as an announcer,” Pettengill explains, “how is it going to sell to the audience?
“It was as much of an adrenaline pump for me as it was to [the fans]. To have 50,000 people on their feet screaming and the cameras showing it with the lights and explosions going off- if you don’t feel that and those matches that were so big… I was fanning out at times. I was fanboying out because I was so into it. You do become a fan really quickly when you’re immersed in it and you get to know these guys and see them. It was a great [experience]!”
Despite becoming a fan and enjoying every minute from his time with the company, his personal life was put on hold. He was balancing two jobs and he hadn’t had a day off in almost six years.
“I was with [WWE] for almost six years and the reason I stopped was that I used all of my vacation time with the radio station to travel to pay-per-views so I didn’t have a vacation for about six years. But, the day-to-day with [WWE] was great.”
Pettengill’s last event with the company was at SummerSlam ’97 which saw a championship match between Bret Hart and Undertaker and the infamous Intercontinental championship match between Owen Hart and Steve Austin where Owen almost left Austin paralyzed after a botched pile driver. Sean Coulthard (Michael Cole) stepped in as a replacement off of the recommendation of Pettengill.
Soon later was Survivor Series ’97 with the Montreal Screwjob which saw the industry change and get propelled into high gear with the dawning of the Attitude Era. The timing of Pettengill’s departure was just before things really took off with the company, but did he ever feel regret for the timing of his exit?
“I think, like with anything else, it’s very cyclical, the business. It has an ebb and a flow and I was sort of there in an ebb period but I didn’t feel like it was. So when I saw it move in that direction, you know, part of me said, ‘Man, I would have had a great time doing this kind of stuff!’ but then part of me said, ‘Well, maybe for the radio show that wasn’t exactly the image- it got pretty heated for quite a while [on WWE TV during the Attitude Era]!
“One of the big things, and I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this either, was in my contract — a lot of the guys would like to touch you, pick you up. I remember the late-great Owen Hart one time picked me up! I had to have a talk with Vince where I said, ‘Look, I can’t do this. There’s no touching.’ If you ever looked down the road, there’s not a lot of announcers — it used to be where they would get picked up and poor Mean Gene used to get picked up — but that all changed because I was worried about all that. Man, these guys could unintentionally take you out! That would be it! So that was one of the things that evolved.
“I think [leaving before the Attitude Era began] was sort of a double-edged sword for me because I said, ‘Man, this would have been a blast! This would have been fun!’ but, it got for a while… it kind of got up to the line and maybe over it sometimes, but that’s where entertainment was going in the country. It was a mirror of the country at the time.”
On whether he misses his WWE days, Pettengill admitted, “I do. It was a blast. There was nothing like performing in front of a live crowd like that and I will tell you that wrestling fans are unlike any other fans that I know. They’re so loyal and they still remember! There aren’t many businesses where you can interview somebody who stopped doing a job in 1997 and still hear what that guy has to say. That’s because wrestling fans, and I still get it on social media for the radio station and when I go out. ‘I remember you from wrestling!’ Those fans are so loyal and some of them are loyal because they hated me. You know, ‘That goofball!’ and, ‘That weirdo! He was terrible!’ Listen, love is love whether it’s in the form of an insult or what, at least they remember!”
Return to WWE in 2013
In 2013, Todd Pettengill was asked back to WWE Headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut to be the host for the Best of In Your House DVD release.
“It was like I never left.
“I saw camera guys like John McCall, I saw Jill, my makeup artist, some of the producers were the same. It was like Old Home Week, it really was. There were some new folks there too who we sort of just — one of the deals, since I was in radio, was that they used to always call me ‘One Take Todd’, so I would say, ‘Just give me the points and alright let’s do it!’ and boom, knock it out. And [the new producers] would always say, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do it again?’ and I would be like, ‘No! We did it. We killed it! Come on, let’s go.’ One of the cameramen remembered and said, ‘This is going to be a fast day. We have one of the best here, ‘One Take Todd!’
“I ended up saying, ‘Let’s run through things again’ because I didn’t want things to end at that point. When you’re doing that volume of content, you want to make sure it’s good but you want it to feel natural so I think if it’s so rehearsed, sometimes it comes off that way so I like to just say, ‘Give me the points, let me know what I have to hit, and then let’s just do it. And if I make a mistake, well guess what? I made a mistake, let’s keep rolling!’ I always used to pride myself in trying to knock that stuff right out.
“[Going back to WWE] was great. I loved it, I loved seeing everybody again. I didn’t get to see any of the guys, obviously, because I was in the studio with their cardboard cutouts, but it was still a great time!” (laughs)
What Todd Pettengill is up to today
Pettengill left WWE on great terms and he keeps in touch with many within the business to this day. He is still in radio but unfortunately, his morning show “Todd and Jayde in the Morning” alongside Jayde Donovan on New York’s WPLJ 95.5 radio station came to an end at the end of May 2019 due to being bought out to become a Christian Contempary station. For now, he is spending his time with family and waiting for his next venture.
As for the age-old question on whether or not he thinks there would ever be a chance for him to return to WWE, Pettengill responded with a coy, “I’m far too old!”
As we’ve learned with WWE and Vince McMahon over the years, never say never!
You can keep up with all of the latest on Todd Pettengill via his Instagram account @ToddPettengill.