Back in March of ’96, Todd Pettengill was struck with an idea.
What if he brought some of his world into the WWE realm?
Then known as the World Wrestling Federation, Pettengill was an on-air personality for the company, one that brought energy and passion—and goofiness and fun—to the product. His forte wasn’t necessarily pro wrestling, but rather entertainment as a whole. As a disc jockey since the age of 13 (since he was too young to be paid, the radio station rewarded him with records as a token of their appreciation for his services), Pettengill knew how to capture—and then seize—an audience’s attention. So as he prepared to host the company’s Slammy Awards, he drew back on his radio instincts—and developed a musical number to open the show.
“On the radio, I used to do a parody song every morning,” said Pettengill. “I’d written over 5,000 of them. I’d get in at about at 3:30 and we’d go on at six, so I’d find out whatever the biggest story was of the day, then write a song, produce it, and get it on the air by six.
“That was in the days of Billy Crystal singing those musical numbers, and I thought, ‘This would be great.’ I didn’t have to ask—I was hired to do what I do, which I really appreciated. I just put it together, then went to the guys at rehearsal and said, ‘I put together a musical number.’ We needed an open, and it was an open. Now I’m one of the world’s worst singers, but it was fun, and the superstars took it really well.”
Pettengill always brought a fresh perspective to WWE, which he plans to do the same this Sunday when he appears on-screen for NXT during TakeOver: In Your House. His presence and spirit were unlike any other personality on WWE programming, and he fit tremendously well in the company’s push toward its “New Generation”.
A major element of Pettengill’s success was an adamant refusal to ever take himself too seriously. And from pay per views to Live Wire, his focus was spotlighting the talent.
“I’m not an actor, I’m a presenter,” said Pettengill. “I tried to play a role and put over the superstars—it was about them and not me. That’s how I approached it. I have so much respect for these stars. And I’m not the story, I’m there to help tell their story. Nine times out of ten, hopefully it worked.”
The son of Charlie and Jane, Pettengill grew up in Hagaman, New York, roughly 30 miles west of Albany. His voice matured early, which allowed him to get that first job on AM radio at the age of 13. Listeners could immediately connect to the sincerity of his passion, and that first job helped ignite a marvelous stretch of radio and television success that has lasted over four decades.
“My mom actually got me that first job in radio,” recalled Pettengill. “She said, ‘You just have too much time on your hands and you’re going to get in trouble, so you’re going to work.’ I’d eventually meet people that listened to me, and they couldn’t believe I wasn’t some 60-year-old bald guy. I guess they had a mental image of me, but I was just a kid, one with a really badass mullet. And I worked and I worked and I worked. I had a passion for something, and I did it.”
Pettengill’s refusal to take himself too seriously made him even more endearing, especially in WWE, which was another lesson he learned from his parents.
“My mom always said, ‘No matter how much success you have, remember where you come from,’” said Pettengill. “I came from a little town in upstate New York that had a grocery store where they killed the chickens in the morning and then you could buy them in the afternoon. And no matter where I went, I always remembered where I came from.”
Pettengill’s stretch in WWE occurred as a number of the stars from the golden era of the 1980s were transitioning out of the company. He remains grateful for the chance to have worked with “The Macho Man” Randy Savage, who he believes was instrumental in helping him build respect among the roster and a different type of confidence on the air.
“I was lucky to work with a guy like the Macho Man, someone that transcended wrestling,” said Pettengill. “I sort of brought my spin, my twist, but he taught me the way he did things. That led to some real chemistry between Randy and me. Our affection for one another was genuine.”
After a stretch that ranged from ’93 to ’97, Pettengill made the decision to exit the company. Had he stayed, it would have been interesting to see how he would have evolved in the “Attitude Era”.
“More [WWE] shows were being added, and I was still on the radio, so I was using all my vacation time to travel with WWE,” said Pettengill. “My wife was like, ‘We should probably have a vacation at some point, it’s been five years.’ So it was the schedule.
“I often wonder what would have happened had I stayed and given up the radio career, but you never know. That’s why I’m so excited to come back for In Your House. There are going to be some amazing matches, and I think there is really something I can bring to the show with a fresh perspective.”
Pettengill runs Skull Islands Studios, which falls under the Pettengill Productions banner, his broadcasting company. No longer on the radio after the station where he worked was sold and changed formats to Christian broadcasting, he has since moved from New Jersey to Texas. Asked if he would ever be open to extending his run with WWE, Pettengill admitted that the idea was intriguing.
“I’m taking projects and trying to have a little fun, and that’s why the timing is sort of perfect for me for this weekend with WWE,” said Pettengill, who noted that he is eternally grateful for people’s support. “Wrestling fans are the most loyal fans of any sport, ever. I am still shocked that people remember me, and I’m so appreciative. I hope a flame rekindles.”
In Your House is an especially appropriate show for Pettengill to reappear. He flourished while serving as an on-air hype artist for IYH in its infancy, and he is eager to bring a different element to the NXT broadcast.
“It’s more than just nostalgia, and that’s why I’m so excited about it,” said Pettengill. “I still feel like I have something to say, and I can’t wait to say it at TakeOver: In Your House.”
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