For his 41 years of journalistic contributions to pro wrestling, Bill Apter will soon be honored with special awards by three different entities.
But that doesn't mean Apter is ready to write the final chapter on his own career in grappling.
Apter remains just as busy as when he was synonymous with the newsstand magazines he began working for in 1970. Apter, 66, still juggles a host of wrestling projects while holding a day job helping Philadelphia-area adults with disabilities find employment.
"I think more and more people are seeing me out there right now from all different generations," Apter said during a Wednesday-night telephone interview. "It's nice that I'm not sick or dying and getting these awards."
Apter deserves the upcoming recognition. Publications like The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Illustrated provided a boost for grappling's popularity long before the Internet removed the mystique that once surrounded the industry's inner workings.
Under the auspices of famed boxing publisher Stanley Weston, the "Apter mags" were considered must-reads during the 1970s and '80s by avid fans -- many of whom believed the product wasn't scripted.
A lifelong wrestling fan while growing up in Queens, N.Y., Apter took many of the high-quality photographs that graced those issues. Like the other editorial content that seems campy by today's standards, Apter's columns tried to provide legitimacy to storylines and the pro wrestlers themselves as bona-fide tough guys. That Sports Illustrated-style approach as well as an on-air style honed from having spent time in the radio business helped Apter land frequent television appearances with wrestling promotions during the mid-'80s boom period.
"We became very powerful even with promoters," Apter said of the magazines' rise in the 1970s. "(Texas promoter/wrestler) Fritz Von Erich would see a guy in a magazine. He'd have (assistant/manager) Gary Hart call me to find out what the guy really looked like and whether he was someone they could work with. We got a lot of wrestlers bookings. The magazines predated cable television."
Apter was as protective about wrestling's backstage secrets as the performers themselves. Back when world-title changes were a far bigger deal than today, Apter usually knew ahead of time what would happen so he could plan photography and magazine coverage. Apter, though, kept his lips sealed.
"When people used to ask me if wrestling was fixed, I'd say, 'It's not broken,' and walk away," Apter said. "When guys who had my trust were talking over whatever they were going to do in their matches, I would walk the other way. The setup of the matches was not important to me because I wanted to cover it like a reporter.
"A fan would say, 'I guess you know what's going to happen tonight,' and I would tell them I didn't. It was usually the truth. I didn't want to know most of the time."
Pro-wrestling magazines gradually faded in popularity with the rise of the Internet and as WWE cornered the market with its own publication. Apter, though, has reinvented himself online at a prominent website (www.1wrestling.com). He remains an active writer for Fighting Spirit Magazine in the United Kingdom (www.fightingspiritmagazine.co.uk). Apter also serves as the emcee for the WrestleReunion conventions (www.wrestlereunion.com) that include so many of the legendary performers he once featured.
Apter's own profile will soon receive a boost when honored by the National Wrestling Alliance, Maryland Championship Wrestling and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.
Even with all he has accomplished, Apter said he still has two grappling goals left. The first is to land a Gene Okerlund-style gig as a backstage interviewer for WWE or Impact Wrestling. The second is WWE Hall of Fame recognition, but not for himself personally. Apter would like to accept on behalf of the entire magazine genre that helped build the careers of so many stars long before they were hired by WWE.
"When guys come up to the WWE Hall of Fame, they thank everyone in the company from the top to the janitor," Apter said. "None of them except for Jerry Lawler ever said, 'I want to thank the magazines.' A lot of people wouldn't have gotten known nationally without them."