Jim “Good Ol’ JR” Ross is one of the most widely recognized and admired broadcasters in the sports entertainment world. In addition to announcing matches, he’s also a restaurateur, entrepreneur, a Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment executive and, occasionally, a wrestler himself. If it’s a wrestling event worth watching, his distinct, southern accent provides the commentary.
Oklahoma Magazine: How’d you find your way into the world of wrestling?
Jim Ross: I was attending Northeastern State University back in the ‘70s and my fraternity got in touch with Leroy McGuirk, Tulsa’s regional wrestling promoter, for a charity event. It went well, and after I graduated there was a standing job offer from him. I’d been a lifelong TV sports fan since I was a boy and that’s how I got into the business – at just $125 per week.
OM: And it took off from there?
JR: McGuirk was blind, so I worked as sort of a personal assistant to him, and I learned the business from the bottom up – everything from ring crew work to refereeing. I was always interested in broadcasting. My opportunity came when somebody forgot that the regular TV guy was on vacation. I was called into duty at the last minute. I got a sport coat and a tie and went to work. And from there I went to work for Ted Turner, then TBS, and in 1993, I landed at the WWE. It’s been a fun ride, going from a two-camera shoot on a one-hour local TV show to cable and satellite TV into WWE, which isn’t just national but global, probably 150 countries and 30 languages.
OM: You’re a bit of an outdoor chef. Where’d that come from?
JR: I grew up in far eastern Oklahoma in Westville. We lived in a four-room concrete-block house and it was so hot that we prepared a lot of food outdoors just to keep the house cooler. So we smoked a lot of meat outside and one of my chores was to manage the smoker. My mother would make homemade barbecue sauce, and that’s the origin of my entrepreneurial venture: a line of barbecue sauces, ketchup, mustard and five flavors of beef jerky. It’s all Oklahoma made. It’s not a vanity project where I just wanted to see my face on a label. That would have sold maybe once. I’ve also written two cookbooks, and one of them was a New York Times bestseller.
OM: You’re widely regarded as one of the best sports announcers around. What’s the secret to getting fans so excited?
JR: Being natural. I never play the role of a broadcaster. I never put a headset on and pretend to be what I think an announcer should be. I’ve also always been a fan of the athletes. I never saw announcing as a job. I just thought, “I’m a lucky guy. This is a lot of fun.” You also have to be prepared and have enough information to keep the viewer entertained. I had a lot of role models, too. Growing up in a small Oklahoma town as an only child, I was around a lot of adult conversations. There are some colorful storytellers in those hills. My two grandfathers were like that. I also had a transistor radio. I’d listen to KMOX radio out of St. Louis and hear Jack Buck and Harry Caray broadcast the Cardinals. It always sounded like they were talking directly to me. That’s an amazing gift. They were great storytellers and great role models for me.
OM: You’re a huge OU football fan. And that’s saying a lot in this state.
JR: It goes back to spending quality time with the guys in my family. Listening to OU football games was the way I bonded with my father, uncle and grandfathers. There were only maybe three OU games on TV when I was a kid. Always OU-Texas and OU-Nebraska, and hopefully a bowl game. It was a family activity. Long before Stoops came to OU, I was in. I was a member of the church. I made an emotional investment in Oklahoma football as a kid because that was a chance to sit on my dad’s knee, listen to a game and have him explain it to me. It was an important part of my relationship with him.