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The Opening Bump:
Bill Takes A Job in the Sunny South

While most of Bill Bowman's fans think of him as a Virginia television personality, he actually grew up in Pennsylvania and began his career in radio. He was a disc jockey at an FM station in Pennsylvania, but after a couple years, the station went belly up. As Bowman says, FM was just not that big in 1951.

On the last day, Bowman's boss called him into the office and said he had a lot of solid qualities as an employee, but he just did not sound good on the radio. He was then given the advice to get into television where he could hide behind a camera.


For several years, Bowman cut his teeth in the production end of television and by 1962 was working as a director for WTPA in the Harrisonburg, PA market.   According to Bowman, by that point in his career, he had had enough of snow and ice.  In the summer of 1962, Bowman toured the south and took copies of his resume, stopping by every TV station he could locate, including WXEX.    Then, in November, he got a call from the production manager at WXEX, the ABC affiliate in the Richmond market called Bowman and said they had an opening for a director if he was still interested.  With the ice and snow closing in fast, Bill Bowman made the decision to pull up his roots, beginning a broadcast career in the Old Dominion.

Act One of Our Exciting Movie!
Shock Theatre on the BIG 8!

DEBUT: The first time Bill Bowman played the role of the Bowman Body was on Monday, June 22, 1970 when he hosted the classic 1935 Universal horror film, The Raven, staring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi at 11:30 pm.   The station had recently acquired the famous Shock! and Son of Shock! packages licensed through Screen Gems for television broadcast across the country and featured a total of 72 horror, suspense and science-fiction movies. 

The Shock! package had played before in Richmond . . . in fact, channel 12 (then known as WRVA) had its own hosted version of Shock Theater from 1958 through 1961, beginning just a few months after the package was initially released.  (To learn more about that show, and it's hosts, Ghoulda and Hazel Witch, please see www.virginiacreepersmovie.com).  However, it had been a decade since then and Bowman's presentation of the movies was a beacon for a new generation of "monsterkids."

The show was originally done as a week long "Shock Film Festival" (as seen in the Richmond Times Dispatch ad from June 22, 1970).  The event was a hit, even though Bill unintentionally lit his cape on fire at one point.  It was all ad lib, but full of campy, corny humor that set the audience at ease and established the tone for the show to come.  Though he had never intended to work in front of the camera, this twist of fate brought out talents people still revere today.

"BY POPULAR DEMAND":  The response was so great that the station decided to hold more "horror film festivals" and two more times that summer and once in the following November, The Bowman Body filled the small screen.  The real turning point seems to have been the week of September 7-11 when the show was catching on with college audiences.  At this point that Bill Bowman remembers making a general appeal to his audience:  “If you like what you see, write the station because otherwise I will be selling hot dogs on Virginia Beach.” 

The response was tremendous, especially among college students who were enjoying the Bowman Body in both unadulterated and ahem . . . enhanced . . . forms. Letters came in by the hundreds and one petition came in from the College of William and Mary with over 400 signatures on it.

WEEKLY TRIPS INTO TERROR:  How long would Richmond have to wait for weekly "trips into terror"?  Newspaper records indicate that Shock Theatre hit the Richmond market on a weekly basis on Friday night, February 19, 1971 with a showing of The Mummy's Tomb. Shock Theatre with Bill Bowman remained on Friday nights for nearly two years and according to Reed Wolliver, station artist and assistant on the show, the Bowman Body was beating out Johnny Carson with slightly more than a 50 percent share . . . meaning over half the households watching TV at 11:30 in the Richmond area were tuned in to THE BIG 8!

EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT:  From February of 1971 through January of 1973, the show aired on Fridays nights, first at 11:30 after the news and then at 12:30 after Perry Mason.  Then from mid-January to mid-May in 1973, Shock Theatre with the Bowman Body was not on the air at all.  Bill Bowman took a temporary position with WVIR 29 in Charlottesville, an NBC affiliate that was developed largely by radio people.  Bowman was the only person there with any TV experience and was instrumental in getting the station off the ground . . . and inspiring their own horror movie program, Slime Theater.

However, the show returned, this time on Saturday night after Soul Train,  to WXEX in the spring.  For a short time, it was hosted by Reed Wolliver, who played "Count Drac" until Bowman took over in June.  Most people remember this as his time slot, in large part because of a fan made theme song that featured the lyrics, "Every Saturday night upon your TV screen, Bowman Body keeps you awake just to mess up your dreams.  (See the video to the right for the origin of the song.)



The final year of Shock Theatre, 1976, began with a switch back to a Friday timeslot that sometimes changed according to other programming, airing occasionally as late as 1 am.  It ran from January 3 until September 10, with the final film of the WXEX years being I Bury the Living.

During this time, several changes were taking place and Bill Bowman decided it was a good point to take advantage of new opportunities in independent production.




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