NORFOLK (WAVY) — When the Gwinnett Braves were playing the Tides this week, their radio broadcaster may have a familiar voice and name.
For nearly 20 years, Virginia native Tony Schiavone was one of professional wrestling’s main announcers
A 1980 graduate of James Madison, Schiavone’s broadcasting career began with a job offer he turned down that he still thinks about to this day.
“I was hired as the play-by-play guy for the James Madison football team,” Schiavone said. “Also around that time I got a chance to do minor league baseball in Greensboro, so I had a decision to make. Do I leave and go to Greensboro and pursue my baseball career or do I do James Madison football and basketball and I went with baseball, so I turned them down. It was a very difficult decision and one I agonized over for quite a while.”
After a season calling games for the Single A Greensboro Hornets, Schiavone took a job calling games for the Charlottes O’s minor league team that was owned by members of the Crockett family which ran Jim Crockett Promotions, one of the top wrestling territories in the country.
“One of the first things I did was when I got to Charlotte I told Frances Crockett, ‘I could do wrestling, if you guys ever need somebody I can do it’. I bugged her for over a year and then it kind of happened. She brought me in one day and she said, ‘Okay, they need somebody to do an interview with Ric Flair’ and I went, ‘No, really?’ and she said you are going to go to his house and do an interview with him.”
Schiavone then became a full time wrestling announcer for the NWA, which would later become WCW, and he was seen on syndicated TV and national cable power TBS and then TNT in the 1980’s
Schiavone’s fondest memories are of the 1980’s period and he remembers how hot Norfolk was for wrestling.
“Norfolk was one of our better markets,” said Schivaone. “Even when business was down, Norfolk was one of my favorite places because we had a lot of great fans that we got to know. I developed some friendships from Norfolk fans.
Magnum T.A. was from Hampton Roads and was one of wrestling’s brightest young stars, but his career was cut short in 1986 after a car accident.
“It was absolutely horrible because of the big star that he was and the big push that he was getting, it was a terrible day. I think Magnum would have been the next world champion, I really do because of his look, because of his interviews and because of the way he could wrestle. His belly-to-belly suplex was pretty darn awesome and no one did that.”
WCW was bought out by the WWE in 2001. Schiavone was not offered a job, but he wasn’t out of work long.
“I had been certified as an official scorer by Major Leauge Baseball. I had scored an afternoon ballgame and I got to thinking, when the Richmond Braves move to Gwinnett, I’m gonna see if I can become an official scorer. I called Bruce Baldwin who was the GM at that time, I told him ‘when the Richmond Braves come to Gwinnett let me be your official scorer’, he said I have a better idea, and he said ‘I’m looking for a radio broadcaster’.”
Schiavone also does work with the Georgia Bulldogs football and basketball teams and the father of 5 grown kids has added yet another job.
“To add to all of that, and not many people know this, I’m training to be a barista at Starbucks. The reason I’m doing that is because they have great benefits, it’s a great place to work, I’ve always loved Starbucks. I’ve got time and I want to fill up my time working, I really do, I want to stay busy.”