BEST OF BULLDOG
Wrestling Memories From StarPhone
Originally published April 22, 2014
I know what many of you are thinking after reading the above headline - HUH?
To the uninitiated, StarPhone was a free, automated, 24-hour telephone information service available in the Toronto area and sponsored by Canada's largest daily circulation newspaper, the Toronto Star.
In an age before the Internet was in every home, StarPhone was a crucial resource for those who wanted to hear daily horoscopes, entertainment options and sports scores.
What does this have to do with professional wrestling? Well, if you were a fan in the Toronto area in the 1990's or early 2000's, it had a TON to do with professional wrestling.
Before we get into that, though, you have to understand that for die-hard wrestling fans back in the day, Norman DaCosta was the shit. A Kenyan-born journalist who made his name covering soccer, his Thursday wrestling columns were a much sought-after break in the world of kayfabe. Sure, it was little more than a repeat of what was in that week's dirtsheets, but at the time.... we didn't know that!
Norm wouldn't just feed us what "the man" was telling us in WWF and WCW. He would tell us when someone was jumping ship to another organization. He would tell us what happened at a recent television taping, weeks and sometimes months before it aired on television. He would clue us in on what was happening in Mexico, Japan and other far-away lands. More importantly, Norman Da Costa was the first person I knew to tell us stupid mark fanboys that Shawn Michaels (at the time, one half of The Rockers and nothing more) was among the best wrestlers in the entire world.
Part One - Norman Da Costa
Fast forward a few years (let's say 1992 or thereabouts; much of StarPhone's history has been wiped out by the tag team of my hazy memory and a lack of decent historical information online). StarPhone had opened its telephone switchboard to the public through giant full-page ads in the Toronto Star.
By calling 416-350-3000 -- these days, the number leads you to a pre-recorded cricket results hotline -- you were given the current time (often sponsored by Bulova Watch), the current downtown temperature and an advertisement for a Toronto Star feature, such as the columnist Joey Slinger. From there, wrestling fans like myself chose hotline option 2049 - the wrestling hotline, hosted by the Dave Meltzer of Toronto - the one and only Norman Da Costa.
In a slow, deliberate and heavily-accented voice, Mr. D would deliver the top wrestling news - only now, it didn't have to be on a Thursday! Normie was certainly pleasant enough on StarPhone, but it quickly became clear by his demeanor that he would have rather continued with the written word rather than have the world hear his voice.
Now for the scandalous part: as a mischevious teen (and at the time, aspiring journalist), I often wondered how Norm got his information. Again, we didn't know about the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and its ilk at the time, so we thought he got his tips over the telephone from, let's just say, a drunk Bobby Heenan or something.
I decided to test my theory when I called Mr. Da Costa at the newspaper many, many, MANY times over the years and feed him wrestling dirt. More often than not, my "news" would make it on to the StarPhone hotline.
I'm absolutely serious! It began with a call in the early 1990's with a "tip" that I had attended a WCW television taping in Macon, Georgia. The Honky Tonk Man (managed by Michael "P.S." Hayes) made his debut by slamming a guitar over the head of Johnny B. Badd. Normie D printed this as fact and added "There's talk he wants the TV Title". Who came up with that talk? No clue.
Then about two years later, I convinced my brother to call him up and say that a muscular ex-WWF wrestler debuted on WCW Saturday Night and beat up some heel (can't remember whom I fabricated the heel to be). We predicted to Norm that it was either The Ultimate Warrior or Davey Boy Smith. DaCosta deadpanned (and I know this because I had the conversation on tape at the time) that it wasn't The Warrior. Later that evening, his hotline "broke" the news that Davey Boy Smith would soon appear in WCW under a mask (despite "rumors" that it was Ultimate Warrior).
Want one more? We once called up Norm with the news that at a WCW house show (again with the WCW rumors) the team of Booker T and Stevie Ray (at the time, they were mere nobodies in the Global Wrestling Federation) as "The Harlem Headbangers". Sure enough, this was once again printed as verbatim. But strangely enough (and we had NO WAY of knowing this, by the way), the Huffman brothers debuted in WCW about a year as Harlem Heat!!! Mind. Blown.
After a while, and well before the Internet and the Monday Night Wars brought wrestling awareness to a whole other level, Norm began his daily update by stating that "Big..... Van..... Vader" had injured WCW Champion Sting during a match overseas, possibly Ireland, and that Sting would have to vacate the championship. I remember the details of this because this was the last update Norm had for several MONTHS! Literally, we would dial in to StarPhone every single day to hear "Big.... Van.... Vader" and then hang up in frustration.
Norm eventually returned without explaining his lengthy hiatus (perhaps he was rapped on the knuckles for making up so much WCW crap?) and kept on trucking until his replacement took over a few months later.
Part Two - Joltin' Joe
I'm not going to lie to you - I spent a ridiculous amount of time and effort trying to figure out who "Joltin' Joe" was and what his qualifications were to replace the incomparable Norman Da Costa. Ocassionally in his final days on StarPhone, Norm would indicate that he heard something from his "friend Joe" -- this must have been the guy. Thanks to the Interwebs, I can now confirm that his surname is Peisich and he can be found on YouTube doing his shtick. For those of you who followed Double J back in the day, it is a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, Joltin' Joe sounded about 13 years old with a whiny, pre-pubescent voice, and his diction made Norm Da Costa sound like James Earl Jones in comparison.
But what Joe lacked in vocal talent, he more than made up for in ambition. Within a year, Joltin' Joe had gone from the Da Costa standard of one hotline to NINE different hotlines! This was, of course, wrestling nirvana for us ham-and-egger fans. Option one was the daily report, while the other options ranged from television results to upcoming house shows to ACTUAL INTERVIEWS with ACTUAL WRESTLERS!!! We're talking everyone from Torrie Wilson to Rob Van Dam and from Val Venis to Jason Sensation.
I could be wrong on this count, but I believe Joltin Joe's reign of awesomeness lasted on StarPhone until the service's collapse at the end of 2004. To be perfectly honest, I stopped listening with any regularity in the late 1990's, when I realized that all of this stuff was easily accessible online. But I do remember he expanded his empire to hotlines on the NBA and what have you. Regardless of how I felt about the kid's voice, he must have had his working shoes on to create so much great content over the years.
Part Three - Competition
At the same time that Norman Da Costa was rising to local wrestling hotline prominence, the Yellow Pages established its own free information service (The Talking Yellow Pages), which could be accessed by calling 416-283-1010. Today, when you call it, a recorded message tells me that the number is no longer in service.
I'm sure every major city had their own Talking Yellow Pages, and probably with similar content to boot. But by dialing extension 1053 on the Toronto TYP, fans were treated to the "Wrestling Wrap" hotline with Cody Boines.
I will be honest - there was nothing available on the "Wrestling Wrap" that you couldn't already hear on StarPhone (which is why I called this piece "Wrestling memories from StarPhone" and not "Wrestling memories from the Talking Yellow Pages."
Sure, Cody gave us a bunch of newsletter dirt and he would sometimes interview wrestlers such as Kanyon or George "The Animal" Steele (I remember the latter because (a) it was George The Animal Steele talking in a normal voice! and (b) because he made a homophobic slur during the course of the interview). But it wasn't the same for most of us in the Da Costa generation.
I feel as though Cody's reports were the exact same ones available in, say, Chicago or Tampa (those who listened to the Talking Yellow Pages in other cities, please feel free to confirm or deny this in the Comments section below). Perfectly acceptable fodder, to be sure, especially before the Internet became a "thing", but I can't say I spent hours on end listening to his reports the way I did StarPhone.
n later years, the prevalance of the Internet led to the collapse of StarPhone and with it, our daily doses of sweet, sweet audio wrestling gossip. I'd love to hear from anyone else who dialed in to StarPhone back in the day - either email me or leave a comment below.