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Obituary: Bob Trow, Compatriot of Rege Cordic and 'Mister Rogers'

Tuesday, November 03, 1998

By Barbara Vancheri and Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

Baby boomers got ready for school listening to Bob Trow, one of Rege Cordic's comic compatriots on the radio, while their children encountered him one generation and a technological leap later. Mr. Trow joined "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" three decades ago, playing everything from a troll to a dog to himself.

He was an artist in every sense of the word, whether it was giving voice to such zanies as Brunhilda, Carmen Monoxide or hipster Ahcool Berryfink or applying oil to canvas, producing masterful portraits of visitors to his house. Most of all, he and his radio partners proved Pittsburgh could take a joke -- happily.

"Dad, without a doubt, had a natural, ongoing every-day sense of humor," his younger son, Eric Trow of Plum, said yesterday. "He was a scream. In fact, some of the funniest stuff I remember was just his natural way of dealing with his shortcomings," such as when he would blow a line doing a commercial voice-over and break into an impromptu comedy routine, trotting out enough voices to populate a small town.

Mr. Trow died yesterday morning of a heart attack at his home in New Alexandria, Westmoreland County. He was 72 years old. Just last week, he taped appearances on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," where he played Robert Troll, Bob Dog and himself, for airing next year.

"He was such an integral part of the Pittsburgh broadcasting family," a saddened Fred Rogers said yesterday. "And to have been able to work with him last Tuesday and Thursday. One of the last things he said to me was, 'Thank you for having me, Fred."'

The children's host added, "He was an enormous talent, and for him to have been able to offer that to children through the neighborhood all through these years was a great gift." Rogers mused that Mr. Trow's personality "was woven through the neighborhood."

It was also woven through the history of Pittsburgh broadcasting and entertainment. After hearing one of Mr. Trow's musical groups, which served up humor plus harmonies, radio legend Cordic asked to manage them.

"Then he folded Dad into his Cordic and Company radio show," first on WWSW and then on KDKA Radio. To this day, it remains one of the most creative and polished in Pittsburgh radio history.

"That was the beginning of a long association," Cordic said yesterday. "Bob and Karl (Hardman) contributed greatly to the growth and direction the show took."

Cordic, Hardman, Mr. Trow and Sterling Yates invented the zanies who would drop by the studio to harass the host. Among them: Omicron the bureaucrat from Venus and the ever-popular Louie Adamchevitz, the Slav garbageman.

Cordic, who is now retired and living on the West Coast, remembered Mr. Trow's impish sense of humor. Mr. Trow was the voice and creative force behind several regular characters, including incorrigible punster Carmen Monoxide -- a character very close to its creator's personality, Cordic recalled. They even launched a Monoxide for president campaign. "He gave wonderful election speeches: 'I never made a promise that I kept and I don't intend to start now.'

"Those were golden years. And Bob was part of the gold."

It was 33 years ago this month that Cordic left KDKA for a job in Los Angeles and passed the morning baton to Mr. Trow and Art Pallan, who maintained the same stratospheric ratings as their popular predecessor. They spent 2 1/2 years in the wakeup slot, ceding it to Jack Bogut.

"It was such an incredible amount of work, to put together a show like that. He would literally get up by 3 o'clock in the morning and not get home till close to midnight," after writing, recording and pre-producing some segments, Eric Trow recalled yesterday. But, judging by the reaction of listeners, it was worth it.

To this day, when people meet Eric, creative director for the Brabender Cox advertising agency, they ask if he's any relation to Bob. "They remember riding in a car on the Parkway, they'd be laughing and turn and see the guy in the next car laughing."

Mr. Trow, who grew up in Beltzhoover as the youngest of seven children, also wrote and produced television and radio commercials. He did commercials for Parkvale Savings, Joseph Horne Co., and countless other clients. In the late '60s, he joined "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

David Crantz, longtime WTAE-TV promotions director who is now retired, marveled at Mr. Trow's uncanny ability to excel in so many areas -- as a performer, producer, writer and painter. "He was an extremely talented man and one who had more facets to his creativity than anyone I know. And yet, he was very self-effacing. He was always very quiet about himself."

Always, Mr. Trow turned down the chance to leave Pittsburgh, even if such a move promised more fame and fortune. "If there's ever been a Pittsburgher, someone who had pride in the city, 'I don't need anything beyond here,' it was him. He loved this city, he never had any desire to go anywhere else," his son recalled.

The "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" episodes he taped last week, as part of a lesson about "noisy and quiet," will air in February.

In early 1997, Mr. Trow was among the city's broadcasting heavyweights who teamed up to do a radio show -- a mix of social commentary, satire and humor -- performed at a meeting of the Fellows Club. "Radio at Three Rivers" featured Mr. Trow along with Hank Stohl, Paul Long, Adam Lynch, Nellie King and Beverly Thompson.

That assemblage represented more than 300 years of broadcast experience.

"We have lost a great talent and a dear friend," said Stohl, an actor and writer best known locally as the creator of the popular children's show starring the puppets Rodney and Knish. Stohl's friendship and creative partnership with Mr. Trow dated back to the 1960s, and they continued to work on a number of projects over the years, including private parties and corporate events with the puppet Knish.

Eric, who has done voice-over work since he was a child, isn't the only son to carry on the family business. His brother, Rob Trow, lives in Chicago and works as a studio vocalist and voice-over talent. Mr. Trow also is survived by Lois, his wife of 18 years, and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow and Thursday at the P. David Newhouse Funeral Home at the corner of Church and Washington streets in New Alexandria. Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Reformed Presbyterian Church in New Alexandria, followed by interment in Union Cemetery, New Alexandria.

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