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The Big Picture: Tolo's farewell short and simple

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Thor Tolo signed off the KDKA-AM airwaves last night with a simple, "Thanks, Kordell." It wasn't the most apropos way to fade into the radio ether. "That's unsentimental, I guess," he mused while the previously recorded interview went over the air. "I just wanted to melt in and melt out."

Seven years melted slowly, over an unprecedented 13-week period in which the station allowed a fired employee to take its 50,000-watt microphone every weeknight. Then, in 32 minutes of airtime before the Pirates pregame show last night, his KDKA tenure evaporated in, to use one of his cliches, "a shake of a lamb's tail."

Pirates announcers Greg Brown and Steve Blass, after a brief trade-deadline discussion, gave him a nice send-off. Even traffic reporter Trisha Pittman bade him adieu. Tolo's farewell show with callers came Monday (at station management's request). He said: "Not once in 13 weeks did we get a single crank call. I respect the audience. Not to sound cornball, but that was the biggest compliment in the world, that the station would trust me [on the air all that time] and the audience would respect me, too. To be able to say goodbye at your own pace, for three months, has been great. Not many people get to do that."

That move might also say something about the station's fiscal willingness to pay Tolo and a replacement at the same time, but let's reserve this moment for a nice guy on his way out the door of KDKA-AM and the PNC Park studio. Two friends from Johnstown brought him a card and a beer. The Pirates, via vice president Vic Gregovits, presented him with two Home Plate Club tickets and dinner for the night. What most surprised Tolo was a fun little montage his KDKA-TV colleagues made and played for him on Tuesday's UPN "Nightly Sports Call." "The TV thing, that moved me," he admitted in a hushed tone, which is a rare pitch for him.

Tolo was scheduled to fly early this morning back to New York, where he was vacationing until Monday with his wife, Shelly, and sneaking in a few job interviews. Over the past three months, he has talked with prospective employers in radio and TV, his preferred next field. After all, this was the fourth time he has been fired from radio, and he vowed to get out of this business after the third -- seven years ago in Minneapolis. He also plans to spend the next few months visiting his brother and ailing mother in South Dakota.

If only he was as self-deprecating on the air the past seven years as he was off the air last night. "At least I shook Bill Virdon's hand," he joked of the Pirates coach whom he once mistakenly told his audience was dead. While gesticulating with his highlighter pen at one point, the yellow insides flew out: "How symbolic is that? My whole life is falling apart." And asked for any final words to his audience across Western Pennsylvania and 37 other states, he quipped: "Thanks, Kordell."

"I think I got better at what I did," continued Tolo, whose 6-9 p.m. slot will be filled by Paul Alexander starting Monday. "I think I got better as an ad-libber and entertainer. I think you can be a journalist and make people smile at the same time. That was much more important to me than peppering people with facts they would forget before the sun went down. I took what goes over the air very seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously."

He paused. "Oh, gosh, that was good. I ought to send that to Reader's Digest and get $55." He smiled. Soon after, he was out the door and into the radio ether.


Not to break into David Bowie lyrics, but let's dance along with several Pro Hall of Fame specials locally (WTAE-TV is sitting out this one, after grooving along with the group last year):

• At 7 p.m. today, WPXI-TV airs "Kelly & Stall: Another Call to the Hall," which gets replayed at the same time tomorrow on PCNC.

• KDKA-TV shows live "Stallworth and Kelly -- A Hall of Fame Special" at 7 p.m. Saturday, a few hours after the ceremony.

• Fox Sports Net's Pittsburgh affiliate will air its "John Stallworth Hall of Fame Tribute" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday..

Random notes

• Rocco Pendola lives ... and writes. Now out of the talk-show business, which brought him to then-WTAE-AM six years ago, the former radio wunderkind has penned "Ramblings from Rocco: Hockey, Radio, Life and Our Urban Environment." The 121-page paperback is available (for $11.95) through www.roccopendola.net.

• Bill Parcells joined ESPN's "NFL Countdown," which must mean he wants back into coaching, because TV is the springboard.

• Slam Ball starts Saturday on TNN. It's ... wack basketball.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1724.

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