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Obituary: Rege Cordic: Popular Pittsburgh radio announcer in '40s, '50s, '60s

Sunday, April 18, 1999

By Torsten Ove and LaMont Jones, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

There was the pothole that was so big a family started living in it.

There was the Slav garbageman, whose house was on the cover of a trade magazine called "Better Homes and Garbage."

And, of course, there was "Olde Frothingslosh, the stale pale ale" that was so light the foam was on the bottom -- and so popular that Pittsburgh Brewing Co. actually started selling beer in special cans bearing the fictional name.

These were just a few of the goofy creations of Cordic & Co., a pioneering morning-drive radio show in the 1950s and 1960s that featured Rege Cordic playing the straight man to a cast of zany characters whose antics ultimately poked gentle fun at Pittsburghers' foibles.

Mr. Cordic, the host and ring-leader of the KDKA program and a legend in local radio, died of cancer Friday night in Los Angeles, where he had moved in 1966 to re-create his shtick for the southern California market.

He was 73 and had been suffering from colon and prostate cancer.

In his later years, Mr. Cordic became well-known for his bit-acting in popular TV shows such as "Gunsmoke" and "Ironside" and for the baritone voice in countless commercials, but in Pittsburgh he will be forever known as a radio "personality" before the industry became saturated with them.

"He was an extremely talented man," said Dave Crantz, 74, of Whitehall, a contemporary of Mr. Cordic's at WTAE. "He probably had a greater insight into radio of that period than anyone else."

Together with Robert McCully, Sterling Yates, Bob Trow, Karl Hardman and others, Mr. Cordic's show became an icon in Pittsburgh, starting at WWSW in the mid-1940s and then moving to KDKA in 1954. Mr. Cordic and his colleagues invented a cast of characters who would drop by the studio to harass the host. Among them were Omicron, the bureaucrat from Venus; Carmen Monoxide, a terrible punster; and Louie Adamchevitz, the Slav garbageman who became particularly beloved in a city of ethnic neighborhoods.

"It was an amazing show," said McCully, 75, of Point Breeze, who helped write many of the skits. "It dominated the morning market. I think it had 80 percent of the market at one time. We all wrote, but Rege was the focal point. He edited everything. He was one of the most wonderful people I've ever known."

Mr. Cordic and the others were all native Pittsburghers, so making fun of their hometown didn't faze them. Raised in Squirrel Hill, the son of a railroad worker, Mr. Cordic said the humor worked precisely because he and his colleagues weren't out-of-towners. Listeners could relate.

"They loved Pittsburgh put-down jokes," he told the Post-Gazette in 1993. "They knew we were all from Pittsburgh. If we made jokes about it, it was because we loved it."

One routine was called "What the Outside World Thinks of Pittsburgh When and If They Do." It went like this:

"This is Pittsburgh in the eyes of the New Yorker, the Bostonian, the San Franciscan, the Buffalo, the Deer, the Antelope. Here, where the mighty Susquehanna and the Ohio form to make the Mississippi, thousands of miles beyond the mountains in the east lies a grimy little town untouched by progress. This is Pittsburgh, known far and wide for its chief export, pickles. Here it is, too, in this Birmingham of the North, that some steel is occasionally made, when the pickle harvest is poor."

Over the years, however, Mr. Cordic began to burn out. He moved to California in 1966, where the idea was to re-make the show for the Los Angeles morning-drive market. He was on the air for a year and a half before the station switched to all-news. The Pittsburgh flavor of Mr. Cordic's show just didn't jibe with listeners in California.

"I heard him out there when I made trips," said Crantz. "The problem was it wasn't Pittsburgh. He was a Pittsburgh character. Every morning they had traffic reports that were longer than his commentary."

Mr. Cordic was born in Hazelwood. As a boy, he spent a lot of time at the P&LE Railroad Station, where his father worked. He credited his father with turning him into "a railroad freak."

Mr. Cordic graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1944 and attended Pitt Tech and New York University. He began his radio career in 1943 at WWSW as an announcer. After two years in the Navy, he returned to the station and in 1948 launched his own half-hour program.

It was an immediate success.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Cordic was president of the bogus Academy of Commercial Arts and Sciences that awarded mythical "Semi-Emmy" statuettes the day after the Academy Awards to honor the best radio commercials of the year.

A former Sewickley resident, Mr. Cordic fell in love with the California lifestyle after serving in the Navy there and never returned to Pittsburgh permanently after 1966.

But even after he left, he was known to a generation of Pittsburghers for hosting Sunday afternoon movies on WTAE-TV. He would fly in from Los Angeles to tape the segments, and later he did the tapings at a studio in Las Vegas.

Mr. Cordic tried regular acting for about 10 years, landing small TV roles.

"I enjoyed it but I didn't think I was getting anywhere," he once said. "Usually, I died before the first commercial."

Mr. Cordic switched to voice acting, using his famous baritone in many voice-overs in TV spots for such companies as Pennzoil, Roy Rogers, Plymouth, Hires Root Beer, Spray 'N Wash and Greyhound. He was also the voice of KABC-TV for promotions and documentaries and occasionally acted in movies.

Mr. Cordic appeared in the motion picture "Obsession," Woody Allen's movie "Sleeper" and numerous TV series before concentrating entirely on TV commercial voice-overs and network announcements.

In 1989, his was the voice filling New York movie theaters as narrator of a two-minute trailer for the film "Henry V."

In his later years, Mr. Cordic admitted he was never as popular in California as he had been in Pittsburgh. But it didn't bother him.

"We announcers sort of function in our own little world," he said in a 1985 interview. "I'm kind of anonymous, but it's a pleasant kind of anonymity. I rather enjoy it."

Mr. Cordic divorced in 1980 but remained close with his four children, all of whom live in California.

Mr. Cordic's many voices will live on. At the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, there's an exhibit of a 1950s suburban kitchen with the radio tuned to Mr. Cordic's morning show.

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