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Date Posted: 20:09:58 11/11/12 Sun
Author: Ray Hoffman
Subject: Re: WEEP Parade
In reply to:
's message, "Re: WEEP Parade" on 01:56:22 11/10/12 Sat
Strange things were happening in that 1975 season. Prince had missed a significant number of games (due to a stomach problem, I believe), and being that it was no longer a three-man booth there were a number of fill-ins. And one of prominence: Bing Crosby, who did --as I recall it-- all nine innings of a TV broadcast from Shea Stadium. I remember, also, about two weeks before the end of the regular season, the famous 22-0 game against the Cubs. It was radio-only that day, and the Gunner actually left the booth around the seventh.
This was all part of the set-up for the announcement that came at the end of October. I remember turning on Channel 2 for the noon news, and seeing the unusually grave look on Bill Burns face as he spoke the lead-in, "Bob Prince and Nellie King have been fired as the Pirate broadcasters."
That afternoon, I turned over to WEEP for Mike Levine's talk show, and quickly discovered that I wasn't the only one with a stunned, angry reaction. I called WEEP's program director, an Englishman named Roger Willoughby-Ray, and volunteered to help put together the protest parade that Levine and Jack Wheeler were formulating on the air (I was still waiting to land my first job in broadcasting, so I had the time).
I went right downtown to the WEEP studios in the Fulton Building. Willoughby-Ray gave me a desk and a phone (next to Mike Levine's desk), with instructions to find some marching bands and fire trucks, parade-type stuff. Which wasn't easy, as many organizations didn't want to be involved in a political protest. But County Commissioner Tom Foerster did. So did Dr. William Hunt, the minority commissioner...even though he was in a tough re-election campaign which he would lose the following Tuesday. With those two pulling the levers, I had my fire trucks and marching bands. Then the local Ford dealers group (which had some sort of sponsorship arrangement with Prince) came through with some cars.
I remember also how involved the people in Johnstown were. I called the long-time sportscaster at WJAC-TV, Bill Wilson, and he delivered (as I remember it, 37 years later) several chartered buses full of Bob-and-Nellie fans. This all happened, mind you, within about a five-day time span.
Now came the parade. It was the day after the local elections, Wednesday November 5, 1975. The bands and the firetrucks and the Fords were assembled that morning outside the Civic Arena. And Roger Willoughby-Ray turned to me and said, "You lead the way." So with a 22-year old kid that no one knew out in front, we made our way from the Arena to the County Jail...with not a person on the sidewalk. Then we made the turn onto Fifth Avenue. Me first. There they were: thousands, thousands, cheering from the sidewalks and the open windows above.
To this day, when I think about walking down the middle of Fifth Avenue with a marching band and majorettes and those fire trucks immediately behind me, I can't help but see myself as Alec Guinness's Colonel Nicholson looking at the bridge he built over the River Kwai!
It was a great day in Pittsburgh. And it's a damn shame it ever had to happen.
WCBS Newsradio 880, New York
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