Obituary: Perry Marshall / Celebrated radio host was both talker and listener
November 7, 2011 5:00 AM
By Molly Born Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Anyone who tuned in to hear the soothing voice of famed Pittsburgh talk-show host Perry Marshall knew the man loved to talk.
Those who knew him personally, and the audience who shared moments of their lives with him, knew he was also a great listener.
His daughter, Robin Marshall, said it's what Mr. Marshall would have considered his best trait.
The longtime late-night radio personality on KDKA-AM died Saturday because of heart complications from lung disease and pneumonia. The Mt. Lebanon resident was 86.
Mr. Marshall was born on Chicago's South Side on Oct. 13, 1925. He left high school at 17 to join the Navy, where he served four years. He later earned his GED.
Ms. Marshall wasn't sure how her father developed an interest in talk radio. "I think he always wanted to be in broadcasting," she said.
Before moving to Pittsburgh in 1951 for Elayne, his wife and the mother of his two children, Mr. Marshall had written and edited commercials for a radio station but had no on-air experience. Through some connections -- and the unexpected departure of a local radio announcer -- Mr. Marshall landed his first on-air gig at WPGH in East Liberty. He and Elayne later divorced.
Years later, Mr. Marshall became the first Top 40 disc jockey in Pittsburgh, signing on at WEEP. Ms. Marshall said he counted the Skyliners and Chubby Checker among his favorite acts.
After stints at WTAE, KQV and WJAS, Mr. Marshall joined KDKA in 1974 as a full-time talk host. His storied career ended when he retired in 1988. KDKA radio host Mike Pintek said Mr. Marshall went out on top.
A successful radio talk show host herself, Ms. Marshall remembers her father's coaching at a young age.
"When we used to come home from school, if there was any sign of an accent at all, he said, 'No, you can't talk like that,' " she said.
And he shared another valuable lesson she attributes to her success.
"He taught me how to tell a story, and that is what jump-started my career," she said. "Because of him, I have this career."
In a 1985 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Marshall said he was a voracious reader, loved -- and completed -- The New York Times' crossword puzzles and counted love and pizza with anchovies as things he couldn't live without.
KDKA's Robert Mangino said he often stayed up late to catch Mr. Marshall's talk show. One night, Mr, Mangino dialed in and Mr. Marshall took the then-13-year-old's call.
"He just made me feel so special that night, that he wanted to hear what I had to say," he said. "That conversation played a major role in influencing me and cultivating the love for radio that I have today."
Mr. Mangino recalled this story often and credited Mr. Marshall on KDKA promos. Years later, the man himself called in to Mr. Mangino's show.
Mr, Marshall said, " 'My, Robert, how you've grown,' " Mr. Mangino said. "It was so emotional having the guy I first talked to on talk radio calling my show."
Mr. Pintek remembers Mr. Marshall as a showman but "always a gentleman" who could field all calls with poise.
Mr. Pintek said the host was a perfect fit for that time slot because he was such a good listener. "It was more than just conversation," Mr. Pintek said, "and he'd give people more time than they would generally give on a talk show."
Mr. Marshall was married three times and is survived by his companion of 28 years, Rose Fabiani; his daughter, Robin Marshall of Charlotte, N.C.; and seven grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. today at William Slater II Funeral Service in Scott.