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Obviously it takes a man of derring-do to tolerate the kind of fame Bob Prince enjoys in broadcasting, but Prince seems wholly willing to take risks that only his listeners would wish on him. Publicist Berger vividly recalls a day he accepted an invitation to share a single-engine plane that big-spender Prince had chartered for a trip to a banquet in Warren, Pa., about 100 air miles from Pittsburgh.
"We're no sooner airborne," says Berger, "than Prince asks the pilot if he can take over the controls. He doesn't have a pilot's license but he tells the pilot he's got a number of flying hours. Prince takes over, and everything goes smoothly for a while. The weather on our path is fine. Then Prince looks way out to the left, sees a small storm center and says to the pilot, 'Why don't we fly through that storm?' The pilot was agreeable, so into the storm we go, and I'm sitting there saying Hail Marys. We come out of the storm O.K., and then Prince decides to fly the plane upside down. Finally, as we're approaching Warren, Prince says, 'Can I land her?' The pilot, as usual, says O.K., even though we have to fly down the side of a mountain and across a river and hit a landing strip just a few feet above water level. Well, Prince is flawless, and he puts the plane down nicely. Then he says, 'You know, that's the first time I've ever landed a plane.' I went back to Pittsburgh on the bus."
"So what?" says Prince. "Maybe I could have been a lawyer and made a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, but I wouldn't have had half as much fun."
Prince got into broadcasting after his father had more or less thrown him into the street, damned if he would tolerate a career playboy. The late Colonel F. A. Prince, a onetime West Point halfback, raised his son on half a dozen Army posts and saw him through four universities. At last, with a B.A. from Oklahoma, Prince entered Harvard Law School, where he flunked Procedure in his first year. "I probably could have gotten back in the next term," says Prince, "but my old man went to the movies in Montgomery, Ala., looked up at the newsreel and started swearing. I was up there competing in a jitterbugging contest. He said, 'You're just spending my money at Harvard. You're going to work. Here's $2,000 to get started. Go make a living.' "
Instead, Prince went to Zelienople, Pa., near Pittsburgh, and settled comfortably in his grandmother's home. Colonel Prince phoned and said, "Throw him out of the house." It seemed only natural, then, that the prodigal son would turn to sportscasting, for he had been a frustrated athlete all his life, and still is. "When I was young I rode in a rodeo in Cheyenne," says Prince. "I came out of that shoot on a big, black s.o.b. and rode him for about five seconds and then got the life kicked out of me. My old man said, 'You gotta be an idiot—why'd you do it?' And I said, 'Cause somebody said I wouldn't dare try to.' " Rising to other challenges, Prince had his mouth caved in by a polo mallet and his face scarred from fencing without a mask. When his skill as an equestrian was questioned, he responded by galloping a foxhunt trail—jumps and all—at 3 a.m. in a driving rain. When invited to appear with show-business personalities in a benefit stock-car race, he finished first by furiously crowding a terrified disc jockey off the track.
Prince had a cousin who managed a Pittsburgh radio station, so he became a sportscaster. He quickly decided that the best ticket for his 15-minute evening show was controversy, and for a starter he harassed Boxer Billy Conn for ducking tough fights. Conn's next fight was an easy one, lasting only the few moments it took his friends to pry him off Prince's throat. Pressing on, Prince conscientiously attended Pirate games, carrying a typewriter with which he made notes. Both sides of his typewriter case bore his name in giant letters—a display of ostentatiousness that was not lost on the working press. One afternoon, while Prince sat behind the Pirate dugout, the chairman of the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association dropped a bag of water on him. "I was sort of a brash individual," Prince explains.
Pirate owners, impressed by the following Prince had built with his 15-minute show, foisted him upon Chief Pirate Broadcaster A. K. (Rosey) Rowswell, a shriveled old man who had no use for Prince. Throughout 1947, their first season together, Rowswell permitted Prince to speak only when commercials had to be read. Otherwise, Prince's duties consisted of executing a Rowswell sound-effects trademark known as the Big Drop. Each time a Pirate hit a home run Rowswell would cry, "Get upstairs, Aunt Minnie, and open the window." The idea was that the baseball was screaming toward Aunt Minnie's bedroom window. Prince, standing on a chair, dutifully would hurl glasses, ashcan lids and cowbells to the floor. "She never made it," Rowswell would conclude.
Feeling worse abused than Aunt Minnie's house, Prince braced Rowswell at the end of the season and demanded, "What do you have against me?"
"You're nothing but a fresh punk," replied Rowswell.
"Look," said Prince, "all I want to do is succeed you when you retire or die. Even if it takes 35 years, all I want to be until then is your assistant." The next season Rowswell let Prince share the play-by-play and, before Rowswell's death seven years later, Prince's exposure as assistant announcer multiplied his broadcasting assignments and personal-appearance fees. He became business adviser to Pirate slugger Ralph Kiner (now a Mets' announcer) and is, says a Forbes Field regular named Maniac McDonough, "the reason Ralphie Kiner is working today."