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Carl Princi, 71; Voice of Opera on L.A. Radio

May 05, 1992|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carl Princi, an elegant, mellifluent voice for opera over the airwaves of Los Angeles for four decades, has died of the complications of cancer.

The stylish Princi, most recently a staff announcer for radio station KKGO and before that one of the beloved veterans of what for years was the city's only classical outlet--KFAC--was 71.

His daughter, Carla, said Monday from the family's Toluca Lake home that her father died Friday at St. Josephs Medical Center in Burbank.

From the time he first went on local radio in 1952 until illness forced him off the air at KKGO only two weeks ago, Princi was among the best-known radio hosts in Southern California--classical, popular, rock or country.

When KFAC converted to a different classical and eventual pop format in the late 1980s in an effort to reach younger listeners, Princi, Fred Crane, Tom Dixon and Thomas Cassidy had more than 150 years of announcing among them, a local--if not a national--record. Their ouster produced a loud outcry from the fans they had developed over the years, who launched an unsuccessful telephone and letter-writing campaign to bring them back.

Princi had been off the air for four years when KKGO, a former jazz station that converted to classical to fill the gap created by the format change at KFAC, picked him in March, 1991, to host "Sunday Evening at the Opera."

In addition to his broadcasting chores, Princi for years also served as a liaison to the cultural community of the city. He was the narrator at oratorios, the master of ceremonies at musical fund-raising parties, the self-described factotum for tours of opera houses in other cities around the world. Through his appearances and the more than 200 broadcast interviews he conducted with musical personalities, his name came to be synonymous with the classical musical theater in this area.

Times music critic Martin Bernheimer said Monday:

"Carl Princi brought extraordinary dignity, dedication and knowledge to a task that, unfortunately, earned him diminishing returns in this commercially oriented community. For many he was 'the voice' of classical music in Los Angeles."

Trained as an actor in his native Boston, he started his show business career when he was only 14 in a cameo role in a WPA Theater project. While at Boston University he took a course in broadcasting, which led to a job at WESX, a small station in Salem, Mass.

He came to California and to station KWKW in Pasadena, where he did bilingual broadcasts in 1952-53. He auditioned at KFAC in 1953 and was hired when, as he recalled in a 1991 interview with The Times, "one of their announcers dropped dead in the hall."

That was a time when there were few commercials on that station and those that were broadcast were chosen for their quality and taste. Besides the standard classical fare, there were interviews with whatever musicians and dancers were in town at the old Philharmonic Auditorium, the Wilshire Ebell Theater or the Hollywood Bowl and later the "Luncheon at the Music Center" remotes. Princi became host to the "World of Opera" and "Opera House" broadcasts and conducted many of the station's interviews, particularly with singers.

He also served as a narrator for several TV broadcasts. Princi remembered those years fondly: "I'll tell you, a classical music listener is the best. They treat you seriously and either admire you or hate you. . . . "

Besides his daughter, Carla, he is survived by his wife, Althea, two other daughters, Elaine and Valerie, a brother, Eugene, and three grandchildren.

A funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday, at 10 a.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Hollywood.

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