It was three years ago today that Lou Adler died. For decades he arguably was New York City’s best-known—and best—radio newsman. For me he was a mentor and friend.
Lou began his radio career with CBS and became news director at the network’s New York City station, WCBS, when it adopted an all-news format. Lou later moved to another storied Manhattan station, WOR-AM. That was about when I met him.
We both served on the board of what was then called the Radio-Television News Directors Association (now the Radio-Television Digital News Association). He represented several New England states. I represented Illinois and Indiana. Even though he was “big market” and I worked in a small city, Lou and I connected because we were among the five “radio voices” on a 23-person governing board dominated by television news directors.
These were the days when technology (think satellites and videotape) had just made local TV coverage every bit as live and immediate as radio—but with pictures! TV news department budgets seemed unlimited. Radio was taking a back seat.
That feeling caused Lou to successfully seek election as the organization’s president in 1985. He immediately formed a radio committee and asked me to chair it, to find ways to enhance RTNDA’s value to radio news directors. We produced a range of programs of interest to any radio news director, such as the use of sound and how to attract good talent to radio news. But the most popular were those targeted to small and medium market radio stations where too often the news director was the only news person.
Lou and I had connected on a couple levels. Though he was a New York native, he knew the Midwest, having gone to grad school at Purdue. And we both played violin. Not particularly well, either.
With only a little embarrassment, I’ll share this story. During Lou’s tenure as RTNDA president, the organization honored me with its annual service award, named for its first executive secretary, Rob Downey. The award was presented at the annual multi-day conference held in Nashville that year.
As Lou was likely boring the luncheon crowd with the nice things he was saying about me, I allowed my eyes to drift to those of another person who sat on the dais just a few feet from where I stood, the person the several hundred had come to hear speak. It was Jane Pauley.
I looked at Jane Pauley. She was listening to what Lou was saying about me. And she winked at me.
My face surely flushed. I accepted the plaque from Lou and spoke 30 seconds of appreciation for the opportunities Lou and RTNDA had presented me. Some big names in the business knew my name. And Jane Pauley winked at me.
Lou eventually retired from radio, then earned a law degree and taught at Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University. When he died at the age of 88 on Dec. 22, 2017, the opening sentence in his New York Times obituary said Lou’s “exacting standards influenced a generation of broadcasters”.
I’d suggest that influence encompassed more than one generation, even continues in some quarters today. Lou was an industry leader, a great broadcaster and a good friend.