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GIL GROSS TRIBUTE TO LOU ADLER
Adler, former WCBS anchor and news director,
died on December 22, 2017
Former WCBS News Director Lou Adler has passed away. My career is, in a way, a tale of four news directors: Dick Westbrook at WDZ, Decatur, who rescued me from working my way through college loading UPS trucks from 10pm-4am and basically gave me a career, Phil Hayes at WLS, who hired a kid with nothing on his resume to say he should be hired, Alan Walden at WNBC, who gave me free reign as an investigative reporter and anchor, and Lou at News 88.
Walden [thankfully, very much still with us though without his wonderful and lovely Jeannie], and Lou were the most alike in some ways. Both had big egos in the best sense of that word. Both were able to let this then long-haired, bearded kid run riot as a reporter and anchor.
Lou had a very formatted station,and yet one, unlike most all news stations, that had actual personalities. No two people sounded alike. On my second day on the job, I started tossing out formatics without asking. I did long debriefs of reporters because things like Irene Cornell's detailed Q&A on any trial she was covering [especially the Buddy Jacobson trial where we might go 6 minutes at a time] beat the hell out of 90% of the canned audio stuff we had coming in from outside sources.
I started doing long form interviews, once blowing out everything for 25 minutes while Marion Anderson relived her battle with the DAR that led to her history making Lincoln Memorial concert.
Lou never said a word. He gave you enough rope to climb to new heights or hang yourself. When midday made it to #1, he called me in,looking down at the rating book and said, without ever looking up, "I still have no idea what it is you do, but whatever it is, keep on doing it."
That was vintage Lou. I said, "thank you," and turned around and left, because I had already gotten the compliment and you didn't milk it with Lou. The first and only time we hugged was at his retirement party when he left WOR.
The thing is, though that story may make him sound distant, I can't tell you how much guts it took for him on a station Paley listened to every day, to put 4 hours in the hands of a long haired bearded kid partial to western shirts and let him succeed or fail on his own terms.
He let my brilliant producer, Don Swaim, do erudite interviews with authors that would have a hard time getting on many NPR stations. Because of that I met many of the great literary figures of the day and get paid to sit and talk with E.L. Doctorow and Gore Vidal and my hero John Gardner.
That was Lou Adler letting us play. Like Walden, he did not try to create a newsroom of clones. We were hard working journalists and characters like Art Athens, and Jane Tillman Irving, Steve Reed, Steve Flanders and Rich Lamb and the recently departed and greatly missed Walt Wheeler, not one of whom sounded like the other and not one of whom sounded like Lou. He not only let that happen, he nurtured it.
News88 sounded like passionate New Yorkers who had stories to tell you about what was going on in our hometown.
The closest thing we ever had to a fight was one time when we were hit by a plague of illness and he asked me to not only do 10am-2pm, but pull an overnight shift as well. I introduced a Merrilee Cox voicer, but it did not match the story of the intro. Since I was telling the engineer which sports package I was going to use while the piece was playing, and was half asleep, I missed that they had brought in the wrong cart. It was 245 in the morning. The hotline rang. It was Lou. He started to chew me out. I interrupted him. I said, "you're welcome." He said, "what?" I said, "I'm doing this and I'll be doing midday today on no sleep, so you're welcome. I take it you actually called to thank me." He paused, and said, "oh, yeah" and hung up. During my midday shift, now on 30 something hours without sleep, a tray of food magically appeared from Kee Wah Yen, a nearby fancy Chinese restaurant. There was no note or explanation, but I knew who sent it.
The next day I walked by his office, looked at him and smiled. he looked up for a second and then looked back down at something on his desk, because he was Lou Adler, and you saved your words for the radio. That's what you did. That's what we all did. The words were ours. The freedom to choose them came from Lou Adler, and I will be forever grateful to him for each and every inch of that rope he gave me and each and every one of my colleagues he gave me the honor of working alongside.
ABOUT GIL GROSS: One of America's most prominent broadcasters, Gil has worked more places one can count, but always with style and integrity.
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