In Memoriam: Lou Miliano
by Michael Kahn
A friend recently pointed out that one of the great things about having worked in radio was the stories we would tell for years to come about all the characters we met. Lou Miliano could keep many of us busy 'til we fell off our barstools.
You could talk about his marriages (seven), his hair (or lack thereof, depending on the time), his smart ass remarks (he was a product of Jersey City, after all) or any one of his many escapades (most unsuited for a family website). Whatever springs to mind, odds are it makes you smile.
I met Lou around 1983. I was attending NYU and had my first paying job in radio as a desk assistant at the late, lamented RKO Radio Networks. I remember one of our first run-ins. Lou thought desk assistants should make coffee; desk assistants thought otherwise. Management sided with us.
A cup of coffee was one of two things Lou was rarely without; the other being a Camel. You could smoke in the newsroom back then and the fifth floor newsroom at 1440 Broadway was often in a shroud.
Rose and Lou Miliano with six of their children, December 1996
(Lou had an older daughter from an earlier marriage).
Bill McColl, veteran RKO desk man, remembers joining the network as a very young and green tape editor.
"Lou was on the assignment desk. He was obviously a seasoned radio guy and unbeknownst to me, he was watching me and my work. I vividly recall after some time had passed, Lou commented to me, 'When you first started, you were slow as snail s--t. Now you're fast.' That compliment stuck with me all this time."
Lou was eventually assigned to RKO's London bureau. And in 1986, young, inexperienced, but willing to work cheap, I was sent there as the second reporter.
Honestly, we didn't hit it off. In retrospect, I was too foolish to see how much I could have learned from him. No one did radio news like Lou.
There was no such thing as a dry "voicer" from Lou. He understood that radio was theatre for the ears, and that you had to do a little extra work to stand out. His reports were rich in sound, mixed at a time long before digital audio, using reel-to-reels and cassettes. He took pride in what he did, and it didn't matter whether it was on the barely cleared RKO newscasts or later on WCBS-AM and then the CBS Radio Network. Had he been born 30 years sooner, he would have unquestionably become one of Ed Murrow's Boys.
When he got to Black Rock, Lou took to assiduously covering New York City just as he did London or any of the big stories he did over the years--everything from the Falklands War to who knows how many presidential trips.
Some of the folks at 88 didn't get what the fuss was about. This was all-news, radio's equivalent of a hit-and-run (and I'm sure Lou covered plenty of hit-and-runs). Who had time for these elaborately produced pieces? Call the story in from a pay phone (children, ask your parents what that is) and move on to the next thing. Lou made the time, because he knew it was the right thing to do--right by the station and, most importantly, right by the listeners.
That approach to the news earned him the respect of his colleagues in a business that only grudgingly hands out respect.
"Lou was extraordinarily generous to me when we covered stories together," recalled Peter King, the Orlando, Fla.-based correspondent for CBS News Radio.
While still a stringer, Lou "never told me what I should cover but asked me what I WANTED to do, and shared the load.
"When I became a full-timer, he gave me plenty of good advice on handling a FT position here, telling me that despite whatever pressure I might feel, not to feel that I have to file every hour I was awake during a normal day."
Bill McColl remembered a different act of kindness.
"In 1986 Lou went to Japan to cover President Reagan's trip there. When he came back, he gave me a robe from the Hotel Okura where he stayed. I have no idea why. But that robe still hangs in my closet to this day. So in a small way, Lou is still with me. Godspeed, buddy."
Ray Hoffman, business reporter at Compass Media Networks, noted that "on at least two occasions, Lou won the Overseas Press Club award for best radio reporting. I know about those two in particular because I was the head of the committee that voted on that award.
"When we heard his entries, so rich with intensity and passion, and maybe the best use of natural sound I have ever heard, there was just no contest. It was Lou Miliano of WCBS, hands down."
Lou Miliano holding Sonia Kahn, Michael and Esther's daughter, May 1995.
As to Lou being a character; well, everyone's got a story. Many remember his love of sandwiches from the Blimpie chain. He'd practically beg people coming to London from New York to bring one. Some actually did in those pre-TSA days, undoubtedly to the dismay of nearby passengers. Others recall his houseboat docked on the Upper West Side, or the seemingly endless pranks pulled at RKO.
Peter King's wife Lisa Meyer, who many will remember from CBS and other places, has a pug named Otis, though try telling that to Lou.
"He never did get Otis' name right. He always called him 'Otto,'" Peter said.
I remember after my first month in London, Lou asked where my expenses were. I didn't have any. He told me I'd better start eating lunch.
Or when we were working at WCBS and Lou had six children (he also had a grown daughter). Lou wasn't really a minivan or station wagon kind of guy. Instead, he bought a used limousine--into which he piled the family in and drove from their home on Long Island, parking it outside our house in New Jersey, where it stunned the neighbors.
The last time I saw Lou was May 2013. He had retired to St. Petersburg, Fla., and I was in Orlando on business. We met halfway, at an Italian restaurant (what else?) I found in Lakeland. I arrived in a rental car; Lou pulled up on his motorcycle.
He wasn't in the best of health back then, and the Camels were replaced by an electronic cigarette. But he was sharp as a tack, and we had a great time talking about families, and the news business, and so much else.
I was headed to St. Petersburg in January for business, so in December I sent Lou a Facebook message asking if he'd be free for dinner. Unlike the time before, the response wasn't upbeat. The cancer had spread. He was in hospice. He would let me know about dinner, but left me with this thought: "I've accepted this, had a really good run, couple of great families, swell career, no complaints, no regrets. AND a lot more than a lot of guys could have hoped for. And you both were there for a large part of it and that made it even better."
On Jan. 11 I sent him another message letting him know I was in Florida. It went unanswered. The next day I found out why.
My wife Esther was among the many saddened by the news. In September 1986, friends of Lou's in London, who became friends of mine, introduced us.
(L-R) Michael Kahn, Esther Kahn, Rose Miliano, Lou Miliano, London, Christmas, 1986.
Esther found an old photo from Christmas 1986--her, me, Lou and his wife Rose at their house in London. That got to me.
That there was no funeral and no memorial came as no surprise. Not a Lou kind of thing. Maybe some of us--his RKO and CBS friends--can put something together in the spring. No speeches at some haughty church, but rather a few beers at some dive bar, or maybe a bottle of his beloved Valpolicella. I've never been a red wine drinker, but I would gladly raise a glass in memory of Lou Miliano.
Michael Kahn was a writer and editor at WCBS from 1988 to 1996. firstname.lastname@example.org
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