Remembering Lou – From the Bird’s Nest
Two days ago, I got an email. A longtime friend and former co-worker (and later, boss) had suffered a massive stroke near his home. He was in ICU. The prognosis turned out to be hopeless.
And my first thought was "no, God. Please. Not Lou."
June 20, 1977.
I walked into the offices at KSMB for my first day at work. A couple of weeks earlier, Mike Mitchell had called me and offered me an opportunity to work with his radio station. The offices were located on the fourth floor of the First National Bank (now Chase Bank) Towers. They were, as radio offices were back then, pretty good digs.
Now, I need to stop and say, FM radio was different then. In fact, most cars didn't have FM radios. Even many of the new cars weren't equipped, forcing "hip" people to buy "FM Converters" that mounted under the dash, enabling you to get the FM signal. At the time, KSMB was a "hybrid" station, playing mostly adult contemporary music during the day, and a pretty much anything goes free form all over the place station after 6pm.
And, the ratings showed it.
It was that day I made lasting friendships: Mike, Ray Sutley who was on the air. Larry Usner and John Reed in sales.
And there was Lou Cowen.
I didn't know Lou, but I knew that voice.
Lou was in the sales department, but I remembered him from his days on the radio at KVOL. If you listened to the radio in Lafayette, you knew the voice of Don Louis. He was still doing an occasional show on the radio. His business cards said (Don) Louis Cowen. He was still in "transition" into full time sales.
It didn't take long to realize a couple of things about Lou: First and foremost, he was a kind, caring person. And, second, he was funny as hell.
When "Don" Louis was on the air at KVOL, he gave away prizes, as most stations did. They weren't elaborate. An album, a free burger at Burger King, maybe a pass for dry cleaning. Lou insisted people would run for the phones to win a prize but many times had no clue what they were winning. And one night, he proved his point.
Don Louis went on the radio and gave away an empty roll of toilet paper. Just the cardboard tube...to the fifth caller.
When he had his winner, he took a piece of paper and wrote the winner's name on it and taped it to the empty roll. The winner came by to get his prize. Naturally, he wasn't the happiest guy. But Lou had also included an album so the listener went away smiling.
And Lou loved to tell that story.
Now, many of you folks who have been here in Lafayette a long time might be reading this and still not make a connection. But this might help.
That was the music Lou used under all of the commercials for Brothers on the Boulevard (and the Acadiana Mall.) They did a LOT of advertising then. And, regardless of whether it was TV or radio, the commercials always started with this music. And Lou's voice.
Last year, while on the air, it was Cinco de Mayo and I used Santana as bumper music for the day and one of the songs was the above. I messaged Lou on Facebook and told him when I played it I wanted a Dos Equis and had a sudden desire to shop at Brother's. He responded.
Hi Jay ... my response to hearing you play Europa would mirror yours. And if I were going to see Brother on copy day or for a rate increase, 3-5 dos Equis would be in order. (-: Thanks for the memories!
Not long after I got there, KSMB changed its format to AOR (Album Oriented Rock) and the station grabbed a foothold in the market. Lou finally had a product to sell. And, he sold it well. He loved to tell stories about clients that had not been responsive to him in the past suddenly having the money to advertise. He became the sales manager and every time a sales person would bring a new client aboard, he would give them a handwritten note of thanks for getting the new business on the air.. But Lou's voice continued on those commercials. And, for a time, at the top of the hour. (Thanks to Hans Nelson for posting this.)
I left for a couple of years but returned to KSMB in 1983 to do the morning show. The day I came back, Ray Sutley gave his notice to go to work for KPEL. I couldn't figure it out. After all, I had showered that morning before the show.
The following year, the decision was made to change the format again, this time to Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR, or Top 40 as it was known back when). The hard line rockers protested. We got threats to blow up our transmitter site. The Times of Acadiana did a story on the switch which had a picture of me. Lou came in the next day and said "Congratulations on becoming the most hated man in Lafayette radio."
But the move worked in a big way.
Our bosses, Tom Galloway and Mike Mitchell left in early 1985 to run KADN-TV. Lou was promoted to General Manager, John Reed to Sales Manager and I became Station Manager. I continued to do the morning show with Mary Galyean. Lou was now the boss (although we still had to get permission to spend promotional dollars.)
And, we found out just how competitive Lou could be.
Radio is an ultra competitive business...to the point where it frequently becomes personal. There were some on air folks who decided they hated other on air folks because they worked "across the street." It was never personal with Lou however. He continued to be well liked and respected in the radio community. But make no mistake...Lou wanted to get as big a share of the market as he could.
And, we did. Lou got the promotional dollars. The station's "Thousand Dollar Thursday" promotion was so big the telephone company gave the contest line its own separate prefix because when it was time to give away the money, it was hard to get a dial tone anywhere in the city. The station became dominant.
Lou wasn't finished.
I remember the day we had a management meeting and he came up with the idea for a new promotion for the ratings period. He said that day, "They (the competition) are asking 'are they every going to stop?' I just want everyone to know, the answer is 'no.'" He and John Reed got a local travel agency involved. And, the station gave away "A vacation a day in May."
There were no more empty rolls of toilet paper.
And, KSMB became the most dominant radio station in the market's history.
The station was sold in 1987 to Media Properties out of Birmingham, AL. Lou made sure we continued to get the support we needed. And the station continued to prosper.
But it wasn't all work. Lou and I, along with co-worker Tammy Jenkins (now Hebert) and my ex wife joined a bowling league at Acadiana Lanes. Lou was a better than average bowler, the rest of us, not so much. The league started at 8:30. I was still doing mornings, so it was a pretty late night for me. One year we came within a fraction of winning the entire league. Lou and I both missed spare opportunities in the final frame. For weeks afterward, Lou would appear in the door of my office. He'd look at me, shake his head and walk away.
February of 1988 the decision was made for me to leave the morning show and concentrate full time on management. Some guy named Novosad replaced me on the air. In October, 1989, I received and accepted an offer to go to work with Tom and Mike again, this time at KPEL/KTDY. They had purchased the stations from Ron Gomez. It was a tough decision, but I accepted. Telling Lou wasn't easy. Saying goodbye was even harder.
We continued to see each other from time to time. Eventually, Lou got out of radio and into real estate with Caldwell Banker. And, he was successful, to no one's surprise. Then, several years ago, an annual luncheon was organized near Christmas for all the folks who worked back in the FNB Towers and the early years on Galbert Road. Those luncheons had us all near tears each time as we told old stories. Lou always had a couple and it's probably when we laughed the most. And, in more recent years, I'd see Lou quite often at the ball park. He had become a pretty big Cajuns' baseball fan and loved to talk about the games. And, of course, we communicated often through Facebook, both publicly and privately. Last year I got this message from him.
Hi Jay ... was just listening to your broadcast of the UL/UTA baseball game this afternoon (Sunday) and I was reminded what a stellar job you do with the game itself, the post game interview, AND with your daily talk show. If i run into you somewhere I'll explain. In the meantime, I hope all is well. Have a good week!.
I saw him a few weeks later and he referenced the above. I'll keep that conversation private but his words have stayed with me to this day.
We may have gotten older, but Lou's sense of humor never changed. Back in January I mentioned on Facebook I was at the DMV. Before I was finished with my visit, there was a private message from Lou. You have to watch this.
There is a private group on Facebook: Acadiana Broadcast Legends. Now, you don't have to be a "legend" to be in that group...after all, I was invited. Over the last two days the tributes to Lou have been rolling in. And, trust me when I say, there's a lot of sadness there right now. We'll all be getting together, I'm sure, for a "staff meeting" sometime next week.
Last November I got an early birthday wish via private messenger on Facebook
I know I'm a few days early, but I'm conscious right now. Later in the week who knows. And remember, birthdays are like boogers. The more you have the harder it is to breathe. Hope you have a great one! (birthday...not booger)
For all of us who knew and loved Lou, this is a pretty big booger.
(In keeping with his life as someone always willing to help others, Lou has been given the opportunity to help others through the gift of organ donation.)