Lou Mellini got his start when rock ‘n’ roll was king and radio stations knew it.
The 75-year-old Brooklyn native entered the music business as a salesman for CBS Records in the ‘70s and quickly learned the ropes. In 1978 — an exciting time for radio — he moved to Colorado Springs to work as the sales manager for KRDO. Less than two years later, Mellini was hired as sales manager for KILO. During the next 40 years, Mellini became vice president and general manager of both KILO and RXP (acquired in 1999) and helped guide the music stations through many industry changes. He announced late last year that he will retire from the position on March 3. While preparing for his departure, Mellini spoke to the Business Journal about his tenure in the music business, his decision to retire and the challenges that have kept his career interesting.
How did you get your start professionally?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. When I graduated from [the City College of New York], I worked for Swingline for a few years before going to work for Mattel toys. I started there as a salesman, wound up becoming district sales manager, and then I became western regional sales manager and was responsible for 13 states. Then they promoted me to general manager of their Canadian operation. … It was during that time that the record industry started to reach out looking for people who had experience in sales. So I responded to an ad for CBS Records — they were looking for someone to do promotions, sales and marketing in the New York metropolitan area — and that’s how I got into the record business. That’s when I learned how the radio stations worked (from a promotional perspective). … We traveled around doing promotions for acts like Eddie Money, REO Speedwagon and Meatloaf.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
I moved out here in 1978 — ironically the same year that KILO went on the air — and went to work for KRDO in the sales department. That’s around the time I met the late [KILO co-owner] Bob Telmosse … and I ended up going to work for him as general sales manager of KILO. … So that’s how I got here.
How did you become general manager?
In 1985, Bob [Telmosse] and [KILO co-owner] Charlie Brown sold the radio station to a family broadcasting group called Bahakel Communications, based out of North Carolina. The owner, Cy N. Bahakel — who died about 10 years ago — came out here to make the deal. He interviewed me and decided to promote me to general manager of the station. I’m the last employee of the entire company who was directly hired by Mr. Bahakel. Then, in 1999, we purchased KRXP, and I became general manager of both stations.
When did you decide to retire?
I decided to retire about two years ago. I think you’ve got to do that … because transition is very important, and we need to make sure that the individual who is following understands the culture — that’s key. … That time gave me the opportunity to make sure those linkages are intact and that we keep our history.
What are your plans for retirement?
I’m on six or seven different boards, so I plan to stay active with those — and I want to stay active in the community. I plan to help my wife [Laura Muir] with her business, Momentum Marketing. I also want to do some traveling and visit our kids. My son Julian lives and works in London … my son Nick lives in Denver, and we have three grandchildren. We just want to have the freedom to do what we want to do when we want to do them.
What will you miss most about work?
The thing I’ll miss the most is the thing that kept me excited about this job for 35 years, and that’s the challenges. The minute you walk through that door, you have no idea what challenges you’ll have. … There are always those unknown challenges that put you in a situation where you have to start thinking quickly, talking to your team and working through it together. … You’ve got to delegate, motivate and educate to be successful.
What is your fondest memory from your many years in radio?
Pink Floyd was playing concerts and promoting their [The Wall] tour [in 1980], so we put together this promotion that said people would be able to hear Pink Floyd from the roof of a building at 707 S. Tejon St. [Former program manager] Red Noise and I were just going to play their latest album from loudspeakers up there, but people thought the band was going to perform live. It was also April Fools’ Day. So we hired a couple of limos and had people run into the building, then we went up to the roof — there must have been thousands of people out there, waiting in the cold — and we said “April Fools!” and we played the album. Everybody thought it was great, and they cheered and applauded. … I still run into people here in town that bring it up.