SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – One of the mainstays of KCBS Radio 740/106.9, reporter Bob Melrose, has called it a career after nearly four decades of on-air work for the station.
Melrose has raced to the scene of news events so often, and his live reports have become so much a part of KCBS, that many were incredulous to learn he would enter retirement once his last story was filed on Thursday.
“You’re telling me that Melrose is retiring? You’re kidding. Melrose?” said former KCBS reporter Bob Safford when he learned the news.
Melrose managed the deadlines and daunting logistics of live radio to deliver news as it happened. For 36 years, his squeaky tennis shoes and ancient Sony TCM-5000 tape recorder have been a reliable presence at press events all over the Bay Area.
KCBS’ Stan Bunger Reports:
“He truly personifies the old-time newsman. He lives it. He breathes it,” said Rita Williams, a veteran television reporter at KTVU-TV who worked closely with Mel, as he is affectionately known, for decades.
“They used to call us the Odd Couple. Bob and I shared an office at the Hall of Justice press room for 20 years,” she said.
Mel was not the Felix Unger character, but his dedication to news has been impeccable and constant. Williams said it’s no secret that he slept with a scanner to make sure he was never far from the news, whenever and wherever it happened.
“He’s trained himself. While he’s sleeping, I think that he can pick up when there’s excitement in the voice of a dispatcher and he awakes. And he runs out and covers a story,” she said.
Melrose arrived at KCBS in the mid-1970s, a San Jose State University graduate with experience at a number of small town Northern California radio stations. He went on to cover every imaginable beat, from presidential visits to the murder of Polly Klaas.
Melrose and Williams served as media witnesses to the last gas chamber execution at San Quentin when serial killer David Mason was put to death on Aug. 24, 1993.
“I will tell you that that was a very traumatic time. Bob and I held hands during part of that process as we have our pencils and are taking our notes,” Williams recounted.
That experience shook even a gruff reporter who knew his way around crime scenes and the courthouse.
“When I left the gas chamber to come out across the way to where they had us frisked and everything, I thought, my God, you just saw a man die,” Melrose said later.
Melrose was a radio reporter through and through. That usually meant plunking himself down front and center at a news conference to make sure he got the best quality sound he could. And a lot of times that meant a cameo appearance on television or the front page of the morning newspaper.
“We laugh in television that Bob Melrose has been on television more than any television reporter. I think Bob has been on the air more than I have,” Williams said.
And go on the air he would, at all hours of day and night, sometimes surprising frantic editors who didn’t realize they already had a reporter on scene.
“I have been on the other end of that call when in the middle of the night I’m looking for somebody to send to a story, breaking story, and I pick up the phone and it’s Bob saying, I’m here, put me on the radio,” said Frni Beyer, the morning drive editor at KCBS.
“Bob Melrose eats, sleeps and drinks this station, literally,” Beyer said.
Mel’s ability to get going, get there and get the story was an act KCBS, Chronicle and CBS 5 Insider Phil Matier marveled at countless times.
“He’s always lugging that tape recorder under one arm, the microphone on the other. You heard the squeak of his sneakers. You saw the blue jeans. You saw the shirt, and you knew it was a news event. It was legitimate and it was about to start because it didn’t start ‘til Melrose walked in,” Matier said.
No one could arrive on the scene, assess the situation and turn around a report as quickly as Melrose, “sometimes breathing heavily because he’s just rushed from the scene of the story to get on the air,” said Ed Cavagnaro, KCBS news director since 1988.
And no one knows how many pairs of sneakers he went through to be in front of so much news, but it earned him admirers in police departments, in politics, and even sports.
Former Raiders coach John Madden compared Mel’s role on the news team to a lineman on the gridiron.
“He always delivered the news in a very insightful but calm way. When everything around him was going crazy, he could stay calm,” Madden said.
Even former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown acknowledged Melrose’s contributions over the years to his rise as a political powerhouse. And all, Brown said, because politicians need media like ducks need water.
“I could not have succeeded, and I still could not succeed, without that avenue. And Bob Melrose was one of the ones that afforded me that opportunity,” Brown said.
Melrose’s immediate plans include a little traveling, presumably without his tape recorder and reporter’s notebook. Wherever he does, he will be sorely missed here.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)