Long-time entertainment industry veteran Ray Pilszak dies

By | January 29, 2014

CHICAGO, Ill. — Ray Pilszak, 82, a long-time employee of Amusement Business, died January 18, 2014, in the city of his birth, Chicago. He would have turned 83 years old on March 5, Pilzakphoto2014.

Known in the industry as a tenacious ad salesman, Pilszak had only one job his entire adult life and that was with Billboard Publications/Amusement Business.

Pilszak had put together a bio most likely when he was inducted into the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

In it, he stated: “After eight years in the [United States] Marines, [I] joined Billboard Publications in Chicago as a trainee in the production department, then moved into advertising sales. [I] transferred to the New York office and was appointed Ad Manager for Amusement Business, publishers of Arena, Auditorium and Stadium Guide, Calvalcade of Acts & Attractions and Funspot Directory, in addition to weekly issues of Amusement Business (this was in the late 1960s).

“AB relocated to Nashville in 1970. I always serviced ad accounts for arenas, fairs, talent and carnivals. Weekly ad campaigns included Reba McEntire, George Strait, Randy Travis, Barbara Mandrell, Louise Mandrell, Alabama, Ricky Nelson. [I] served on the Board of Directors of Gospel Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. Received the Mae Boren Axton Award from the ACM. Received the Maynard L. Reuter Award from Billboard Publications.”

Pilszak remained in Nashville until he retired in 2001. He continued being a part of the industry and remained in Nashville until the last couple of years when family members’ health needed attention so he went to Chicago to help tend to them.

Pilszak was well-known in the industry and he excelled in the talent area of advertising.

Former AB employees have been remembering Pilszak this past week by relating numerous “Ray Pilszk stories” of how he never took no for an answer and never knew a deadline.
He also was known to do anything he could for his friends and, according to Beth Jenkins, who had known Pilszak since she began working in AB sales shortly after the magazine moved to Nashville, “he considered everyone he worked with and did business with his friends.”

Tom Powell, former AB editor who now writes for the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, worked with Pilzsak for more than 40 years. In OABA’s ShowTime Xtra, Powell writes: “We used to joke that he drove everybody nuts, but everybody eventually learned to love him. He had a good heart and, literally, would give you the shirt off his back.” Powell’s column is filled with affectionate humor for a friend he said he would deeply miss…a friend with which he spent much of his life.

Jenkins said: “Ray was a leader in the fields that AB covered. He was a valuable source in all industries and was one of the leaders in the country music industry at a time when its growth was taking off in Nashville.”

Tim O’Brien, a senior editor for AB for 18 years and who afterwards worked for Ripley’s for 10 years, worked closely with Pilszak during his years at AB. Upon hearing about Pilzak’s passing, O’Brien said: “Ray was loved by everyone, but no one could really figure him out. As a salesman, he was great because he really knew how to work the room, and he loved to drop names of celebrities! He knew a lot them and would often invite them to come into the AB offices to impress us.

“He kept his personal life close to his vest, but he could talk about the industry and its history for hours,” O’Brien said. “I always felt that he had an issue with how the publication was run and he was always quick to point out how it could be improved, but he hung in there and did his best because he loved the industry, especially the talent side. When I close my eyes now, I think of the kind smile he had, the annoying whistle that always seemed to emanate from his mouth, and how he could nurse one bottle of beer during an entire event. He was quite the man. “

At Pilszak’s request, no funeral services were planned. Survivors include his wife, of 56 years, Georgia, and a daughter, Krisa Pilszak, a dance instructor.

Please see an extended obit in Amusement Today’s March print issue where more former AB employees share their friendships about Ray Pilszak. This author also worked closely with Ray. Our offices were immediately next door to each in the offices on Music Row in Nashville. His enthusiasm for his work was unmatched…well was maybe matched by his buddy and partner in crime, Tom Powell. Almost daily I would hear someone yelling Ray’s name and going after him as he would head swifty, with that soft smile on his lips, directly into his office where he would close his door quickly. And, more likely than not, Ray had just sold a full page ad to someone days, a week or perhaps two weeks after deadline, depending on the publication. Sales, editorial and production would be quickly on his heels. But, he was never denied. We ALWAYS found a way to take Ray’s advertising dollars.

— Pam Sherborne