Mike Kay 19232012
He was born in Greece on April 5, 1923, served in a World War II commando unit fighting Hitler’s forces while still in his teens, then earned an engineering degree, and helped build the Radio Station of Athens before emigrating to Canada in 1955. Mike learned English while laboring in a brickyard, and washing dishes in a Montreal restaurant, then went to work in an electronics store where, after a few months, he was rewarded with a 25% share of the business.
He subsequently moved to the US, which he felt offered more opportunity, and in 1959 acquired Lyric, where he was working as a salesman. It was then a small, second-floor hi-fi shop a few blocks down Lexington Avenue from its current Manhattan location.
Mike’s wife, Catherine, whom he had married the prior year, worked alongside him as Lyric’s head of office operations for decades. She died in February at age 85. They are survived by a son, Stratis Kakadelis, his wife, Regina, whom he met while both were enrolled in a post-graduate aerospace engineering program, and two granddaughters, Michelle and Christina.
From the outset, Lyric maintained a cabinet shop, which in its early days built credenzas to house many customers’ systems, making Mike Kay one of audio’s earliest custom installers. His woodworkers also fabricated enclosures that Saul Marantz sold with some of his company’s electronics components.
The wood shop provided OEM bases for turntables produced by Sherman Fairchild, the aviation, photography, and semiconductor inventor and entrepreneur, a hi-fi hobbyist who wanted a role in the business. Its four cabinetmakers quickly turned sets of Bozak drivers into imposing speaker systems for Lyric’s audiophile clientele.
As the high-end audio segment crystallized, Mike Kay was at its vanguard, championing products that included the earliest Magneplanars and Mark Levinson models to consumers while helping manufacturers and designers with marketing adviceand occasionally with financing.
For a time, he maintained a small importing company to provide select overseas lines to Lyric and other US dealerships. When Yosiaki Sugano, the former Toyota executive who founded Koetsu and named it after an artist ancestor, was crafting his own phono cartridges, Mike secured a substantial portion of them for the American market.
Mike Kay spent his time on the sales floor, not in an office, and he disdained browsers who saw Lyric as a playpen brimming with toys. Early on, he acquired a reputation for ordering such visitors out.
He was a consummate salesman, yet I once watched him talk a serious prospect out of a purchase. After Mike convinced him that the upgrade Tandberg receiver he coveted would make no audible difference in his system, he left empty handed, disappointed but enlightened.
Thirty years ago, Mike opened four acoustically unique demonstration rooms in his Lexington Avenue store. They cost him more than a half-million dollars1982 dollars, mind youplus whatever he forfeited by turning the premises into a construction site for nine months, but they’re still in use.
Their intricacies include flooring with a 2.5” base layer of heavy-impact fiberglass under a 3.5”-thick reinforced concrete slab that doesn't touch the walls (to silence the subway beneath). Reflective walls of irregularly-shaped, used bricks (which scatter sound randomly) were treated with cork sealant (to render them airtight) while the walls that face them were constructed of fiberglass behind wooden slats separated by a mathematically calculated distance (to absorb sound and damp bass). To avoid standing waves, there are no parallel surfaces. Doors are massive and gasketed. Windows have double-glass layers. Et cetera.
Mike was nearly 60 when he opened those rooms, and many in his position would have been planning retirement. Not Mike Kay. Instead, he continued to guide customers through Lyric for nearly three more decades, savoring the successive generations of top-echelon components on display, and trumpeting the gear’s merits to customers old and new. In 2004, when he was in his 80s, he sold the business to Leonard Bellezza and Dan Mondoro, his key employees, but continued to work part-time.
Though multichannel movie sound had by then eroded stereo’s appeal for many high-end component customers, Mike’s allegiance to two-channel music reproduction remained steadfast. Shortly after he had shelled out a hefty sum to refurbish Lyric’s White Plains, New York, satellite store, I was watching a James Bond film in its spacious new theater when he appeared in the doorway.
Altogether indifferent to its sonic effects, he briefly pondered the brave new world, and asked a rhetorical question: “How can I sell this?”