Mon, 11 Aug 1997
THE EARLY DAYS AT KOIL (OMAHA)
It was a shock to see his obit in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. I hadn't talked to him in a few years and didn't know he was ill.
I broke Don in at KOIL and we had a number of fine escapades in the almost two years he was with Don Burden and Company.
I will always remember the two of us climbing one of those gigantic war memorial statues in downtown Indianapolis after having a few drinks earlier in the evening. This was about 2AM and we saw the statue of a naked Trojan warrior hiding behind a large shield. We both were interested in just how anatomically accurate the sculpture was ... so we climbed up the statue and found ... well, nothing, nada.
The Trojan couldn't have used a Trojan as there was nothing to put it on. So much for authenticity.
Don and I had front-row seats for the Beatles concert earlier that evening but we were being pelted with so many Jelly Babies that we left early. The crowd was so loud we couldn't hear the music anyway. I suspect they just pretended to play and sing.
I also remember that in his early days, Don was afraid to tell anyone that he was a teacher at the Don Martin School of Radio Broadcasting in LA. He worried that Burden would find out that he had a first class ticket and would put him on at nights when the xmttr changed directions.
I remember one Saturday morning we were finishing up on the week's production when he left to get cigarettes across the street. He wasn't gone five minutes when he came into the production room and said ... Bob ... meet Olga! He found a stewardess from Lufthansa and in less than five minutes had bought cigarettes and found a date for the night.
I imagine, sadly, that the cigarettes were the cause of his demise.
For the good times,
BOSS RADIO'S DAY ONE
By Ron Jacobs
LOS ANGELES (May 3, 1965): The place was 5515 Melrose Avenue, long before it became a trendy Los Angeles boulevard. Back then it was grubby and nondescript. In a drab, three-story building, resembling a plumbing supply house, were an AM, FM, and TV station called KHJ. The fortress-like structure was surrounded by the Paramount and Desilu film studios and a restaurant called Nickodell's, which had red Naugahyde booths and smelled like Lysol and scotch.
A new crew, hired by RKO General Broadcasting, was counting down to the debut of KHJ's new Boss Radio Top 40 format. We were just the latest in the KHJ Radio "Format-Of-The-Month Club." It was obvious there'd be little support from our fellow RKO broadcasters at KHJ-TV. We would rely on our own small Boss group and our collective desire to do or die.
On this particular Monday, by noon, total hysteria swept through the radio section of the KHJ building.
The day began with a promo jingle recording session at a small studio a few blocks away. Roger Christian, formerly of KFWB, was the co-writer of the Beach Boys hit "Little Deuce Coupe." I asked Roger if he and Brian Wilson would let us use the track to overdub our new Boss Jock deejay lineup. They agreed, so all the deejays -- none of whom, typically, could sing a note -- talked in rhythm to the song's beat.
I had written some truly immortal lyrics:
It's the new KHJ,
You don't know what we've got.
While Los Angeles goes, now,
It goes all the way
And we know that you'll go
For the new KHJ.
It's the sound of success,
Boss Radio, in L.A. KHJ.
It's the new KHJ.
And here's what we got ...
I'm Robert W. Morgan and
I'll be startin' your day,
Six 'til nine every mornin'
On the new KHJ ...
In the afternoon, baby
Accept no substitution
Get the Real Don Steele
And wipe out air pollution.
Boss Radio, KFWB?
While the jocks did endless takes of their simple rhymes, Morgan was tuning around his portable radio. Monitoring KFWB/Channel 98, once the heavyweight champ of Los Angeles ratings when programmed by Chuck Blore, Robert W. thought he was hearing things -- things he shouldn't have -- like KFWB using material we planned to debut next Monday. Liners such as "Boss Radio ... KFWB."
Morgan was apoplectic. He ran down Melrose Avenue to the KHJ building, through the lobby and into my office, KFWB blaring from his radio.
I buzzed GM Ken DeVaney on the third floor. "You're not going to believe this," I said, "but 'WB is on the air using all our new stuff." Silence.
"Ken, it's happening. Morgan's in here with it on his radio."
DeVaney said, "Call Drake, I'll be right down." I phoned Bill Drake on his ultra- hotline and repeated the incredible situation.
"I'm coming right in," he replied.
After discussing the options, Drake proclaimed, "We'll start with a sneak preview of the new format ... today. DeVaney asked me if and when we could do it.
"Three o'clock," I said, faking the confidence of Eisenhower on D-Day. "Boss Radio 93/KHJ debuts with The Real Don Steele Show at 3pm." It was about 11:15am.
We had three hours and 45 minutes to do seven days' work. We divided up responsibilities: I stayed on the first floor, where the studios were; Drake stationed himself in my office, urging the traffic people to have a Boss program log ready in time, while nervously devouring Nickodell's hamburgers; and DeVaney returned to the executive area and played free safety with 101 details to cover.
Let's Do It!
By then the jocks were back from their session. Steele was in the production room rehearsing. He had just done one of his patented manic intros into the Supremes' "Stop in The Name of Love" when I walked in. "Don, uh, you know 'WB's on with all our stuff."
"Yeah," he said, "Morgan told me."
"Well, ah, we -- Bill, Ken, and I -- decided we gotta go a little earlier, or they'll cop our whole trip. And you're the guy to kick off the real Boss Radio."
"When?" asked Steele, casually.
"Oh, your regular shift, in about three hours."
He cooly said, "OK, let's do it!" Then he cranked up his monitor until Diana Ross nearly blew out the studio windows.
I tried to sort out priorities. The main thing was to get Steele rolling; that would buy three hours. But I realized I forgot something -- music! I met Drake in the second-floor conference room. We knew we'd be playing a Boss 30 ... but which 30?
"We'll play what KRLA's playing," said Drake. The Pasadena station was still the No. 1 Rocker, virtually by default.
I charged up to production engineer Bill Mouzis, frantically advising that we needed all our jingles dubbed in less than three hours.
Mouzis smiled and nodded, "Follow me." He unlocked his special cabinet, which he guarded like Fort Knox. There, neatly stacked, were all our newly recorded jingles on 40-second carts, timed and labeled. "Just tell me what else goes on the labels," he said.
"Thanks, Billy, I'll let you know."
It was becoming obvious why they called 'em pros in Hollywood.
Upstairs, Ken DeVaney burned up phones with lawyers in New York and Beverly Hills, discussing restraining orders and lawsuits against KFWB. Bill Drake was designing logs with the precise stop sets and commercial limits we had planned in long sessions at Nickodell's.
Drake would voice the new station IDs. After batting copy ideas around, I scribbled on a piece of paper: "(Tymp roll, fades to Drake:) Ladies and gentlemen, you're listening to the much more music station ... At that point the Johnny Mann singers, in one of the more memorable jingle melodies ever written, sang "KHJ/Los Angeles."
Anyone who's ever heard that jingle more than once can still sing it to this day.
Things Coming Together
Approaching 1pm, it was coming together. Mimeographed playlists would be ready. Our pregnant Music Director, Betty Breneman, had all the oldies on hand; she just had to borrow the current chart numbers from KRLA. Mouzis only had 10 or so IDs to dub to cart. News Director Art Kevin was switching format sheets to the KHJ 20/20 News configuration. This was the handle for newscasts 20 minutes before and after the hour.
Not everyone was as calm as Mouzis and Kevin. Clancy Imislund, KHJ Promotion Director -- the man who coined the phrase "Boss Radio" -- was pulling his wispy hair. Our campaign, to blanket Los Angeles streets with day-glo 93/KHJ Boss Radio billboards, was scheduled to start May 10; the same with bus bench ads. Clancy thrashed about, cursing KFWB, trying to get things moved up.
At approximately 2pm an ambulance arrived and carried out a lady on a stretcher. She came from the traffic department. To this day I don't know who she was or what happened to her (jwnote: see following story). With an hour to go, things were getting quite exciting.
Betty, back from Wallich's Music City, cranked out playlists. Not one "hitbound" title on the sheet. At that moment, KFWB was Boss Radio and KHJ was readying to use KRLA's playlist. Drake said one way or another there'd be a program log by 3pm. I wondered when the next stretcher case would be hauled down from upstairs.
As a radio programmer, when the curtain goes up, things are out of your hands, and there's nothing to do but pace and listen. Should I cruise around in my new Caddy convertible? Go home and stare at the radio? Lurk in the office? What?
It was 2:59pm: I had to see this. Steele sat in the drab announce booth -- smoking -- his monitor turned up above normal human range. The announce booth consisted of a funky mike, VU meter, earphone jack plug, and one switch. Period. I had a Plexiglass bulletin board-type thing made, and the jocks faced that. Five-by-seven-inch liner cards were plastered all over it. The news announce booth was off to the right, about the size of a modest aquarium, and the engineer was 90 degrees to port ... unless he was down in the john.
I stood behind crew-cut Ken Orchard, the board operator on duty. Orchard recalls, "There was a natural high you could feel throughout the building. Everyone was charged up." The final "Cavalcade of Hits" song was fading.
At 3pm: BOOM. "Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the Real Don Steele Show ... with a sneak preview of the all-new Boss Radio, on ... KHJ, Los Angeles."
The intro to "Dancing In The Streets" by Martha & The Vandellas hit, and Steele jumped in, "It's 3 o'clock in Los Angeles!" Bam -- vocal!
Heading upstairs, I noticed both switchboard operators fielding batches of calls. I looked around for Drake and DeVaney and thought, Boss Angeles -- you ain't heard nothin' yet!
Fri, 8 Aug 1997 -- Postscript
I last saw The Real Don Steele in 1990, at the KHJ 25th Boss Reunion. We'd already lost one of the original group, Roger Christian.
That night in "Boss Angeles," Robert W. Morgan presented me with a silver CD inscribed, "If Vince Lombardi came back as a Program Director he'd be Ron Jacobs." This was from guys whose butts I'd ridden day after day, a quarter-century earlier. It meant more than any gold record I received.
Who wouldn't look good with the "Morgan" man Robert W. and The Real Don Steele in afternoon drive? I defy anyone to name a Top 40 station, ever, that featured a better tandem than that pair. They hit L.A.'s airwaves within 24 hours of each other -- and signed off within a few weeks of each other -- 32 years later. That's a million "Morganizes" and a trillion "Tina Delgado's." For anyone lucky enough to be listening, every moment brought excitement, rock 'n' roll, and fun. (Anyone remember fun?)
In the minds and ears of several radio generations, Morgan and Steele were joined at the hip. They beat everything on the dial by working their asses off 60 minutes an hour. Today, Robert's beating the Big C. Don didn't make it. But I know him. He's already spinnin' in his grave -- spinnin' nothin' but the hits, baby!
©Ron Jacobs 1990, 1997
THE MYSTERY WOMAN (and other memories)
21 Nov 1997
I was reading some of the tributes to the late The Real Don Steel, and in one portion they mentioned on the day that Boss Radio came alive, that a girl from the traffic department had to be taken away from the studios in an ambulance.
The writer wasn't sure who she was or what the problem was. The lady was the mother of one of my classmates. Her name was Roberta Duncan, and she had been with the station for a couple of years at that point, and if memory serves me, she had to be taken to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital for an appendectomy that day.
One of my best memories as a kid in LA was the period my family lived on Beechwood and Melrose, right down the block from Boss Radio, and seeing Robert W. Morgan leaving to go home after a Saturday shift was done. I was coming out of Al's Liquor store after buying some milk for my mom when I saw him. If memory serves me, he was driving a blue or perhaps green Cadillac convertible at that time, which was maybe 1966 or 1967. Is there any info on his recovery from Lung Cancer that you can share with your readers.
Another memory was coming home one morning, after doing my morning route for the Los Angeles times and almost colliding with you as you were leaving the station. It really wasn't that close, but as tired as I was, I was a little over the double yellow line. You waved and went to Vine Street and headed North to wherever you were going that early morning. Talk about almost having a brush with fame.
Years later I was an overnight man with KLSQ in Las Vegas, we were going through several format changes, one of which was classic soft rock, anyway we had a trivia contest hourly, and I had lost the question for the 3am hour, so I came up with "What LA Boss Jock coined the phrase 'Tina Delgado is Alive, Alive!!'". You would not believe how busy the station lines got. Well of course the first caller answered correctly then told me that I was the second best overnight guy he had ever heard, the best being you. We shared some memories of LA and of Boss Radio, said we would get together one day, but never did.
Thanks for the web site that brings back such fond memories. Good Luck, and may God Bless you and your family.
FRACTIOUS FRIDAYS, ETC.
August 26, 1997
As one of Don's fans, August 5, 1997 was the day I hoped would never come. Excepting losses in my own family, nothing has been more devastating to me than Don's passing.
The Real Don Steele, through the magic perceived only by us kids who loved our station and our songs, entered our lives and our beings in a big way. His happy, supercharged, unique, zany radio style won me over in short order. He rang every bell and hit every joy button in my life. The guy became a part of me.
Three o'clock on every schoolroom wall clock glared with a new, glorious meaning. Carrying my pocket transistor radio was now mandatory, on for the full three hours of his show. I didn't want to miss anything. I wanted to hear if my town had an "underground." I waited for my chance to call in as the next lucky thrill seeker to play the contests. And Steele read all the commercials "funny." I waited for "Delgado" to happen. I knew I was supposed to scream "Tina Delgado Is Alive, ALIVE!" as I walked through the front door of my nearby Thrifty Drug store. There were all the Manipulous Mondays, Titillating Tuesdays, Wonderific Wednesdays, Tumultuous Thursdays, Scintillating Saturdays... and 5:57 on Fractious Friday became the most anticipated, absolute high point of my whole week.
I loved it. I adored him. I count myself as among the most fortunate kids in the world to have had him to listen to, and to experience the radio I did. In more recent times--and finally--I had the great honor of meeting him and even receiving his friendship.
Don was the ultimate personification of Boss Radio, and his name will forever remain synonymous with KHJ. He was the right man for the right station in a time given to happiness, and no combination of anything else could be more perfect, let alone so far-reaching. He touched millions. His riotous TV shows were a bonus. In 1995, I was as elated as he was, seeing him receive his much-deserved and long-overdue Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Don carried and represented all the wonderful times and memories for me. For thirty-two years, he was there on the radio, the sound of his voice automatically revalidating every cherished moment of the past. And so suddenly, he is gone. To lose him is the ultimate trauma. It is utterly unacceptable.
There will never be another Real Don Steele.
From one who was there to hear, know and believe since the beginning of Boss Radio in 1965... I tell you, I have lost my hero and my friend.
A VISIT TO REMEMBER
What an impressive performance this man gives the audience...and what an impression he made on me one day in 1967!
I was eighteen years old and a student at Los Angeles City College. Radio was my passion. And the work of TRDS I thought was the epitome of the perfect radio personality -- a performer who could communicate as much by HOW he said something as by WHAT he said.
When I had a part-time job at a modest little FM station playing '60's MOR in the San Fernando Valley, I'd wait until I signed-off the station to create my audition tapes to send to Top 40 stations. On those tapes, I struggled to sound like TRDS. I was just too young and inexperienced to realize that I had to sound like ME, regardless of how I might sound to others.
One day, after pestering a woman who worked at KHJ in promotions, I received permission for a station visit. I had just been hired to do part-time at KMBY in Monterey, so I asked her if Robert W. Morgan could give me advice because he had worked there at one time.
On the day of my visit, I was scared spitless. I arrived out front at least an hour early...walked into the lobby...and met Robert W., who was kind enough to ask me to join him for breakfast at Nickodell's (sp?) next door. After breakfast, during which I could only swallow a half glass of water and a piece of white toast, I thanked him for his advice. Robert W. went on his way and I hung around the station asking all sorts of questions of everyone I saw -- engineers, sales people, office workers -- all of whom must have thought I was one cheeseburger short of a picnic.
By 3:00 p.m., I was STILL there. I think I even had a briefing from the mail room guy by that time. But that didn't matter. I had a chance to walk down the hall and stand in the engineer's studio and WATCH my radio idol, TRDS at work!
Now: I'm not sure you have ever felt as I did on that day and I'm not here telling you this story because I want to convince you of something that may not be true, but after absorbing every nuance of performance by TRDS (who certainly must have known by the eager expression on my face that I REALLY wanted to be exactly like him) I hopped into my VW bug, fired it up, headed back to L.A. City College with KHJ on full blast...and during his very next song, TRDS's intro ended with the words, "EAT YOUR HEART OUT, BABY!"
...which I had no trouble doing all the way back to class...and well into the 1970's.
Back to the present: And today, radio is still my passion. I'm doing afternoons at KBEST 95 here in San Diego, playing all the greatest rock 'n roll oldies that Western civilization has to offer. Occasionally I'll remember the thrill I had that day in '67 and catch myself turning a phrase or trying to sound like TRDS. But, I'll stop myself before I crack the mike...
Have a Boss Time in the Neon Fun Jungle forever, TRDS, and his fans everywhere!
Bill Oxley, "The Ox in the Box!"
ANOTHER VISIT TO REMEMBER
"I remember going to L.A as a star-crazed KHJ junkie; walking into the station on Melrose and walking right into the Real Don Steele.
He offered to buy us a drink next door at Nickodel's (the Big 93 slurping haunt). We sat & listened to him tell old KISN radio stories of the days he did PM drive in 1963. He then set us up to party that night at Gazarris on Sunset Strip. He did ad's for this place on his TV & radio show.
He was really a gem. Go to www.kisnfm.com (click on "timemachine" show) there you will find a photo of Don & I on that hot summer day in L.A. Not only was he a great guy to two pimple-faced radio junkies ... he was the greatest Top-40 jock ever. Period."
Dave 'Records' Stone
Wed, 06 Aug 1997
As a young kind growing up in Southern California, I wanted to be a disc jockey more than anything. After high school, I went to work spinning 45s for stations in San Bernardino, San Jose and Anaheim. In less than two years, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be an entertainer.
I had received a couple of phone calls from the chief engineer at KHJ asking if I would like to become a board-op. On both occasions, I declined. When he called a third time, I decided to drive to Los Angeles to interview. Of course, the only reason I wanted to interview was the possibility of touring the KHJ studios. That tour was so impressive that two weeks later, in November of 1967, I started at KHJ as the full-time vacation relief board-op.
I spent the first week doing the overnight shift with Boss Jock Johnny Williams. After only a few days of seeing how things were done in "the big time," I decided I had made the right decision. Being a disc jockey was not for me. A behind-the-scenes job was perfect.
The following week I was thrown into the fire. The Real Don Steele’s board-op was going on vacation and I was the fill-in. In retrospect, I should have been terrified. Instead, I was a cocky teenager who knew I could do anything. So I proudly sat down and punched the cart: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, The Real Don Steele!" I had chills, but never let it show. Don Steele was legendary and for the next week I was going to use every trick I knew to impress the guy.
One can only imagine how I felt when, on the third day of filling in for his board-op, The Real Don Steele invited me to have lunch with him at Nicodell’s Restaurant next door to the KHJ studios. It was there he asked if I would consider working with him on a permanent basis. I couldn’t eat much that day!
I had the time of my life over the next few years. The Real Don Steele was more than a friend. He was a mentor. Working with him every day were equal parts a lesson in radio, a lesson in life. He would confide his personal struggles of everyday life -- mixed with stories of working his way from Yakima to Omaha to Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles. There was never a dull day.
As board-op to a boss jock, I did a lot of growing up. As any good mentor, Don gave me enough rope to be as creative as I wanted. He was eccentric, outrageous, off-center and demanding. He was a perfectionist. I’ll always remember how he would always step aside to allow me part of the limelight. In fact, he was once interviewed by a syndicated columnist, and the resulting story looked more like "That Whacky Board-Op" than a tribute to The Real Don Steele.
Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch. I was never surprised when my phone rang at 2:00am with Don asking, "Hey, man! What did you used to do to get my headphones so loud?" Six years ago, I was operations manager for a start-up business news station in Los Angeles. We were short a reporter one day, so I recorded some voicers to run on the air. By the middle of the day, the phone rang and it was Don. "Hey, man! I just heard you on the radio!"
Sadly, that is the last time we spoke. In July of this year, I was discussing Robert W. Morgan’s bout with cancer. A friend in Los Angeles mentioned that Don had also been off the air (KRTH) for a few weeks. I searched but could not find Don’s home phone number. Then, last Tuesday at 11:10am, the clouds parted and the gates opened to the announcement, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, The Real Don Steele!"
When you lose a friend, you always wish you could have one more moment – just one more conversation. I’m not sure Don knew how much he contributed to my life and career. For Christmas one year, I went to a trophy shop and had a special Golden Mike Award made for him. The inscription said, "To the best friend a person could ever have." Maybe he did know.
Sun, 18 Jan 2004
My initiation to KHJ -- from Sandi Brooks
Having just read through many stories on your site, I could not resist writing with my own.
In the early 1970s, I was fortunate to become one of Texas' first female DJs -- in Corpus Christi at KZFM. In August of that year, most of the city and all of the station was destroyed by Hurricane Celia. Magically, some months later, I was hired at KHJ-TV, after making my way to LA.
Terrified on my first day, fresh off the turnip truck, I was going down the hall at 5515 Melrose to see Bryan Cole in Personnel. Suddenly, a somewhat unusual man approached me, stopped, gazed for a moment, and then proposed that we engage in a somewhat intimate activity for total strangers. Frozen with fear, I said nothing.
He resumed his saunter toward the lobby and I was later informed that I had been initiated, albeit verbally, by none other than the Real Don Steele. It made for an RKO, now oldy-goldy moment, which this old Indian will treasure always.
Wed, 06 Aug 1997
STEELE'S CHOREOGRAPHED PERFORMANCE
I can only assume that you're as saddened by this loss of one of the true greats as I am, so thought I'd share some thoughts. (For the seasoned broadcasting pros reading this, some is strictly a listener's perspective, from someone who's in the biz now).
I first heard the Real Don Steele on April 27, 1965--or at least that's when he entered my consciousness (the KHJ Cavalcade of Hits, if he was on it, doesn't count here!) I wasn't lucky enough to have arrived home at my listening post in Bakersfield till 5:15; thus, missed the 4 o'clock Boss Radio Sneak Preview debut. I'd been watching KHJ, since it sounded like things were changing--and boy, were they! When I heard "Bumblebee" by the Searchers, what I'd suspected had happened. Then, 20/20 news, a KHJ golden ''' and what kind of *jocks* did they have?, I wanted to know. A 5:30 intro of "Game of Love" by the Real Don Steele ''' and I was hooked.
Although I've been in radio since 1973, I still think of myself as a listener first; and, like anyone who's been inspired by the greats in this business, I've tried to hear as many as I can, and study and understand their techniques. Of course, thousands of other radio pros and wannabees have studied Steele the same way: if radio were a course, he'd have been required reading in the 60s and 70s (and should be today).
What Steele had, to my ears--more than anyone else I've ever heard-- was timing. *Every* element had a moment when its appearance would make magic; too early or too late, and the effect would've been totally lost. Listening to Steele was like listening to a choreographed performance; regardless of what was well-thought-out or completely ad-libbed, those moments were always *precisely* where they belonged. Many times, content was king--but Steele could make the plain sound extraordinary with just a well-placed word or phrase. Except for his exciting Friday-afternoon sign-offs, he didn't say a lot on the air--no long bits, just intense bursts of energy that made you love what had come before and clamor for the next flash of brilliance ''' and you knew it would come after the next record.
Steele had good competition: Gene Weed had been identified with KFWB for a while, and Dave Hull at KRLA had a super sense of humor and the inside track on the Beatles. But Steele outlasted them on the air, because he had *magic* and energy--the perfect accompaniment to a long drive home on the slow freeways of southern California. Mentioning Hull and Weed is not to detract from them, but to say that *anybody* competing against Steele would've been hard pressed to top that magic.
Is it presumptuous of me to be writing these things with Johnny Williams reading them? Quite possibly. But those are my thoughts, and I just had to share them.
The Real Don Steele may have been the most airchecked jock in radio history (he or the Wolfman, anyway). Radio itself is a transitory beast, but at least we can relive that magic.
Maybe the previously departed just needed that extra bit of help to get through a fractious Friday.
August 6, 1997
EMULATED DISC JOCKEY - ACTOR THE REAL DON STEELE DIES AT 61
by Fred Shuster, The Los Angeles Daily News
Oldies KRTH-FM (101.1) disc jockey and actor The Real Don Steele, the original afternoon-drive personality on '60's top-40 station 93/KHJ who was the first to utter the immortal phrase "Boss Radio in Boss Angeles" died Tuesday at his Hollywood Hills home. He was 61 and suffered from lung cancer.
Along with his long radio career, Steele acted in such cult films as "Death Race 2000," "Grand Theft Auto," "Eating Raoul," and "Rock & Roll High School." Legendary B-movie maker Roger Corman often utilized Steele for fast-talking hipster characters.
Steele, who was born in Hollywood on April Fools' Day in 1936, also starred in "The Real Don Steele TV Show," a televised Saturday-night dance party that ran in Los Angeles from 1965 to 1975.
But it was as a radio jock that Steele found fame. His afternoon cry at KHJ, "Tina Delgado is alive, alive!" became a wacky catch-phrase among local teams.
Ironically, KRTH announced in May that longtime morning man Robert W. Morgan had left the station to undergo therapy for lung cancer. Afternoon host Steele left the station with no fanfare the same month before his health took a sudden turn for the worse.
"Don got sick and went downhill rapidly," said Pat Duffy, KRTH's general manager. "I found out in mid-May and as public as his persona is, he was really a very private guy. He wished to keep it private and I honored his wishes. He dealt with this in his own way."
Duffy said Steele had quit smoking at least 10 years ago. Morgan, 55, quit his two-pack-a-day habit last year.
"Morgan's going to come on the air regularly from his home," Duffy said.
Steele was one of the most copied radio personalities in the country. Duffy said tapes of his shows were studied in broadcast schools and mimicked at other top-40 and oldies stations.
"When he'd come into work he was like a prize fighter down the hall talking to everyone and hyping himself up," Duffy recalled. "What can you say? He portrayed having a sense of having fun and loving life and the music. People would emulate that."
Steele, who was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame two years ago, is survived by his wife, Shaune. Private services are pending.
(c) 1997 Tower Media Inc
LA/Riverside/Santa Barbara Radio Watch - 8/7/97
*** It is with great sadness that Radio Watch reports the passing of a true legend, The Real Don Steele, who passed away in his sleep on Monday (8/4) [Tuesday 8/5] of lung cancer, a malady that had been very recently diagnosed. While other reporting services focus on his long and successful career, I'd rather look at the man and believe that his full-of-life energy nearly to the end was the result of not only his inward satisfaction for being a trendsetter -- an inspiration for countless young people in the radio industry, particularly in his heyday -- but that it was also the result of some inward peace and joy that comes from knowing that maybe, more importantly, he was a friend and vicarious companion for thousands of young Angelenos who grew to adulthood and who enjoyed and embraced the exuberance of a man who seemingly could not grow old, who loved the music, and who loved bringing happiness into thousands of lives. This energy and passion for performance could be more than just the fact that he influenced and fathered high-energy radio contained in a tight format but that he was still the father figure for the young of LA, many of whom appreciated him even though they were separated from his generation by many years. He was perpetually young. He was 61 and he was 16. How could a man like this not pass-on satisfied and with great peace in his heart?
Thursday, August 7, 1997
'REAL' DON STEELE, STYLE-SETTING L.A. DEEJAY, DIES AT 61
Entertainment: A high-decibel star on KHJ 'Boss Radio' in the 1960s, he was most recently heard on K-EARTH.
By MYRNA OLIVER, [Los Angeles] Times Staff Writer
The death Tuesday of deejay "the Real" Don Steele evoked the mega-decibel cries of late 1960s Top 40 radio when Steele and other "boss jocks" ruled the airwaves and captured Los Angeles' hip teenagers as the audience of 93-KHJ.
"It's 3 o'clock in Boss Angelese! Hey hey HEY! Thitz me. The Real Don Steele!" he would scream through dashboard speakers and teen hangouts during radio's afternoon drive time on a typical Friday. "A billion-dollar weekend there. . . . I got nothing but groovy, those groovy golds. We're gonna kick it out here on a fractious Friday, boy. Got to get a set outside that [unintelligible] work resembling blowing bubbles in a glass of water! Jumbo city! [Pause] Take a trip. When you chase 'em daylight!"
Less frenetic listeners tuned out Steele's light-speed patter, claiming they couldn't understand a word he said. More adored him and became devoted fans, and colleagues emulated him. His tapes were studied in broadcast schools and mimicked at other Top 40 and oldies stations.
Steele, who had been heard on KRTH-101 (K-EARTH) until mid-May, died in his sleep Tuesday morning at his Hollywood Hills home of lung cancer. The entertainer, who had given up smoking 10 years ago, was 61.
Steele was on the air the first afternoon KHJ shifted to rock and, although in recent years the music was called "oldies," he never stopped spinning the records or spouting the shtick.
"We were standing literally at ground zero; then it became a huge giant,"he said of the station's introduction of "Boss Radio" to Southern California. "It was like a mushroom cloud that went up--heavy on the mushroom."
Although Steele didn't coin the "boss" terms, he was the first to deliver the phrase "Boss Radio in Boss Angeles" on the air.
Steele's fertile mind and glib tongue were also responsible for his personal mantra familiar for 40 years: "Tina Delgado is alive, alive!" which was echoed knowingly by teenagers across Southern California.
"This must be a very sad day for the mythical Tina Delgado," said Don Barrett, radio historian and author of the anthology "Los Angeles Radio People," when he learned of Steele's death.
In 1967 and 1968, Billboard magazine named Steele the No. 1 air personality in influencing the sales of record singles. In 1995, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to radio.
A poll seeking the top 10 disc jockeys in Los Angeles from 1957 to 1997 rated Steele second among the 232 personalities nominated. The ballot was printed by Barrett in his 1994 book, and results will be published in the second volume of his book, due out Sept. 1.
"He never compromised his energy or his style," Barrett said of Steele on Wednesday. "He was consistent from day one of Boss Radio in 1965 until a short time ago."
K-EARTH morning colleague Robert W. Morgan, who also ranked in the top 10 in Barrett's poll (the author won't reveal the rankings until the book comes out), says of Steele in the book: "A radio animal! He's the absolute best at what he does. Sounds better now than he did 30 years ago . . . if that's possible."
Ironically, K-EARTH announced in May that Morgan had left the station to undergo therapy--also for lung cancer.
Popular deejay Rick Dees, another voted among Barrett's top 10, says of Steele in the book: "Pure, raw energy and focus. And he still has it every day. That's amazing!"
In the 1980s, Steele broadcast a syndicated radio show, "Live from the Sixties," which was heard in about 300 cities.
Steele was loved not only for his thunder-and-lightning speech but for what he could say in those loud and fast phrases--if you listened closely.
"He was so concise," Barrett said. "He said more in fewer words than anybody in the history of Los Angeles radio."
The shtick barely tapped an incredible wit and glossed over a considerable intellect, according to Steele's former newscaster colleague Boyd R. Britton, now known as Doc on the Roq of KROQ radio.
"He educated me in star quality, in energy and focus," said Britton, who worked with Steele in the late 1970s at KTNQ. "He epitomized energy on the air."
With his high-decibel voice, the impeccably dressed Steele stood out in popular clubs and restaurants as he did on the air.
"Very early on he was extremely hearing damaged," Britton said, attributing the impairment to disc jockeys' habit of listening to records at top headphone volume in order to determine the proper mix for the air. "It was very difficult for him to hear in a group. That made his natural speaking voice almost as loud as his on-air voice."
Although best-known for his consistent and durable radio presence, Steele also became a fixture on television and in B movies.
From 1968 to 1975 he was on television Saturday nights with "The Real Don Steele TV Show," a rock 'n' roll dance show with guest stars such as the Rolling Stones and the Supremes.
As his wife, Shaune, described it Wednesday: "The Real Don Steele, armed with a nubile dancer on either side, pranced across the screen as the Saturday night king of TV rockdom."
In addition to his own show, Steele made guest appearances in television movies, as a disc jockey in "The Day the Earth Moved," as himself in "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park," as a boat coordinator in "Anything to Survive" and as--what else--XRAY the Deejay in "Runaway Daughters.
In motion pictures, Steele played fast-talking hipster characters in what became cult films by Roger Corman and others.
He was Junior in "Death Race 2000," Curly Q. Brown in "Grand Theft Auto" and Screamin' Steve Stevens in perhaps the most popular film of its type, "Rock 'n' Roll High School." He also played the host in "Eating Raoul," Rockin' Ricky Rialto in "Gremlins" and Charlie Caddo in "Nowhere to Run." Just last year Steele portrayed a driver in "Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood."
Born in Hollywood on April Fools' Day of 1936, Steele graduated from Hollywood High School, served in the Army and then studied at a local radio school. In the next four years, he worked at radio stations in Beverly Hills, Glendale, Corona and Riverside, moved on to Kennewick, Yakima and Spokane, Wash., and then to Omaha, Portland and San Francisco. KHJ brought him home.
Playing Top 40 hits, Steele always insisted, involved personality as much as music--preferably his personality.
"If you can make a cat in a jam on the freeway giggle, that's it," he told The Times in 1967 as he soared toward his peak popularity. "I'm there to be a super-entertainer, not to teach people or sway minds. It's pressure, but it's what [President Harry S.] Truman said about politics, if heat ain't for you, get out of the kitchen."
Proud of his much-lauded consistency, Steele told The Times in 1993 from his berth at K-EARTH: "I don't think I'm any different now. I've never stopped. I've never changed. I never did anything else. This is the music of my life."
Steele's widow, Shaune, his only survivor, said private services are pending.
Copyright Los Angeles Times
August 6, 1997
The Real Don Steele, first voice of 'Boss Radio'
OBITUARY: He crafted the 'Boss Radio' format that spread to other stations.
By GARY LYCAN
The Orange County Register
''I play the hits, baby, until you bleed,'' The Real Don Steele was fond of saying. For 37 years, from the old KHJ ''Boss Radio'' to all-oldies KRTH/101.1 FM, he put his own fast-talking, high-energy spin on rock 'n' roll radio and won a huge following among listeners of all ages.
Lung cancer silenced Mr. Steele earlier this year. He did his last afternoon drive show on ''K-Earth'' on May 16 and died in his sleep at 11:20 a.m. Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills with his wife, Shaune, by his side. He was 61.
''He had never been ill until this came along,'' Shaune Steele said. ''I grew up as a fan, listening to him on the radio. We ran across each other at KRLA, where he was working. We knew each other about five years before we got married five years ago,'' she said.
Off air, Mr. Steele was a rocker, not a talker. An intensely private man who rarely gave interviews, he was born April Fool's Day in 1936 and attended Hollywood High School. After stops in Omaha, Neb., Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, he came to KHJ/930 AM in May 1965 and was the first DJ there to proclaim Boss Radio in ''Boss Angeles.''
In the book ''Los Angeles Radio People,'' Mr. Steele recalled the moment: ''We were standing literally at ground zero, then (his radio format) became a huge giant. It was like a mushroom cloud that went up ã heavy on the mushroom.''
Boss Radio was truly a unique sound ã a capella jingles, fewer commercials, a tight music playlist, plenty of promotions and DJs such as Mr. Steele and Robert W. Morgan. KHJ, a station with poor ratings, ''went from worst to first,'' recalled radio author-historian Don Barrett.
Mr. Steele was never one to analyze the evolution of rock radio. In a 1995 interview, he insisted, ''Look, you take the Motown sound and the British Invasion and you throw in Elvis and Roy Orbison, and you have a music mix that's hard to beat at any time or any place.''
When he did talk, it was fast, and if it didn't always make sense, no matter. Here's a typical Steele excerpt, which he rattled off in 11 seconds between records, as reported by Philip Eberly in his book, ''Music In The Air'':
''It's three o'clock in Boss Angelese! Hey, hey, HEY, thitz me. The Real Don Steele! A billion- dollar weekend there, and you're looking out of sidewalk call. I got nothing but groovy those groovy golds. We're gonna kick it out here on a fractious Friday boy, got to get a set outside that (sound of blowing bubbles) jumbo city. Take a trip. When you chase 'em, daylight!''
Seven years ago, several major record companies honored Mr. Steele, Morgan and format creator Bill Drake at a Boss Radio Reunion Dinner. It was an immediate sellout.
''Morgan was the first one hired for Boss Radio,'' Drake said. ''He recommended Steele. He flew down from San Francisco. I was a little leery because I had heard he was kind of a crazy man, but it turned out he was very dedicated to his work.''
Mr. Steele stayed at KHJ until 1975, then moved on to KIQQ, KTNQ/1020 AM, KRLA/94.7 FM (1985-89), KODJ, KCBS/740 AM and 93.1 FM, and arrived at KRTH in July 1992. He made his acting debut in ABC-TV's ''Bewitched,'' had his own weekly TV dance-party show and appeared in such movies as ''Death Race 2000,'' ''Grand Theft Auto'' and ''Eating Raoul.'' He recorded commercials, and at one time had a successful, nationally syndicated radio show. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995 ã it's at Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue.
''It must be a sad day for Tina Delgado,'' author Barrett said Tuesday of Mr. Steele's death. Delgado became part of Mr. Steele's afternoon mantra, ''Tina Delgado is alive, alive!''
Who she was is a mystery he took with him. Not even his wife knew.
''He never told me and I never asked,'' Shaune Steele said Tuesday. ''I felt if I had asked him that when we were dating, we never would have gotten married. He didn't like people to get too close. We had only a very small circle of intimate friends.''
He is survived by his wife.
Wed, 6 Aug 1997
By Ray Richmond
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Los Angeles radio legend the Real Don Steele died Tuesday morning after a short battle with lung cancer. He was 61.
Steele, who had handled the afternoon drive-time shift at oldies-spinner KRTH-FM for the past five years, passed away at his home in the Hollywood Hills.
The Hollywood native rocketed to prominence in the mid-1960s as one of the disc jockey architects of the ultrahip top-40 ''Boss Radio'' format at Los Angeles' KHJ-AM.
His was the voice that introduced 93-KHJ's ``Boss Radio'' sound on May 3, 1965. Along with fellow jocks Sam Riddle, Humble Harv Miller, Charlie Tuna and Robert W. Morgan, Steele and KHJ battled KRLA for local supremacy and racked up phenomenal ratings. He also hosted the music television shows Boss City and The Real Don Steele Show for KHJ-9, which is now KCAL TV.
While KHJ began to fade in the 1970s with the emergence of FM stereo -- even adopting a country format for a time in the 1980s -- Steele remained a popular radio personality clear through the 1990s.
His final day at KRTH (K-Earth 101) was May 16. Steele's fellow KHJ alumnus Morgan -- also a KRTH personality -- has been off the air battling lung cancer as well. However, Morgan is said to be improving after therapy.
Steele is survived by his wife, Shaune. Private services are pending.
Reuters/Variety 08:12 08-06-97
Fri, 8 Aug 1997
The Real Don Steele Remembered
By Ron Rodrigues
The Real Don Steele, one of a handful of radio personalities who defined the "boss jock" sound, entertained millions, and influenced scores of people to get into this business, died Tuesday (8/5) of lung cancer. He was 61. He had been afternoon personality on KRTH/Los Angeles until two months ago.
Born Donald S. Revert, Steele entered this business by attending the Don Martin School of Broadcasting in Hollywood. After brief stints at small stations in Southern California and Yakima, WA, Steele joined KOIL/Omaha as morning man, and it was there that station owner Don Burton [Burden] anointed him "The Real Don Steele." After an on-air position at KXLY/Spokane (during which he was crosstown rivals with Larry Lujack), he joined another Burton [Burden] station, KISN/Portland, as PD/afternoons.
Longtime Pacific Northwest personality Tom Murphy, who did nights at KISN during that time, noted, "There always are the flamboyant stories about Don, but he was an awfully bright guy, too. Few people would realize he was as brilliant a programmer as he was entertaining on the air."
Steele's next stop was as PD/afternoons at KEWB/San Francisco in 1964. It was there he met who was to become his best friend, Robert W. Morgan (who did nights before moving to mornings).
"We were both hired at KEWB at the same time," Morgan relates. "At the first jock meeting, before we started on the air, everyone was dressed casually. But Steele comes in with a suit that looked like it was from Seville Row ... he's got a Beatle haircut ... he's the tallest guy in the room, and he just owned us from that point on! He intimidated the shit out of me and made me think I was over my head, but we went on to become the closest of friends ... we were really inseparable.
"For what he did, a straight-on, hard-drivin' disc jockey, he was absolutely the finest to open a microphone. He could make an entire station sound great -- even if it wasn't. And he got better as he got older. If it's possible for him to have gained a step in recent years, he did."
When programmer Ron Jacobs was hired at KHJ/Los Angeles to compete against what was then thought to be rock-solid KFWB, he hired Morgan for mornings; Morgan convinced Jacobs to hire Steele for afternoons.
"If you analyze Steele specifically from a content standpoint, he came in the eight seconds or the 14 seconds before the vocal hit and just impacted you with his energy and his own little language," Jacobs said. "He made an institution of signing off on Fridays with all the words that rhyme with KHJ, Pat O'Day, Johnny Rae, and all that stuff. Don's delivery would be compelling even if he were reading the Peoria phone book."
Another of Steele's KHJ PDs, Paul Drew, observed, "The man was so incredibly professional -- he was a program director's dream. He sounded as good today as he did 25 years ago. You can't say that about too many people in this business."
Steele left KHJ in 1973 and hopped around a bunch of L.A. stations -- never staying out of work for too long -- until joining KRTH in 1992, where he was once again paired up in a one-two morning-afternoon punch with Morgan. (And if money, not ratings, is the barometer of a station's success these days, the station's cash flow is near the top in the country.)
On the afternoon of Steele's death, KRTH GM Pat Duffy told R&R, "It's an extremely sad day for all of us ... it just happened so rapidly. Don got sick about three months ago and asked us to be very quiet about it, and we respected his wishes. Here's the most vibrant guy you'll ever meet, such a great talent, and fun. But as soon as he got sick, he didn't want to be on the air. He wouldn't go on the air if he couldn't be The Real Don Steele. It wasn't an act, and he was very dedicated to doing it right. It was difficult for me knowing he was ill and not being able to tell anybody.
"I consider myself very lucky to have this job and very pleased that I had the opportunity to work with him. I used to write the copy for the live spots he did in the afternoon. It's a skill that's gone for people who've never worked in retail environments. One of the highlights of this job was being able to sit and laugh with him while putting together this outrageous stuff. I could write his screaming and yelling style and really got a kick out of that.
"He'd come into my office in character as The Real Don Steele, screaming at everybody. It's almost like being with a prize fighter just before he goes into the ring. Outside the office, he was the last true Hollywood type. He wanted to be taken places in limos and have everything done for him. He was just a real character -- a real '60s guy. We'd have lunch at the Palm, and he said 'Hey baby' to everybody.
Steele -- who died at his home in the Hollywood Hills not far from where he was born -- is survived by his wife, Shaune. Private services were pending.
©1997 Radio & Records Inc.