7/Originally published in the Hartford Courant, we think October 2, 1991.
Reprinted with permission of the author

Bob Steele was much more than a radio personality

By Stephen B. Goddard

  In its halcyon days in the 1940s, G. Fox glittered as the most interesting people bustled through its aisles. One day, my mother had brought me a L'il Abner coloring book in the children's department when she tuggest at my sleeve and gestured animatedly across the aisle towards a young man with s licked back dark hair. In a twinkling, she had approached the fellow who, smiling broadly, wrote on my coloring book.
  The words "Bob Steele" meant nothing to me then, but I soon linked them to the baritone sounds emitted each morning from the maroon radio on our kitchen table.
  Growing up, our family should have set another place for breakfast, such was the involvement of this disembodied voice in our lives. Where Steele's family had gone on its summer vacation, his latest erroneous sports prediction, even his current weight were colorful threads in the fabric of our lives.
  I was raised by my mother and her sister, neither of whom attended college but who would feel let down if they missed Steele's "word for the day." No Ivy Leaguer either, Steele quite obviously loves words, and in his pronunciations and derivations would roll each syllable around on his tongue like fine chocolate. I doubt that any Pulitzer Prize winner will credit his success solely to Steele, but that's not the point. In believing like Dr, Suess that words are fun, he allowed young minds to hear that opinion from someone other than their English teacher.
  Sousa marches and centenarian birthdays held little appeal to a teenager caught up in the golden era of rock 'n' roll. And emerging from college into the turbulent '60s, I flipped the dial away from 1080-AM again, frustrated with Steele's reluctance to discuss controversial themes. Talk shows and provocative morning disc jockeys, only too glad to confront civil rights, Vietnam and urban riots, soon sprang up and listeners' morning choices expanded.
  But Steele, growing to and through retirement age during the '70s and '80s, held his share of roughly a third of the morning radio market. He began to feature contests, magic words and the like to keep pace with the new stations, but you could tell he didn't like it -- it just wasn't Steele. To me, he had become timeless.
  Try as I might, I never could break away from Steele entirely. I do like martial music, and such tidbits as the oft-told tale of The Lion and Albert were like an anchor to my past. So when a morning host became a bit shrill, I'd flip back to Steele. I'd get better national news from public radio, but his local coverage was a good cut above the coverage on other stations.
  Monday morning I tuned in to bid my personal goodbye to this 80-year-old man who's like many of our Uncle Bobs -- a bit longwinded but good natured and who remembers your birthday. For the last time, he reminded us not to forget our keys and letters to mail on the way to work and confided he tipped the scales today at 202 pounds.
  As the brassy strains of the Second Connecticut Regimental March closed out the "Bob Steele Show" for the last time, I wondered how this crusty old fellow would survive, no, thrive -- in the breakneck speed of our current culture.
  I think it's because his competitors seek to project personas -- usually snappy, contentious or crude -- that will appeal to a targeted market. Steele offered only who he is, unvarnished, like it or not.
  And for that, I'll miss you Bob.

Stephen B. Goddard of Hartford is a lawyer.


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