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