A Timely Postscript by
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(54 Stories)

Prompted By Remembering Radios

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Bob Steele

The terrific stories this week have me thinking more about my radio past. When walking this morning I found myself trying to recall what date it was. Seems these days that the calendar has less and less relevance, so I am often unaware of the specific date. But I remembered that today is the 19th of May. Which means that tomorrow is the 20th of May. Which made me think of Bob Steele.

Some dates are more memorable than others.

Bob Steele was a long-term radio personality for WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut. As I recall he started his career there in 1936. In my early years working in Hartford he was by far the ratings leader for morning drive time. I didn’t listen to him when  I commuted, but my clock radio was set to WTIC for wake-up, and Bob was on the air. I’d keep it on while I got ready, so I heard a bit of his show on a regular basis.

Bob had guests from time to time, I think, but not at all frequently. The show was his personal conversation with his audience. He was quirky. He regularly reminded listeners to sit up straight. He had a groan-worthy sense of humor that he displayed often. Example: “There was an outdoor outfitter, The Tates Company, that flourished several years ago but went belly up.  Seems their demise was a hiking compass that proved to be notoriously unreliable.  As people routinely said, ‘He who has a Tates is lost.'” Rim shot.  He also referenced some of his relatives, including Uncle Stainless.

Regular features included weather reports, provided by the Travelers Weather Service.*  Charlie Bagley, their lead meteorologist, was a Steele favorite.  They had similar senses of humor.  Every year in late summer and early fall Charley would regularly forecast what he called “Indian Weather”: a patchy fog. Rim shot.

As mentioned, Steele’s show was so popular that it was an advertising gold mine.  They even sold sponsorships for the daily morning “Antenna Switch”: WTIC was a Clear Channel broadcaster (I discussed the concept in a comment to Jeff Gerken’s story) but it shared a Clear Channel frequency with a Dallas station. Each evening WTIC had to switch from an omnidirectional antenna to a directional antenna to protect the Dallas station. And each morning it switched back to the omnidirectional antenna.

Another regular Steele feature was eclectic songs.  Which gives rise to this, which I offer in his memory:

Bob continued to broadcast for many years.  I see that he died in December, 2002.  The next day, another long-time WTIC personality hosted a tribute to Bob in his old time slot.  In memory of him, they created a special moment of silence: for a short period they dropped their signal from 50,000 watts to 500, the original power allocated to the station.


* The Weather Service was an affiliate of the radio station.  The “Travelers” was indeed the Travelers Insurance Company, headquartered in Hartford.  In fact the radio call sign, WTIC, stood for Travelers Indemnity Company. The Weather Service was created to assist the company in forecasting and dealing with property claims.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    What a touching tribute to this quirky, old-school broadcaster, Tom. I have no knowledge of the station, but that retro audio clip gave me a perfect idea of what Bob Steele was like, especially his sense of humor. Thanks for this enjoyment.

  2. Suzy says:

    Love this story, Tom. First, the idea that our stories got you thinking more about your radio past. Exactly what is supposed to happen! Then your portrait of this DJ, which made me feel as if I knew him even though I never heard him. And finally the wonderful audio clip, which I will be sure to play again tomorrow on “the 20th, the 20th of May.” Wonderbar!

    • Thanks, Suzy. Yes, the iterative process our reminiscence is part of what makes this site special. I, too, will be listening tomorrow. And I just remembered that at some time over the years Steele’s recording of 20th of May was misplaced. For at least one May 20th, if not two or three, his audience went without. And complained and complained. The year it resurfaced there was rejoicing.

  3. Thanx Tom! This week I got an education in Boomer radio lore and was introduced to DJs Dick Biondi and now Bob Steele.

    I hadn’t heard of either, I guess I was too busy listening to Our Gal Sunday to find out if a poor girl from a little mining town in the American west could find happiness as the wife of a rich and handsome English lord.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Perfection. I just listened to “The 20th of May” on the 20th of May! Which made me giggle for several reasons. In the late 1970s, Hartford was my sales territory. I never made much progress with Travelers, but that building loomed large as I drove into the city. However, as I hit the CT border from MA, I’d switch to a radio station that played New Wave music (DEVO, Blondie and such). Nothing like what we listened to at home and my husband teased me about it, but I rather liked feeling a bit hip.

    You’ve brought me full circle here, to a Hartford station long before my time and definitely NOT New Wave. Thanks for shedding new light on the subject.

    • Wonderful comment, Betsy. You may remember that just north of the Travelers Tower was a blue-ish building of a peculiar shape. That was the Phoenix building where I worked at the time. It was at the time, I think, and may still be the world’s only two-sided building; it’s shape is a lenticular hyberloid. And aren’t you glad you now have all this completely useless information?

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Tom, I remember the Phoenix building well. I think we called it the “football” building. I might have been in it once. Hartford Insurance Group was a big client, and later, I spent a lot of time at Aetna. Just outside, in East Hartford, I called on various locations of Pratt Whitney and occasionally, UTC corporate. They were also a big client. A million years ago. Can’t believe they merged with Raytheon (who was also a client, though a small one). This is all ancient history for me.

        • It’s fascinating how the memories unspool. After I posted my earlier reply I recalled an incident that lived in Phoenix lore for decades. As you know, the building’s long dimension is oriented east-west, exactly perpendicular to the interstate that is directly between it and the Connecticut River. The road is heavily traveled. Just a year or so before my first tenure at Phoenix some genius in the company had the idea, at Christmastime, to use the building as a holiday decoration by using the window blinds on the all-glass building to spell out “NOEL”. Given the nature of those letters it would work perfectly. And it did, viewed from the north. But they forgot to reorient the greeting on the opposite side of business, so, of course, it spelled out “LEON”, and backwards to boot.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a great tribute to a Bob Steele. What a quirky song The 20th of May is! Now I will associate it with that date. Thanks for sharing this unique radio personality.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Indeed, I was wondering why the twentieth of May made you think of the deejay, but the clip cleared that right up! I also had to repeat the jokes out loud before I got them, groan. Thanks for the trip down that particular memory lane.

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