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Bob Steele

Robert Lee "Bob" Steele (July 13, 1911–December 6, 2002)[1] was an American radio personality. He we with WTIC Radio in Hartford, Connecticut for more than 66 years, and dominated the morning radio scene in Southern New England for most of that time.

He was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1911. After working as a newsboy, salesman, motorcycle messenger and professional boxer, he was invited to Hartford by a race promoter to announce a motorcycle race. On his last day in town, he walked into WTIC-AM on a whim and asked to audition for a vacant announcer position. He became a junior staff announcer at WTIC in Hartford on Oct. 1, 1936.

He took over the The G. Fox Morning Watch radio show on WTIC Radio in 1943. In 1950 it was renamed The Bob Steele Show. By the time he retired from the daily radio show in 1991, he had created one of the longest running radio shows in the country. But he never fully retired; he continued to host a monthly radio show on WTIC-AM until his death.

For much of his time at WTIC, he also did the evening sports program on WTIC radio and television, no mean feat, since he had to be on the air at 5:30 AM.

The show was easy-going and comfortably predictable. Segments comprised weather (including world temperatures), sports (Steele was longtime sports director for WTIC), birthdays (only over 80), anniversaries (only over 60), local and national news, storytelling for children. Nothing brightened up a winter morning more for generations of school-age kids than when Bob Steele announced that there would be no school that day.

Quick with a pun (and a corny joke or two), Steele’s respect for the spoken word was renowned. He regularly shared with his audience tips and lessons on grammar and pronunciation, including his Word for the Day, an always popular part of his show. His unparalleled popularity was matched by a very responsive audience. He regularly received hundreds of letters a week from listeners, including, reportedly, letters from listeners "Down Under." Due to the potency of the WTIC transmitter, atmospheric conditions would occasionally allow his show to be heard as far away as Australia.

Steele appeared to be a bit psychic when, at the beginning of the 1944 baseball season, he correctly predicted that the perennial cellar-dwelling St. Louis Browns would win the American League pennant.

Throughout the 1960s, Steele vowed to not play music by the Beatles and other rock and roll acts on his show. By the 1980s, however, oldies from the sixties, including songs by the Beatles and others, worked their way into his playlists. Steele was more famous, however, for the obscure novelty songs he often played on his show, especially Rolf Harris' "Two Buffaloes," Mitch Miller's "The Yellow Rose of Texas," and, annually on May 20, a song appropriately entitled, "(I'm Getting Married on) The 20th of May."

Steele's son, Robert H. Steele represented Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District in the early 1970s and was the Republican candidate for Governor in 1974.

In Bob Steele's own words, from The WTIC Alumni Page: "WTIC played a major role once with a Willie Pep fight I was broadcasting from the Hartford Auditorium. During the war we broadcast fights on FM and recorded for delay broadcast at midnight on AM. With all the war workers, we had quite an audience at that time.

"Willie was an exceptional fighter, but the challenger dropped Willie near the end of a round and Willie got up just before the bell. The challenger's handlers accused the Hartford officials of delaying the bell to save the round for Willie. They raised quite a stink in the media and New York papers played it big because Pep was a big deal and at the peak of his career.

"We took our recording of the round to Connecticut Boxing Commissioner Frank Coskey and replayed it. It timed exactly three minutes. Both New York and Connecticut boxing commissions fined the challenger and his manager for making false accusations.

"John Lardner, son of Ring Lardner and sports editor of Newsweek at the time, wrote a whole column on this fight calling me "another Thomas Edison," or something like that. Lardner wrote to me and said if I ever had another big story to let him know.

"Much later, [former WTIC] engineer Fred Edwards and I went to Sandy Sadler's camp when Sadler was prepping for a bout with Pep. I met Lardner and he remembered that story."

When Steele died December 2002 at the age of 91, many Connecticut residents felt as if they had lost a close friend. His warm on-air personality was matched by his immense popularity. Beginning in pre-television days, when radio was king, and continuing for decades after television’s advent, Steele was the most dominant radio broadcaster in the country. In his heyday, which spanned several generations of listeners, he hosted the most-listened-to morning radio show in the U.S. with an audience that reached more than a million people a day.

References

Some of the above material from Simon Pure's The Real Bob Steele Article posted by former WTIC engineer Bob Scherago, who worked with Mr. Steele from 1963 through 1977.

  1. ^ Social Security Death Index, [1] for Robert L. Steele
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