Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Real Don Steele

The Real Don Steele was larger than life. For thirty years he ruled the Los Angeles airwaves, most notably on 93/KHJ “Boss Radio” in the 60’s and 70’s. Outrageous, electrifying, thrilling – that was Real on…and OFF the air.

Typically, after his afternoon show he would go to a Hollywood watering hole, Martoni’s and get plastered. Steele never did anything in moderation. One night Sinatra walked in with his fierce bodyguards and disappeared into a back room. Steele wanted to meet him. The others at his table told him it was a bad idea, Sinatra never liked intrusions, and he was in no condition to meet anybody. That didn’t stop Steele.

He marched into the back room where Sinatra was now eating, surrounded by his henchmen. Frank looked up and was startled. Steele stood before him and in his loudest booming voice began singing “Strangers in the Night”. Then, after one chorus, passed out face first in Sinatra’s pasta.

Talk to anyone who knew and loved him. They have a hundred of their own stories, each as good or better.

The Real Don Steele passed away ten years ago today. He was only 61 (although the way he lived it was closer to 108). There is a tribute website that features pictures, and a few samples of his work. If you want to hear the greatest cookin’ jock to ever crack a mic in the heyday of top 40, check him out.

Real also appeared in some highly prestigious films such as EATING RAOUL, DEATH RACE 2000 (starring Sylvester Stallone), ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and Ron Howard’s first directing effort, GRAND THEFT AUTO. Television credits are equally as impressive: TALES FROM THE CRYPT and HERE COMES THE BRIDES.

I had the pleasure of working with him at two radio stations, K100 and TenQ in LA in the 70’s. He also fell off my couch stinking drunk one night and my wife still invited him to dinner again.

His catch phrase was “Tina Delgado is alive, ALIVE!” shouted by some unknown frenzied girl. No one ever knew the story behind it -- who Tina Degado was or how he came to use it. Even what the hell it meant. But it didn’t matter. It was all part of the excitement this larger-than-life personality created for “the magnificent megalopolis of Boss Angeles” three hours every day…and especially on “Fractious Fridays”.

His birthday was April 1st, I wish that maybe his passing is just an April’s Fool joke. That would be so like him. And at 3:00 I could turn on the radio, “Devil with a Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder would come blazing out of my speaker and I would hear “The Real Don Steele is alive, ALIVE!”

He is in my heart. And always will be.

Thanks to Nancy Plum for the following montage from the first day of TenQ. In the bottom left photo that's me standing behind Steele.


23 comments:

addy said...

Wow, you've brought back memories. I use to listen to him as a kid with my precious transistor radio stuck to my head. So did my best friend next door. We were about 9 or 10. Made us feel we were parter of a larger, more interesting world those days when our Barbies weren't being torn apart by wolves in our games. They never lasted long those Barbies.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Ken...it warms y'all up inside that you still embrace radio and keep the names of these terrific people alive. It always was a great business. Thanks for being among the few who won't forget.

And I know where Tina DelGado is, but I'm sworn to secrecy.

Doug DeRoo said...

Hi Ken: Yeah, I miss him too. For those of us who TRIED to be top 40 disk jockeys, Steele could do more with a 10 sec. intro than anyone! One of my cooest memories was when you and I were hangin around at 10-Q pulling Don's oldies. Remember the line? He told us,"make em black and noisey!" Mark Thomas & I were doing the Ford Test Drive thing a few years ago up off the grapevine out in the middle of nowhere. A now, defunct ad campaign where LA and area dj's get to wreck an Explorer then do spots about their experience without getting paid...anyway; Morgan and Steele were there clowning around as usual (Don insisted on a chauffer!) And I got the creepy feeling that that was the last time I'd see em together... Turns out, I was right. Morgan died a few months later and Don that following August...(must be the air conditioning at KRTH.) You're right, my friend, Radio's not the same. You can, however, flip on an aircheck of either one of them and get goosebumps. They're STILL the way it SHOULD be done.

Tim Ahern said...

In the summer of '66, between junior & senior year at Canoga High, I always knew when it was 3 PM on a Fractious Friday. In my memory, Steele always started his show w/ "Satisfaction" by the Stones.

Pamela Atherton said...

Working for the Real Don Steele at K-100 was my first real job in radio. $3.25 and hour (it cost more to park there than I made a month!) I was a journalism major in college and quit as the editor of the paper to take the job with RDS. Who wouldn't?? He always treated me so nicely... called me Princess Pam. And if I was more than 5 minutes late, he was a wreck. He had me pull his "golds" (what a rush that was for a 17 year old girl!). And he sometimes let me write his Friday show close... all those people whose names ended with the AY sound.

When he got fired, I called up KHJ and asked to speak to the program director. (Gerry Petersen at the time). I told him I didn't want to work for a station that would fire the Real Don Steele, and I would like to work at KHJ now. He must have laughed his ass off at my chutzpah... but he gave me the job!

BTW... working for the RDS is where I met Beaver Cleaver. Tall and skinny with a big ol'jewfro. I miss that hair....

Mike Barer said...

All these characters continue on www.reelradio.com Most of the great DJs were heavy smokers and that caught up to them.

The Crutnacker said...

Our #1 local station in Louisville, Kentucky, WHAS radio was a 50,000 watt clear channel station with local ownership. At night, Joe Donovan's Rock and Roll revival would grace the airwaves through much of the continental United States. Joe was a local guy and supposedly owned a copy of almost every charting album and single of the rock and roll era (I can't remember if it was every #1, top Forty, Hot 100, or what, but he owned a TON). His show was a pleasure. He had lots of trivia, airchecks from people all over the country, and played a lot of obscure oldies.

Then Clear Channel bought the station, eliminated most of the local programming (which seems like the whole reason for radio) and kicked him to the curb for overnight talk.

I miss DJ's. I miss the art of talking over records and segues. I am sure I've only heard Don Steele once or twice, but I miss what he represents.

Anonymous said...

Grew up listening to RDS. He had "it." Even later in his career, on KRTH, his live spots, of all things, were great entertainment. I can't think of a jock on the air now that makes you want a song to end so you can hear what he's going to say next. Which helps explain what's wrong with terrestrial radio today...

MBFH said...

My good friend Mark Thomas told me a great Don Steele story. As YOU know, DS was the king of the tight up to the vocal talkover. According to Mark, Steele was on vacation when KHJ made the switch from playing records to playing songs on cart. One of the engineers took a song (China Grove I believe) and looped the intro to the point where it was about 10 times longer than it normally would be.

Steele started off his show, started talking up the record, got to the point where ther vocal should've kicked in, paused for just a split second, and then started talking it up again. And he continued doing so until he hit that post.

Nothing phased him.

Ken Levine said...

It was Tuti Fruitti by Little Richard.

Ken Levine said...

It was Tuti Fruitti by Little Richard.

mbfh said...

That's even funnier.

Anonymous said...

Never heard him out of character, or trip, or lazy. 100%, always.

Wayne from MAine said...

Ken,
Sorry so late with this comment....been out of town for 3 days. I'm sure you have heard the aircheck on reelradio.com of Robert W. Morgan and RDS doing the dash for cash at K-EARTH. Don was one of the best and unfortunately he will NEVER be replaced!!! After all he was THE RRRRREAL DON STEELE. Anyway, he is interviewing the winner of this contest and she is about as exciting as.....shall we say....oatmeal that's been allowed to set in a bowl for 36 hours, and Morgan does nnnothing to bail him out,not that he needs to be, it's just one of the funniest radio moments I've ever heard!!! Ken, reading your posts has shown the you realize just how lucky you are to have known these "GODS" personally.
Wayne

P.S.
For those of us who will ALLWAYS remember top40 radio the way it was all believe,
Tina DelGado is alive...........alive.
thanks Ken

Anonymous said...

Who you kiddin' that’s Beaver Cleaver…geesh.

It was the mid 60's the Beach Boys were current and blaring from my little Transistor radio and Real Don boomed. It was time for the Big Kahuna to unload a prize. Yes me, little Billy from Brea, won a cheap tiki trinket from the radio god…and I don't me the Big kahuna.

When we would eventually meet I couldn't believe how deaf he had become. Keep that volume down you whippersnappers

Bill Nesbitt

Fred M. from Baltimore said...

Ken,
A great trip for me down memory lane!
60's Rock Radio was the BEST! KHJ and RDS were the BEST of the BEST.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a regular on The Real Don Steele TV dance show. It would be nice to see if there are any photos of the (kids on the) show. I want to see if I'm in any of them!
Memories - we (our group - the "Rodney's Group") were the ones who brought the show from regular high school kids to "glam rockers". I'll never foreget it!

Anonymous said...

Tina Del Gado was the RDS himself. Sorry to say folks RDS was a flamin homo.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to know if there are any pictures of the kids that used to dance on the show. Or if you can buy videos of the show from 1974. Because I went on a couple of times. I was one of those glitter people. My friend and I were cute blondes wearing Lots of lurex and platform shoes.
Thanks.

JeanetteA74 said...

I was a regular on the show, I would love to be able to find videos from 1973, specially the one's where the Doobie Brothers performed and Dr Hook and the Medicine Man.

Catherine said...

I too went to the studio every Saturday to dance on the Real Don Steele Show. I wore some of the craziest outfits just to get to do the freek-out-dance. I mostly went from 1972-1973. Anyone know who has the videos? No in home VCR back then. Kitty

Anonymous said...

My Sisters and Brothers danced on the Real Don Steele Show. Not as regulars but as part of the audience. I would LOVE to find DVDs or VHS copies of this show. It would really be a blast to see them. Does anyone have any ideas where that could be found?

Thanks Laura
leiflover@aol.com

Anonymous said...

HAS ANYONE EVER BEEN ABLE TO FIND THE
"REEL DON STEELE" SHOW ON VIDEO OR
DVD ????????????

I'VE TRIED DESPERATELY TO FIND THE SHOWS (WHICH INCLUDE THE "DEVIL WITH THE
BLUE DRESS" DANCE SEGMENTS) FOR YEARS.

ANY HELP WOULD BE FOREVER APPRECIATED!!

PATTY
GAMMACUJO@AOL.COM