Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Real Don Steele

I had to delay this post a day because of the timeliness of the HIMYM finale, but still wanted to share it anyway. 

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 would have been 78 yesterday.  He passed away in 1997.  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 was 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.


Doug Thompson said...

LOVED the Real Don Steele. When I first moved to LA in February of 1970, I was working for radio consultant Ted Randal, whose offices were in the same building as Chuck Blore Creative Services at 1606 Argyle.

I listened to the Real Don Steele every afternoon religiously. A couple of times a week, I'd go to Martoni's for dinner after work(it was only a few blocks away). I'd see the Real Don sitting at the bar quite often. Occasionally I'd also see Harry Nilsson, although his bar of choice was the Jolly Roger just around the corner on Sunset.

The Real Don Steele was a true radio legend even on other days of the week besides Frackious (sp) Fridays. I have several of his KHJ airchecks burned to CD and listen to them often while driving.

What a cool thing it must have been to work with the RDS Ken.

Bill Weinberger said...

Thanks for the great memories, Ken. KHJ was my station back in the day. I still have my copy of the "Sound of the Sixties" compilation album they released, including the fold-out "Disc Jockey Derby" game on the inside, featuring Don and all the rest of the "Boss Jocks". Truly an era that will never be heard again.

Mike Barer said...

The radio industry sure has had it's share of characters. I did not know Real Don, but that is a great tribute, well done!

Howard Hoffman said...

As much as you believe I reached radio Nirvana working at WABC, I still envy you in that you worked with radio people who were the embodiment of an entire generation's culture...not just voices on a big station, but giants who genuinely immersed themselves in the whole scene and embraced the whole experience. RDS was a real living breathing radio who voided his warranty, yeah, but what a mark he left in the L.A. landscape.

Even Imus in his early days on WNBC played the "Tina Delgado" drop randomly in his show (along with the Robert W. Morgan jingle) to a confused New York audience. It showed where he'd rather be working.

Jeff P said...

When radio mattered, I'd get out of Portola or Birmingham at 3 O'clock in Boss Angeles...and head straight for the radio to listen to The Real Don Steele.....
When Radio WAS Boss......

Anonymous said...

Morning's genius HuffPo headline: "Miley Cyrus Is Topless On A Horse"

Victor Velasco said...

Thanks for this; the story I heard was that Tina was walking along a railroad track, listening to her transistor with an earpiece...she never heard the train but, because she was presumably digging Boss Radio, she was...ALIVE! ALIVE!!

Jeffrey Mark said...

I first listened to TRDS on KEWB here in the Bay Area back in '64-65 when he did afternoon drive. Then I recall not hearing him anymore. A year or so later I heard him on KHJ for the first time when my family and I drove down to LA for a summer vacation. Ever since then every time we went down to LA I couldn't wait to listen to him again. He was definitely a giant inspiration for me to go into radio and to do good work like he did on the air. I never tire of listening to old airchecks of his on Simply the best!

Tom Asher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Asher said...

He was before my time and on the opposite coast, but through sites like Reelradio, the guy has become my all-time favorite jock. Dan Ingram and George Michael are also up there on my personal list, all because of airchecks.

Don Jennett said...

You said it beautifully, Ken. TRDS was The Best! As for the Sinatra story, I heard the tune Don sung before collapsing into Frank's plate of pasta was "Witchcraft."

Bruce Ebright said...

Pretty much the same with me Tom, I grew up listening to CKLW in the late 60's early 70's, and as I pursued them, my aircheck supplier clued me in to tRDS. He was absolutely the best IMO, turned words into energy.

Bob said...


Even Don's wife Shauna doesn't know who Tina was or why she was so alive, but since he was using it at least as early as his stint in Portland it certainly predated KHJ and Boss Radio.

Jon Badeaux said...

Always love your stories, but can't figure out why you always paint him as a hopeless drunk by the third paragraph. His friends remember more than the bizarre side of RDS. Too bad more people don't know that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken - LOVE THIS! Pleasure to know and work w/ RDS (and YOU for that matter!.:-) - Our 3:00 'Changeover' at Ten-Q hurt KHJ to the point, they started giving away $100 every day - AT 3! Audio:

Cheers! Willie B

Famous! said...

I was just thinking how lucky one must have been to have shared a place on an air staff with TRDS, when I saw the great Willie B (No slouch, his own bad se'f!)say exactly that. You and Ken were both Selected For Greatness, in my view!

Try to fathom that we no longer live in a media environment where no matter in what 'burgh we live, we're given true local stars; characters, adorning the audio landscape of our favorite hits in the dashboard.

They took away the concept of "competition", so no one's "competing" for dominance and the conquest of a market's love.

Then, we're told that These Kids Today (as well as everyone else) don't "use Radio" like that, anymore.

Well Jesus, they took away the personalities, the wacky promotions, the contests, the local breaking news... these guys cheaped it out, to the point that one's car radio is now just an iPod with occasional irritants you don't find in a real iPod!

Then you wonder why nobody "uses" Radio as a common meeting ground for accessible local entertainment.

And why there won't be more Ingrams or Steeles.

Mike said...

To Ken's children: if Dad hasn't already got a copy, he'd like one of these:
1966 Cameo-Parkway C-399 --- "Tina Delgado Is Alive/Hole In My Soul"
Note the wrong date and mispelt title.
Original: 1960 Sascha Burland.

There's also:
1969 Patches P-102 --- "Cecil The Unwanted French Fry"
Original: 1966 Freddi/Henchi & the SoulSetters.

KOB said...

Presented for your Friday enjoyment (and yes there is MASH connection)

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I was blessed to work with Don Steele at two stations in L.A. First as his assistant at K100 (KIQQ) and later as his music director at KRLA/1110. Both were wonderful experiences. He was a pro's pro, class act, and always went out of his way not to make me feel like I was less than him (although he knew how much I adored him). Thank goodness for the airchecks, I can listen to him anytime I want. But without him in our world, it just isn't as fun.