Alison Steele

Alison Steele, Disk Jockey, The Pioneer ‘Nightbird’

Published: September 28, 1995

Alison Steele WNEW
Alison Steele

Alison Steele, whose sultry voice and iron will helped her become one of the first women in the country to be hired as a disk jockey, died yesterday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She was 58.Ms. Steele, who lived in Manhattan, died of cancer, her family said.

She was widely known to late-night radio listeners as “the Nightbird.” Her most recent perch was WXRK, a classic rock-and-roll station at 92.3 FM. She was on Monday through Friday from 2 to 6 A.M.

Ms. Steele loved to work hours that most other people find good for sleeping. “I’m a night person,” she said in 1971, when she was with WNEW, where she worked on AM and FM for about 14 years. “I think it has a mysterious quality. I never get lonely up here.”

She usually received 25 to 30 telephone calls a night; in her early years, she also had her champagne-colored French poodle, Genya, to keep her company, chewing on a bone in the studio as Ms. Steele talked to listeners.

Ms. Steele also worked for WPIX radio and often did voice-overs for radio and television commercials, according to her sister, Joyce Loman. Her syrupy voice was not affected by a flirtation with miniature cigars that she indulged in her early days on radio but gave up years ago, her sister said.

Ms. Steele and her sister operated Just Cats, a feline boutique on East 60th Street in Manhattan, but Ms. Steele was fond of dogs as well.

She is a member of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and in 1976 became the first woman to receive Billboard Magazine’s “FM Personality of the Year” award.

Ms. Steele was born in Brooklyn. At 14, she was an errand girl for a New York television station. Later she became a production assistant and associate producer at a New York radio station.

Her big break came in 1966, when she was one of four chosen from about 800 to be part of a disk jockey lineup made up solely of women on WNEW-FM. The station abandoned that idea 18 months later but asked one woman, Ms. Steele, to stay on.

“I’ve never called in sick; I’ve worked hard and built my own following,” she once said, to explain her popularity.

A marriage to the bandleader Ted Steele ended in divorce.

In addition to her sister Joyce, of Manhattan, she is survived by a daughter, Heather Steele, of South Dakota; another sister, Emalie Daniel, of Houston, and a granddaughter.

                                                                              Photos added by WNEW1130AM editors

One thought on “Alison Steele”

  1. My memories of Alison Steele are understandably somewhat different from those of her many adoring listeners. In 1972, my wife and I decided to move from Flatbush into the suburbs, and we found a nice little house in a lake community in Denville, New Jersey. The real estate agent assured us that he would be able to negotiate a “Magic” mortgage that required only a 10 percent down payment. On the night before we were to go to contract, however, the real estate agent called and said plans for the “Magic” mortgage had fallen through. He could, however, negotiate a mortgage with a 20 percent down payment. Where could I come up with an additional 10 percent of the price of my house? A colleague suggested the AFTRA credit union, and I called. “You don’t have any credit record,” I was told, “but the credit committee meets tonight, and although the chances of your getting a loan are slim, we’ll submit your application.” The next morning, the credit-union person called. “Come get your money,” she said. Many years later, I happened to run into someone who had been on the committee that night. “Didn’t Alison ever tell you what happened?” he asked. I was decidedly in the dark. “She told the committee, `If YOU don’t lend him the money, I’LL lend it to him,'” he explained.
    In the late 1970s, when WNEW-FM was simulcasting WNEW-AM’s news, and WNEW-AM was carrying a lot of night sports events, the 10PM news would often be pre-empted on AM — but not on FM. I would tailor the newscast with lots of FM-oriented news and end it with an effusive intro for Alison’s show.
    And in the late 1980s, Alison came to the NBC Radio Network to interview for a job on Talknet, NBC’s pioneering all-talk network. She walked into the newsroom, tanned, fit, and gorgeous, wearing a stunning cream-colored pantsuit. Everything came to a complete stop. She walked over and kissed me full on the lips. And that, children, is how I became a celebrity.

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