Don Steele, born Donald S. Revert (April 1, 1936 - August 5, 1997), was one of the most popular Disc jockeys in the United States, from the middle of the 1960s until his retirement for health reasons in May 1997. He was often promoted as "The Real Don Steele" to distinguish himself from another DJ with the same name.
Born in Hollywood, California, Steele first became famous as a DJ on radio station KHJ (AM) in Los Angeles, where he helped to promote the "ultrahip" Top-40 Boss Radio format which began on May 3, 1965. He also appeared on TV in his own programs called Boss City and The Real Don Steele TV Show, a show which ran from 1965 to 1975 on KHJ-TV channel 9 in Los Angeles. When the popularity of AM radio gave way to FM stereo in the 1970s, Steele continued to remain a popular personality at the station. For the remaining years of his life he spent his broadcasting days at Los Angeles's KRTH-FM (K-Earth 101).
He graduated from Hollywood High School, served in the Air Force and then studied at a local radio school. Shortly thereafter Steele began working outside of L.A. at KBUC in Corona, CA then moving onto Kennewick, KIMA Yakima and KXLY Spokane, Washington; KOIL Omaha, Nebraska; KISN Portland, Oregon, and KEWB San Francisco before returning to Los Angeles to work at the All-New KHJ in April 1965.
In the book "Los Angeles Radio People," Mr. Steele recalled the beginnings of Boss Radio in May, 1965: "We were standing literally at ground zero, then (his radio format) became a huge giant. It was like a mushroom cloud that went up -- heavy on the mushroom."
Mr. Steele was never one to analyze the evolution of rock radio. In a 1995 interview, he insisted, "Look, you take the Motown sound and the British Invasion and you throw in Elvis and Roy Orbison, and you have a music mix that's hard to beat at any time or any place."
"Robert W. Morgan was the first one hired for Boss Radio," KHJ program director Bill Drake said. "He recommended Steele. He flew down from San Francisco. I was a little leery because I had heard he was kind of a crazy man, but it turned out he was very dedicated to his work."
Mr. Steele stayed at KHJ until 1973, then moved on to L.A. radio stations KIQQ, KTNQ, KROQ, KRLA, KODJ, KCBS and arrived at KRTH in July 1992. He made his acting debut in ABC-TV's Bewitched, had his own weekly TV dance-party show, The Real Don Steele Show, on KHJ-TV and appeared in such movies as Death Race 2000, KISS In Attack of the Phantoms, Grand Theft Auto (movie), and Eating Raoul. He starred as "Screamin' Steve Stevens" in Rock 'n' Roll High School, "Rockin' Ricky Rialto" in Gremlins, and in 1996, he played a driver in Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood. He recorded commercials, and at one time had a successful, nationally syndicated radio show.
That show, "Live From the 60's", was created by Steele along with friend and contemporary M.G."Machine Gun" Kelly, who D.J'd with Steele in the 70's at 10Q. Live From the 60's was a 3hr program that featured oldies exclusively from the 1960s. Each hour of the show profiled a certain year from that decade. It was written and performed in present tense, and peppered with audio clips of news events, presidential speeches and TV shows that correlated with that particular year. The show ran in syndication, and was marketed to radio stations with an "Oldies" format from 1988 until 1993. Repeats of earlier shows aired in some markets as late as 1996.
"It must be a sad day for Tina Delgado," author-historian Don Barrett said of Mr. Steele's death. Delgado became part of Mr. Steele's afternoon mantra, "Tina Delgado is alive, alive!" Who she was is a mystery he took with him. Not even his wife knew.
"He never told me and I never asked," Shaune Steele said. "I felt if I had asked him that when we were dating, we never would have gotten married. He didn't like people to get too close. We had only a very small circle of intimate friends."
A poll seeking the top 10 disc jockeys in Los Angeles from 1957 to 1997 rated Steele second among the 232 personalities nominated. The ballot was printed by Barrett in his 1994 book, and results are published in the second volume of his book. Rick Dees said of Steele in Barrett's book, "Pure, raw energy and focus. And he still has it every day. That's amazing!.
Boyd R. Britton, who worked with Steele in the late 1970s at KTNQ said, "He educated me in star quality, in energy and focus. He epitomized energy on the air." Reflecting on Steele's habit of using very high headphone levels, Britton said, "Very early on he was extremely hearing damaged. It was very difficult for him to hear in a group. That made his natural speaking voice almost as loud as his on-air voice."
In 1993, from KRTH, Steele told the Los Angeles: I don't think I'm any different now. I've never stopped. I've never changed. I never did anything else. This is the music of my life."
Don Steele appeared in several movies as a DJ. These included "Death Race 2000" (1975), "KISS In Attack of the Phantoms" (1978), playing himself hosting a KISS (band) look-alike contest, "Rock 'n' Roll High School" (1979), "Eating Raoul" (1982), and "Gremlins" (1984). On TV shows, Don Steele had appearances in a 1966 episode of "Bewitched" in which he played himself, and in an episode of "Here Come the Brides" in 1970.
He received a star on the Hollywood in 1995, located at Hollywood and La Brea Avenue.
- The Real Don Steele audio collection of air checks
- IMDB listing for Don Steele
- Interview, with Don Barrett, of LARadio.com
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