Robert Lee "Bob" Steele (July 13, 1911 – December 6, 2002) was with WTIC Radio 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 G. Fox Morning Watch radio show on WTIC Radio in 1943 when Ben Hawthorne joined the armed services. (In a day when businesses sponsored entire programs, the prominence of the business was a reflection of the show's popularity. G. Fox was the premier department store chain in the greater Hartford area.) 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 Saturday morning radio show on WTIC-AM until shortly before his death.
For much of his time at WTIC, while the stations were owned by the Travelers Insurance Company until 1974, 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. For years, Steele broadcast six days a week and told the occasional incredulous interviewer that the show was his pastime, not a job.
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. A favorite segment was "Tiddlywinks from the Teletype, little stories of little importance..." that wrapped up each day's show, ending with the final bars of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment March leading into the 10:00 AM news.
Quick with a pun (and a corny joke or two..."my full name is Robert L. Steele - the 'L' stands for Elmer"), 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 50,000-watt power of the WTIC transmitter, atmospheric conditions would occasionally allow his show to be heard as far away as Australia.
He often told folksy, punny stories about his numerous relatives, including his uncles Coldrolled and Stainless, and his aunts Bessemer and Amalgamated.
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." He also was very fond of "Tulips in Amsterdam" and "Any dream will do."
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 1980, Steele published a book entitled "Bob Steele: A Man and His Humor." A second book celebrating his 50th anniversary on radio was published in 1986 and his last, "The Word for the Day," written with son Phil Steele, was published in 2002.
The Bob Steele Reading Center at the Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford facility on Arbor Street in Hartford, dedicated in 1989, honors his years as an advocate of literacy.
On December 12, 2011, the Hartford city council voted unanimously to support a proposal to rename in Steele's honor a section of the city's Grove Street (between Prospect Street and Columbus Boulevard) in recognition of his iconic status and the 100th anniversary of his birth. Bob Steele Street was officially dedicated in a special ceremony on January 4, 2013. A bronze plaque honoring Steele's career was installed on the east side of the Travelers Insurance building at the intersection of Bob Steele and Prospect streets on May 19, 2015. The plaque, created by sculptor Michael Keropian, was unveiled in a ceremony on May 29, 2015.
|5||The Steele Family||2:58|
|6||The Lion and Albert (Edgar) - Bob would either read a children's story, or play a recording of one each morning. This was a popular feature in the 1940s and 1950s on many stations, but Bob continued the practice throughout his tenure at WTIC!||3:16|
|7||Albert's Return (Edgar)||2:54|
|8||Radio Goofs (Sometimes called Bloopers)||2:52|
|10||Antenna Switch - Only Bob could make this technical adjustment a feature! And at one point it was even sponsored. Many AM stations have two antenna patterns - daytime and nighttime - to prevent interference other stations. WTIC shares a frequency (1080) with KRLD in Dallas. Its license required different antenna patterns to prevent the stronger nighttime signals from interfering with KRLD. An ordinary radio host would pause for a few seconds as the switch occurred; not Bob!||0:17|
|11||Pronunciation - Bob was a stickler for correct pronunciation. He would cringe when he heard a network announcer or news broadcaster mispronounce a word. WTIC's announcers made sure not to displease the guru of all words.||1:26|
|12||My Sports Career||2:09|
|13||We Get Mail||4:54|
|14||The Worm Family (Vaill)||3:42|
|16||Jokes (Includes his infamous "Mill Famey" pun)||5:01|
|17||Signoff - This is the way he typically ended each show!||0:54|
|18||35TH ANNIVERSARY PROGRAM,
OCTOBER 1, 1972
|19||Word for the Day - Wrought||1:54|
|21||Interview with long-time WTIC announcer Ed Anderson||6:29|
|22||Finale: Jokes. Tiddley Winks, Hut Sut Song, More Jokes, Powdered Wig, Fiddler on the Roof, Signoff, Station Break||10:37|