Alison Steele of WNEW-FM 102.7
|Birth name||Ceil Loman|
January 26, 1937|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||September 27, 1995
New York, New York
|Station(s)||WNEW-FM and AM; WXRK|
Alison Steele (born Ceil Loman on January 26, 1937; died September 27, 1995) was a pioneering American disc jockey in Manhattan at what would become the archetypal progressive rock radio station in the United States, WNEW-FM 102.7. She was commonly known as "The Nightbird". She also became a writer, television producer, correspondent and an entrepreneur.
Born Ceil Loman in Brooklyn, New York, Alison Steele began her career in media at the age of 14, running errands for a local television station. At 19, she met and married orchestra leader Ted Steele, who was 20 years her senior. They eventually went their separate ways, and thereafter Alison raised their daughter, Heather, as a single parent.
Steele achieved her greatest following as a disc jockey on WNEW-FM 102.7, where she hosted the night shift in a new format when contemporary rock music began to be featured on FM radio. FM stations broadcast in high fidelity and, typically, had featured classical or instrumental music in the New York market. This all changed in the 1960s when this station led the switch to FM stations for the musical preferences of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. After a major change in station programming from a briefly instituted all-female middle of the road (MOR) music format to what was becoming known as progressive rock radio occurred at WNEW-FM 102.7, she took the new late-night position.
Steele acknowledged that she did not know much about progressive rock when she started the program, and apparently, neither did the management of the station, but the new programming was being extended to the growing market. Steele was given complete freedom to plan and present her program. In the process, she developed her persona as "The Nightbird", and acquired a massive, loyal audience. Her audience was estimated in 1971 at approximately 78,000 nightly, with the majority of listeners being men between the ages of 18 and 34.
Steele began her show by reciting poetry over Andean flute music, before introducing her show in her well-known sultry, smoky voice with,
- “The flutter of wings, the shadow across the moon, the sounds of the night, as the Nightbird spreads her wings and soars, above the earth, into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel. Come, fly with me, Alison Steele, the Nightbird, at WNEW-FM, until dawn.”
She then made a transition to recordings of some of the more exceptional and experimental music being recorded at the time, as well as featuring the best of the familiar favorites of her audience.
Some of the groups Steele featured were progressive rock and space rock outfits such as the Moody Blues, King Crimson, Jefferson Airplane, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, the Chambers Brothers, Hot Tuna, Yes, Genesis, Hawkwind, Kiss, Lothar and the Hand People, Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, The Stooges, Ramases, Renaissance, Curved Air, Bloodrock, Tomita and many other groups from a variety of genres. Frequently the recordings of these groups were long and extended, sometimes without any singles on the album. Her programming often included seamless transitions to the next music featured, with minimal identifications at the end of a related session that could last most of an hour. The required station identification at half-past-the-hour provided the opportunity for credits.
If it was raining on a Monday night, she always would play The Doors classic, "Riders on the Storm" as her first song, setting the mood for that night's show. She always ended her shows with The Beatles instrumental song, "Flying", over which she would say her goodbye message.
According to Jimi Hendrix's manager, Michael Jeffery, the song "Night Bird Flying", recorded by him and released posthumously on the album, The Cry Of Love, was inspired by Alison's late-night Manhattan radio program. and a poem in his handwriting reads: Hello night bird. How was your day? Did you visit the gods in the valleys far away? What did you bring me, in your visit from the sea? The song originally was intended to be the flip-side of a planned single.
Her show became an instant hit and did much to push WNEW-FM 102.7 into the forefront of progressive rock radio. At one point, she also served as the music director of the station. Steele became the first woman named as Billboard Magazine FM Personality of the Year.
Steele left WNEW-FM 102.7 in 1979 and worked as a television producer, writer, and correspondent for Limelight on CNN. She served as the announcer for the daytime soap opera, Search for Tomorrow, from 1981 to 1984, and then returned to New York radio as a host on WNEW–AM from 1984 to 1986. For a number of years, Steele was also the disc jockey for the pop/rock in-flight audio entertainment channel on board Trans World Airlines.
From 1989 to 1995, she was on WXRK. She also did some work for VH1, as well as running the cat boutique Just Cats with her sister, Joyce Loman, on East 60th Street in Manhattan. Steele did much voice-over work for radio and television commercials, and she provided the narration for one of Howard Stern's most famous bits, "Larry Fine at Woodstock", where the former member of the Three Stooges was voiced by Billy West.
- Sterling, Christopher H., ed. (2013). Biographical Encyclopedia of American Radio. Routledge. pp. 363–364. ISBN 9781136993756.
- "In the World of Radio, She's a Rare Bird". The New York Times. 1971-12-09. p. 60. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- Haycock, Robert. "A Page For Alison Steele! FM Radio Disc Jockey.". Retrieved 2008-10-11.
However, Allison Steele, New York's WNEW DJ known as `The Night Bird', was told that it was she who was the inspiration for this song title. `After Jimi died', explains Steele, `I was doing a radio memorial tribute to him and I got a phone call from Jimi's manager, Michael Jeffery. He was driving on the highway and had to get off to call me because he thought it was a great tribute, and did I know that Jimi wrote Night Bird Flying for me?'
- Stout, David (1995-09-28). "Alison Steele, Disk Jockey, Dies; The Pioneer 'Nightbird' Was 58". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-11.