Friday, Oct. 10, marks a major turning point in the long and distinguished career of veteran Chicago radio host Richard Steele. After nearly a half-century in the medium, the past 27 years of it spent at WBEZ-FM (91.5), Steele, 72, will take a step back while retaining a toehold. As media columnist Robert Feder reported in September, while he’ll no longer broadcast full time, Steele will keep hosting his weekly “The Barber Shop Show,” which is taped in North Lawndale and can be heard on WBEZ or online at Vocalo.com.
After starting his WBEZ tenure as a fill-in host following stints at WGCI-AM, WVON and elsewhere, Steele became a regular presence on many of the station’s top talk shows — including “Eight Forty-Eight,” “The Afternoon Shift,” “World View,” “Talk of the City,” “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” — as well as its jazz programs. Along the way he traversed the city and globe, interviewing such disparate luminaries (or soon-to-be-luminaries) as Wynton Marsalis, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mr. T and a pre-election Barack Obama.
“If this is something that you want to do,” Steele said in a 2012 interview of those seeking to work in radio, “you should really pursue it, pursue it, pursue it. If you were to give someone actual statistics… the numbers are against anyone who wants to do this. But the reality is that if this is what you really want to do for a living, you should pursue it at whatever level you can, whether it’s interviewing people, whether it’s working for a gospel music station, whether it’s on the Internet. Whatever it is that involves communicating and doing this thing that we do and allows you to connect with people.”