Saturday, October 27, 2007

Remembering Alison Steele, "The Night Bird"


If the world was the way it should be, instead of as it is, we wouldn't even think about Robert Chambers for a second. Instead, we'd be remembering another New Yorker, one of this city's greatest DJs, Alison Steele, "The Night Bird." For a moment, here at Mr NYC, let the world be as it should.

“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.”

With those angelic words, Alison would begin her overnight broadcasts. She would then play some of the greatest rock n'roll ever: the Stones, Dylan, Led Zeplin, The Who, The Doors - you name it. Her silky voice, seductive in its maturity and wisdom, reassured you that there was someone kind out there, making you feel safe during the small hours. She was the grand dame of the New York night, her gentility soothing and smoothing the edges of a rough city. Her gracious audio presence would nurse her listeners through the darkness, into the first blushes of day.

In her later years, Alison migrated to 92.3 K-ROCK, going off the air at 6 AM, right before the raucous Howard Stern would rouse the city. I first encountered Allison's voice in the early 1990s when I was in high school. I would wake up around 5:50 or 5:55 AM in order to listen to Howard and Allison would usually be closing out her show. As a song by Yes or The Police would end, Alison's lovely voice would come on, wishing listeners like me a good morning. Then she would leave us with a parting thought, a little piece of wisdom, usually conveyed in a quotation from one of the great poets like Edgar Allan Poe or William Wordsworth. And then the Nightbird would fly away, leaving us to our usually tumultuous days.

What a great, sweet memory.

Sadly, Alison is no longer with us. All the greats leave before their time. She passed away on September 27, 1995 from cancer. I remember that I had just started college and this news was one of the first things I learned on this then new Internet contraption. It's so hard to believe that she's been gone more than twelve years because it feels just like yesterday that I was waking up to her voice. Like Jean Shepard, she was a genuine radio artist. And in this era of radio consolidation and voice-tracking, it's doubtful we'll ever see her likes again.

But at least we had her when, a small burst of light in a dark place. Let's remember and thank Alison Steele for the comfort she brought this city. In this bitter world, even a decade on, let's remember someone pretty sweet.

Tribute pages:

The First Lady of Rock & Roll
A Page for Alison Steele
Alison's Wikipedia Entry

18 comments:

  1. Hi Allison, I KNOW where you are,...Today, I am remembering you with Happiness.....your Face, your Beautiful voice, your Soothing tones....I am Happy to have Known you....But alas I have some nostalgic tears for you, because you are not here with us........
    LOve Always......
    Rickd334@optonline.net

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  2. Hi Allison, I KNOW where you are,...
    Today, I am remembering you with Happiness.....your Face, your Beautiful voice, your Soothing tones....I am Happy to have Known you....But alas I have some nostalgic tears for you, because you are not here with us........
    LOve Always......
    Rickd334@optonline.net

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Allison, I KNOW where you are,...
    Today, I am remembering you with Happiness.....your Face, your Beautiful voice, your Soothing tones....I am Happy to have Known you....But alas I have some nostalgic tears for you, because you are not here with us........
    LOve Always......
    Rickd334@optonline.net

    ReplyDelete
  4. I listened to Alison for several years while I was in high school and during my first two years attending a junior college. Listening to her calming, inspiring words in that velvety, smooth voice took me places. Yes, I gladly joined her for her flight every night. She introduced me to more new music than anyone I've ever listened to or known. She would play a track, I believe it was called 'Rainforest', which was nothing more than the natural sounds of a rainforest (and yes, it was raining!) mixed with percussion tracks. It was composed by a new, unknown artist named Vangelis. She would play tracks that no one else would. She would segue from song to song and at times it was impossible to know where one song ended and another began. She'd put sets of music together that would last for 30 or 40 minutes. She was just as much of an artist as the musicians who wrote what she played. She created a world with her poetry, her voice, and the music she shared that was a real place for me every night. A refuge that I miss. Thank you Alison, for teaching me to fly. I look forward to flying with you again.
    BTW, if anyone knows where I can get that Vangelis track please contact me.
    Daniel J. Hathaway
    findmehere@optonline.net

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  5. fdalessandro2009@gmail.com31 July, 2010 00:05

    I sent Alison a poem once and she used it as her opening poem. I had just returned from California, had fallen in love, left, was thinking of going back....ah, life and love of a 19 year old.... Sitting in my room, mesmerized as always by her voice, it took a few seconds to realize it was my poem! Love, loss, California..... She followed it with a beautiful, perfect set that began with California Dreaming. What a wonderful memory! Alas, I did not return to my California love. Somewhere in time Alison Steele, Jesse Lee McKinley and I exist in one perfect night in the fall of 1972. Thank you, Alison.

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  6. A DJ myself on WBAB-FM, I had the pleasure of meeting Allison in person. I had no idea she was even more beautiful than her voice, and impressed that she was involved with so many worthy causes. I miss her like I miss a member of my family.

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  7. I fell asleep in way too many 1st period history classes at Ridgewood (NJ) High School thanks to my first crush, Allison Steele, the Nightbird, who flew from 10PM until 2AM.

    On double-you...

    Enny-double-you...

    Eff-em...

    One-oh-two...

    Point seven...

    ...

    In New York.

    -----------------
    It was teen hormones that were overdosed by the voice.

    But neurons were overdosed by the prog music she played. Music which--45 years later--is as relevant, profound, engaging, and neuron-triggering as ever.

    But, for that matter, 53-year-old hormones are still triggered by memories of that sexy, celestial voice.

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  8. Wow! I was just on the phone with someone who sounded to me like Pete Fornatale...and then I thought of WNEW NY 102.7 on the FM dail. It along with Allison are no longer with us. I mean, the radio station still broadcasts, but not the music the way they used to do.
    That my friends is a memory...And along with the memory of WNEW is my memory of Allison Steele.
    I was in high school and very much isolated. You all know what I mean. I was strange, didn't fit in, a loner. I would stay up at nights with a bit of fear in facing the next day of high school. I would play the radio all night and listen to Allison. Music was my healer and funny it still is. I remember her lovely voice, so soothing and calm. I found the music she played being peace to me as I listened to the lyrics of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Dan Fogelberg. I loved the words...I felt all the struggles that we all go through and It made it easier to face another day of adolesence. I hated adolesence, but listening to the radio...oh listen to the radio....cause when you can't find a friend, you can listen to the radio....
    RIP Allison and may all your musical dreams come true...

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  9. I'm very sad about this. After fleeing from the dark side in the early 70's I lost track of Allison.
    For some reason I just googled her this morning. I don't like to think that she is really gone, but there it is.
    During those dark days after the military her voice was a great comfort to me. I hope to hear her again on the other side.

    David

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  10. I remember Allison when I was stationed at the Coast Guard Air Station at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn from 1972-74. Many of us listened to her soothing voice in the evening. Often while we were working on the helicopters, we would have WNEW blaring away in the hanger. Sorry to hear the news of her passing. She was one of a kind.

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  11. Night Bird has flown Into the light
    Of the dark, black night,
    And her song
    Is a soft echo in your memory.
    She says: "Come fly with me."

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  12. Night Bird has flown
    Into the light of the dark, black night
    And Her song
    Is a soft echo in your memory.
    She says: "Come fly with me."

    ReplyDelete
  13. I was in a relationship where there was a great imbalance if power. I was psychologically abused. Alison was my lifeline. I found strength in her. I am so sorry that I never thought to thank her. To tell her I am here because of you.

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  14. I hope she knew how much she mattered, and meant, to so many of us.
    We were truly gifted to have had her with us -- and on a major, commercial station!
    It was such a different world then... And made so much better by her sharing her voice, spirit, nights, and flights with us.
    And thank you, Mr NYC, for the remembrance, the tribute, the links, and the place for us all to honor her together.

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  15. I spent alot of time late at night listening to Allison, she was my bedtime lady to put me to sleep , interesting time the 70's and she carried me through it . Always wondered what she looked like , guess now I know, thanks Allison
    Peter NYC>LA now

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  16. When I was in high school, I was a broadcast journalism major and had the honor and privilege to interview Alison and be in the studio with her during one of her broadcasts when she was on WNEW FM. She was so wonderful and gracious.....an evening I will never forget...being in the presence of the Nightbird!

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  17. I recorded an Alison Steele Halloween program in 1977. I would like to upload the 5 or so minute intro from that show so all Alison steele fans could enjoy it

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  18. thanks for the infor. I will pray for her. you are the bestrachel steele incest

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