Hollywood's Native Son
The Real Don Steele was born on April 1, 1936, in Hollywood, California, to a mother who was in show business; a musician whose professional career began when she played piano in the movie houses for silent films.
Don Steele Revert, circa 1945
(age, 9 years)
As a young boy, Don accompanied his mother to gigs all over Southern California. His father drove the truck with the performers and their instruments and costumes in it; Don frequently slept in the back seat of the truck, or in the dressing room with the entertainers getting ready for their act. His mom and her
combos played for the wartime defense plant workers, at the USO canteen, for chorus line rehearsals at the movie studios, as well as for private parties where the entertainment could get kind of wild (!), and all points in between. Don grew up around musicians, jugglers, strippers, clowns, animal acts, ventriloquists -- you name it. Their lifestyles and "show folk" view of the world became his view of the world.
Don played drums and trumpet. When he was a young boy, he sold newspapers on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea, until the summer he grew six inches and "I wasn't cute anymore and didn't get any tips." When Don received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995, he insisted that it be placed at that same corner, his "paper corner."
As a teenager, he sometimes played on gigs with his mom when she was short a drummer or a second trumpet. They went to the movies constantly, sometimes four and five times a week. His mother also took Don to see the famed bands and orchestras of the day....Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, etc. This was all normal, everyday
life for Don as he grew up in 1940's Hollywood at the height of World War II.
Influences and Inspirations
From his upbringing and early influences (his mother being the strongest one), Steele learned very well how to put on a show, the timing and dedication required for a flawless performance, and to give the people what they wanted.....it was ingrained in him from the very beginning.
The Real Don Steele's
Late 1960 - July, 1961
August 14, 1961 - February, 1963
March, l963 to June, 1963
July 8, 1963 - August, 1964
August, 1964 - February, 1965
KEWB-San Francisco, California
March, 1965 (hired, not on air til May) - mid 1973
KHJ-Los Angeles, California
KIQQ-Los Angeles, California
KTNQ-Los Angeles, California
KRLA-Los Angeles, California
May, 1990 - July, 1992
KODJ/KCBS-FM, Los Angeles, California
August 1, 1992 - August 5, 1997
K-EARTH 101-Los Angeles, California
His last name is Revert (accent on the first syllable), and Don's middle name is Steele because his mother thought that Don Steele was a better professional name than Don Revert. From the beginning, things like that were important.
For as long as he could remember, Don was fascinated by microphones, and the people that talked on them. When "walkie-talkies" became big toy items during his childhood, he said he wanted one "more than anything in the whole wide world." He loved the guys on the radio who announced the orchestras, you know those "....here we are fellow merry-makers, high atop, overlooking beautiful (fill in
the blank) with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra." These were the radio voices of Don's childhood, and he decided that this was something he could do and be good at.
Don always credited 50's nightclub singer Francis Faye, and actor Elisha Cook, Jr., for being the inspirations for his "act." In the movie, "The Falcon Goes To
Hollywood", Cook played a maniacal disc jockey; Francis Faye did lots of plays-on-words and double entendre stuff. In his own inimitable manner, Steele mixed the two together and invented his own persona.
In addition to his show-biz background, the belief that he had a deficit voice-wise ("I'm a mid-range guy") was a crucial part of the mix that spawned the fierce determination and light-beam focus on success that Steele possessed.
Hard work, discipline, and dedication towards his craft he learned as a kid. Those attributes, coupled with his feeling that he had to do something different to make up for a perceived lack (his voice), were the very strong hooks that he always hung his hat on. I saw it in the way that Don approached everything he did.
Up and Out
Don graduated from Hollywood High School (where he played trumpet in the
band), attended U.S.C. for "about a day and a half" and realized it wasn't for him. Since the Korean conflict was raging on, Don didn't want to get stuck in the mud in the army in Korea, so he joined the U.S. Air Force.
Don Steele Revert, circa 1960
He attended the Air Force Electronics school and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command's Radar Bomb Scoring unit. Steele was the ground-based guy on the microphone (surprised?) who talked to the guys in the planes and gave them their coordinates on the location for the mission. He was the guy who said "Roger, out", "Roger, over" etc., and boy did he hate it in a war movie when proper terminology wasn't used when communicating on the two-way!
Following his service in the Air Force, Steele enrolled at the Don Martin
School of Broadcasting in Hollywood, on the G.I. Bill. After graduation, he stayed and taught electronic theory courses at the school while working part-time at KBUC, a teeny, tiny station in Corona, California. When he received an offer for a full-time
gig at KEPR in Kennewick, Washington, the owner of KBUC told him that "you'll never get anywhere in this business if you jump from station to station. You'll get a bad rep." Pretty funny, huh?
Anyway, I guess you could call this the beginning of The Real Don Steele's quite methodical march to the top of the heap. It's as though he was born to do it.
- Shaune Steele