Monday, November 21, 2011

The Bear... Terry Steele

My best friend at the station arrived on the heels of yet another Rivers departure. I'm trying to remember, and I think it was when Tom took his detour to San Diego.   Bob Wood was meticulous when it came to choosing talent for the station.  It was not unusual for a shift to be open for a month or more while he carefully evaluated the many tapes that he'd accumulated from monitors in various cities across North America.  With Terry, however I'm told the decision was reached very quickly.   Bob liked what he heard, and brought Terry in as soon as possible. It was the right move, Terry was a one of a kind talent.

Jim Stromberg hailed from the Washington, DC area.  He'd apparently spent some time in the Navy, was discharged due to an injury and wound up getting a job back home on WINX radio in Rockville, MD.  From there he made his way south to the legendary WNOR Norfolk, and eventually to CHUM.  He was a big guy, with a bushy beard... everybody called him “The Bear” because he was as hairy as one.  He had a great sense of humor, and would break out in uncontrolled laughter at almost any ribald comment.   When I met the guy he shook my hand so hard it damn near came off.   He had a high energy, no nonsense approach on the air and impeccable timing.   These are GREAT talents to have when you were working a fast paced, night-time show.

Terry took Rivers' old 6-9 slot, and preceded me on the air.  One author at the time referred to us in his book as “The greatest one-two punch in rock radio.”  We owned the Toronto market from six until midnight.  There was barely a single teenager who didn't know our names, most of them listened to us every night and even took their transistor radios to bed with them, such was the power of the CHUM brand.

Unlike Tom Rivers, Terry was somewhat reticent when it came to personal relationships with other air staff.  He was unlikely to wade into a friendship until he was very certain.  Many people in the radio industry are like that, perhaps because of the volatile nature of radio employment or the fact that very often someone who seems like your friend will turn around and stab you in the back.   I consider myself fortunate that Terry and I became best friends very quickly.

Terry didn't focus on humor or schtick like most of us, he was a straight ahead, balls-to-the-walls, rock-n-roll DJ.  CHUM's former Production Director, Warren Cosford says of him "On the air, Terry may not have been as funny as Jay Nelson, as creative as Tom Rivers, or as flashy as Scott Carpenter.  In the studio on tape, he wasn’t as smooth as Walter Soles and Ron Morey, or as versatile as John Rode.  But Terry Steele was consistent and solid.  He was the quarterback when everyday was the Superbowl!  He was "Terrible Terry, The Bear in the Airchair from the Big House on Yonge Street".  Working with him made you better.  He had a kind of Majesty."

I don't know about “majesty”, but he sure as hell had a sense of humor!  We concocted a kind of rivalry on the air... a constant, running bitch-slap back and forth.  We were often asked, privately of course, if we hated each other.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Kind of like professional wrestlers, we'd cook up our latest slew of insults over beers at the Red Rooster.  We'd carry the ruse over to appearances where we'd dish out wise cracks to one another in front of 20,000 people.  It was HUGE fun.

Terry and his wife Leslie bought a cabin on Six Mile Lake in the Muskokas.   I'd occasionally take my mini-houseboat up there and hook up with them and Brad Jones who later became Program Director of CHUM, but at the time was known as “The King of the Muskokas” with his hopped up, Sidewinder sports-boat.   We'd toss back brews and cook up new, improved ways of getting on Bob Wood's nerves!

Terry was Jewish, but you'd never have known it.  At our weekly, post-meeting breakfasts at Senior's Restaurant he'd order up the biggest plateful of bacon and eggs you've ever seen.  When asked about that he'd respond “Who the hell do you think I am, Hymie Lipschitz?”   The guy had a laugh that could shake a mountain off it's foundation.   He was definitely one of a kind.

Like many people in the business, Terry seemed to lose his way in the 80's.  He left CHUM in 1985, and never again attained the kind of profile he'd had while there.  None of us did, really.  Some of us were luckier than others though, unfortunately Terry was one of the unlucky ones.

He began to drink heavily, and wound up at one point driving a cab in Honolulu.  Bob Wood brought him back to Toronto and offered to pay for rehabilitation.  Terry told Bob he couldn't do it.  In 1993, while in Tucson, I got a call from Warren Cosford.  Terry had been found dead in his bathtub.   The story at the time was that he'd fallen and hit his head, family members told me otherwise.  Apparently his liver just gave out and he died right there.   Terry's family was extremely close.  I knew his cousin Millicent Stromberg quite well when I worked in New York, when I called her to express my condolences she was inconsolable. Terry's death had an enormous impact on his family.

The call from Warren served as a huge wake up call for me back in '93.  The best friend I'd ever had in radio was dead, and I was certain it was radio that had killed him.  I knew then and there I had to get out.

But back in 1972, there were a few adventures yet to come!

Some comments on this post from other friends of Terry Steele:

The Bear was one of my mentors. He wasn't as actively a mentor as Mark Dailey and John Majhor where. But he had a knack for saying just the right thing that would make you feel on top of the world and brimming with confidence in your performance.

I can tell you there was one respect where Terr Bear wore his Jewishness on his sleeve. He always made sure he was working Christmas day so the other guys could have the day off.

It was tragic to see his decline and then his death. I was at his funeral... Which, of course, being as he was Jewish, happened within 24 hours of his death.

The first times I ever was heard on CHUM was with Terry Steele and another time with Scott Carpenter. CHUM ran a school spirit thing where Metro schools competed to raise money for the United Way. CHUM aired reports from students of these schools and I was chosen to do two reports for my school, George Vanier Secondary in North York. I still have cassette tape of both reports around somewhere.

That piece is a fantastic memorial to Our Bear, Pat.

Posted by Bruce Marshall

I have a picture of the Bear and I sitting on the verandah at my family's cottage. It sits right behind me here in the studio and I look at it EVERY day. That weekend Jimmy and I taught his older daughter Nicki how to waterski. Strommy was often over at our house...or I was over there at his. My 5 year old son just called him "the Bear". "Hi the Bear." Jimmy thought that was hilarious.

On Sunday morning of that cottage weekend we got up early [for us] and putted around the shoreline of the lake at about 4 or 5 miles an hour waving to everyone we saw...whether I knew them or not. All the while we assured ourselves that *they* were all beyond overjoyed to see us...because...we were *US*.

We weren't Terry Steele and Lee Marshall....we were just two guys that enjoyed the heck out of our little 'schtick'. "We're *us*...and *they* all wanted us to stop so that they can give us a drink...or introduce us to whomever that is in the bikini on the dock. I guess you had to be there...but were roared with laughter way past the point of our bellies hurting.

One time at his cottage we got on the cb radio and pestered some poor truckers down in the Southern U S of A. If any of those guys had ever found us...we'd have paid a heavy price. Gawd we laughed.

Then there was the fishing expedition up to the French River. That weekend included a huge poker game. Finally I got a good hand. But I had to a racehorse. Jimmy and I both loved those rums and cokes. Too much I guess. He wouldn't let me put my cards down in the middle of the hand. I either played it out...or I had to fold. I pissed my pants. [but I won]

Jimmy was the best man at my wedding. He had a heart the size of all outdoors. He was warm, funny and like me a wrestling fanatic who also loved to hop on a motorcycle and tour the smaller highways north of Toronto. We bowled together on Saturday the only "goyim" in the entire league...and always headed out with our ladies for a post bowling feast at some nifty restaurant.

When The Bear moved to was like a major void fell over my day to day living. When he returned to Toronto I was overjoyed. He always matter matter when...even if we don't talk all the while..."we're US." "Lad and Son."

VOICE 1 was a real mensch. I loved him...and I miss him terribly.

Lee Marshall

Terry and I worked together briefly at KEY 590 in 1991. I found him to be very warm and open, not to mention talented (I of course had listened to him sporadically when I was in Buffalo and he was at CHUM), but with one interesting "quirk." He hated non-broadcast types in the studio or control room watching him on the air. Unlike many of the rest of us who are uncontrollable hams and love performing for an audience, Terry was quite the opposite, and when I had a close friend from the U.S. visiting one night, he asked me to have her wait in the lobby until he was done with his shift (which of course I did).

Posted by Don Berns

That comment reminds me of the one time I encountered him. It was also the early 90's when he was doing drive on KEY590 and the promotions guy was touring me and a buddy around. As we entered the studio area we could hear his raucous off air remarks to his producer accompanied by that aforementioned laugh. He then asked the promotions guy if he was bringing more of those "damn sales types" in and when told we were on air people, he bellowed "Well then, come on in!" We did and he actually spent quite a few minutes chatting with us between breaks. Too bad his personal demons ultimately got the better of him but he did give many people within earshot some great radio during his time.

I was Terry's traffic chick/co host at EZ...his last gig. He was a wonderfully funny guy and I loved going to work every afternoon to hang out with him. I was going to Montreal for a long weekend and before I left I told him that he didn't look so great - he was looking a wee bit yellowish and I was worried. We said our goodbyes, see you on Monday yadayayda. I got a call Sunday night that Terry had died. I always wonder what would have happened if he went to a Dr. to check himself out. I still miss Terry too.

While at Humber College I made an appointment to see Roger Ashby at CHUM. It was a cold somewhat snowy afternoon, Roger met me at the reception then took me on a tour of the station. First stop? 1050 studios..and I met "THE BEAR, LIVE ON THE AIR". Indeed he was so pleasant to meet and speak with. Probably because, as has been mentioned before here, Terry didn't seem to mind if you were in the biz..if you weren't? Oh well.
He was asking me about if we were using gated compression and other technical things. The fact is..Terry was a REAL gentleman to me, a 19 year old wanna-be. This was 1974. I will never ever forget that meeting. Terry was first class. Thanks to Roger for giving me his time, that day, as well. All the folks at CHUM were first class. Anyone tells you otherwise, tell em' come and see me!
Cheers everyone.

Terry was one of the many greats at 1050 CHUM. It was a privilege to do newscasts on his shows and he'd always sit in the booth and listen and react to what I was doing.
He called me "triple-scale" because as did he , I did a fair amount of voice work, both on the CHUM year enders and for other stations in the chain.
He told me before he died that when he was gone, I could have his "voice one" identity and I honour him by using that as one of my email addresses.
I remember plenty of fun nights at Jingles and the "Crimson Cock" as the CHUM jocks and newsies got together to "hoist a few."
One of the unique and talented people with whom I've had the good fortune to know and to work with, he'll never be forgotten.

Posted by Mike Cleaver

Cheryl and I hosted a house party on the Saturday of Victoria Day weekend, circa 1987, maybe '88.
We had friends visit from Ottawa and when I posted a notice on the bulletin board at CKEY that all were invited, we were secretly hoping maybe a dozen or so would show up. Instead, we had more than twice that number (we had one clique at 'EY and everyone was part of it). Even though we worked opposite shifts of the clock, were delighted the Bear attended -- and he was larger than life all night long (and the next day, as he crashed on our sofa)!

Another time, the Bear, John Rode, Don McDonald and I decided to dine at an Indian restaurant on Yonge St. Terry sent his order back THREE TIMES because the curry wasn't hot enough. He was melting like the Wicked Witch of the West but loved every minute of it!!

I was in California when I heard of his passing. I miss his laughter and do-anything-for-ya attitude to this day... 

Posted by Chris Mayberry


  1. I had the pleasure of making Terry's acquaintance over the phone in the mid-90's when my program director, who knew Terry well, suggested I call and get some insight into the bizz from a well-seasoned pro. I can still remember being incredibly nervous when I called. Turns out he wasen't at the station at the moment and I figured he wouldn't get back to me anyways. But the gentleman he was, he called me back shortly thereafter. Not only did he invite me to Toronto (from Sudbury), but we sat in his kitchen and talked about radio, the Muskokas,and Moosehead beer. He gave me tips on my air-checks and made me feel like I was in his league of talent. when I told him I owed him big-time he said "you don't owe me anyhting, Kid. Pass on what you've learned to the next guy coming up and we're even, okay?" Terry was first-class all the way.
    He called a few more times, the last time was one Sunday night and we talked for a bit, but I remember thinking that he sounded rather sad. Shortly afterward, I'd heard of his passing. We lost such a wonderful talent and more importantly, a kind and loving soul. I too will miss The Bear. Thanks for always taking the time for others, Terry.

    Chris Derro

    1. I am always happy when I hear positive things about my late great father, Terry Steele. My sister and I even after 20 years think about him every day. The impact of having such a special father on our lives shows itself everyday. I was 19 and my sister was 13 years old. The lessons that we learned from him take place in ours lives every day.
      We were lucky to have him for as long as we did.
      Warren Cosford, once stated that "Terry Steele had a majesty about him". Warren was defintely correct in stating this. Our father only needed to walk into a room and you would feel the height of his prescence immediately. His sense of humour definitely was an incredible attribute but lets not take away the panache of the unique and special person that he was.
      My father served some time in the Navy and was injured on his right shoulder blade and was granted release and disability for the rest of his life. My father was given disability cheques and the right to visit any VA hospital or shopping center with his family forever. Anyone who knew my father would have known that he would never "kicked" out of anything for bad behaviour, ever. It simply wasn't his style.
      My father went to Hawaii and spent some time with his mother, who resided there. He tried to tap in to the radio market but found it difficult to do,due to accent and pronounciation of areas and locations. He found himself driving a Honolulu taxi.....can you imagine how fun that must have been for his passengers....getting into a cab with a radio personality!!!! After some time, my father missed us to much and came back to Canada. Bob Woods offer, I know nothing about considering my father went to Alcoholics Annonymous and received a coin completing the time. However, like most addicts, he felt after a while, he could have a wine with dinner, a beer with the game, but that was not so.
      We told the papers and the media that he had fallen and had an accident in the bathtub. Any other information that family and friends were privvy to, was private and should not have been mentioned on a blog 20 years later.
      In closing, I would like to say, Terry Steele lived....he lived life....he partied... and he loved his friends and family. He was an excellent father and we miss him everyday. My sister and I both pray that he sees how amazing we have turned out and how incredible our lives have become. We love you Dad. Always will.

  2. Hey Nikki:

    I remember you when you were just a baby!

    I just put down what your dad told me. On the other hand at my age, I might not recall it correctly. It wouldn't be the first time.

    I'll change the entry though

  3. I met Bear in Hawaii, we were Best friends. I am dedicating a song to him on my Radio show, "THE KILLER BEE SHOW"...Friday Night 12/07/2012 8-9 pm..... WOVV.ORG , WOVV FM 90.1, Ocracoke Island Nc, Please let his family know so they can tune in.

    Thank you,
    Tommy B.The Killer B.

  4. Many fond memories in the article and the posts. Terry was a pro. We used to argue about hunting --- he hunted --- I am an animal lover --- but there never was any acrimony. I often mention Terry when I talk about the hearing problems of older broadcasters. I would bring Terry the weather forecast and he would have the studio monitor cranked so high it literally was painful.
    On another unrelated topic, there is no such thing as "The Muskokas." It is "Muskoka" and pluralizing it is guaranteed to enrage those of us who live in this glorious part of Canada.

  5. Hi nice to read all these blogs about Terry Steele. I recall enjoying many many of his radio shows and the music could be played. There was a contest at chum FM to write a letter explaining why I should be invited to a Rolling Stones live recording . Well I wrote a darn good letter and I won a free visit to a recording session with the Rolling Stones at the Elmocombo in 1977. It was such a night couldn’t be better. I had the first table right next to the stage all night long... And there was Terry standing at the stage enjoying every moment of it as I was. As everyone was ...I’m sure changed our lives forever. Anyway the next day we were both in the newspaper. And then another day later I saw photographs from the second show and there was Terry standing at the stage! Jager even recognize him again and said yes I saw you you were here last night... I thought I was lucky but Terry was lucky or being there for two recorded performances. Those were the days southern Ontario in the 70s. And chum FM made it extra special. thanks Terry for being a great voice and a great fan of music. sincerely James Graham