Sea birds live the longest, around 30 years, and I recently read about an Albatross in the South Pacific who “gave birth” at age 62. Most night birds, on the other hand, come and go with little fanfare, but every January 26th I celebrate the life and legacy of one of the most important.
This one very special “Nightbird” was called Alison Steele (1/26/37-9/27/95). While not a song bird, Alison filled the night with music, poetry and discovery. She helped change the face of rock radio and reality, and became the archetype for those who followed.
On the evening of October 30, 1967, 102.7 WNEW-FM in New York City began a format and cultural change from “Middle-Of-The-Road” Pop to “Progressive Rock” and Alison was there. As the old format faded away, she made the transition from the “all-girl” MOR DJ staff, to a new lineup of soon-to-be legendary personalities that would usher in a brave new world of enlightenment.
This was a new beginning for radio listeners, as it was for Alison. It was “free-form;” no rules, without precedent. There was a blank canvas and Alison picked up her brush, pallet and headphones and created masterworks of art.
She had an aura, a mystique and a seductive, yet accessible voice. She was articulate and so very New York. Sought after, loved, fantasized about and listened to by hundreds of thousands each night. Jimi Hendrix was inspired by her, wrote :Night Bird Flying”, women were empowered by her and generations of disc jockeys carry her torch.
For decades Alison introduced the tri-state to music that mattered, wrapping us in a warm blanket of dreams, and treating the faithful to a mind-blowing adventure through rarified air. It began every night with the sound of Andean flutes and…
“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 was a good trip, an out-of-body experience and the voice of a generation.
The lifespan of this Nightbird was an all-too-short 58 years, losing her battle with cancer on September 27, 1995. What will never be lost is her nightly wish for “a lifetime filled with love and peace and beautiful days” for all of us.
There will never be another even close to Alison Steele, but for those who aspire to rock radio immortality, hers should always be the star on which your sights are set.
For more about Alison and the rest of the WNEW-FM personalities, please visit a fantastic site called NY Radio Archives.