Friday, January 9, 2009

Boston Radio Great Steve LeVeille Taken Off the Air

I am what they call a Night Owl. My natural sleep/wake cycle is such that I am usually up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM, and regularly sleep in until 11:00 AM or noon. As such, I have over the years become a fan of overnight talk radio on the AM dial. Not the pre-packaged and often pre-recorded syndicated talk radio "product" that is foisted upon us by the networks, but good, old-fashioned, hometown talk radio done live in the studio of the station broadcasting it; authentic, off-the-cuff, spontaneous radio that has, for the large part, sadly disappeared from the airwaves.

I've listened to WBZ 1030AM out of Boston for as long as I can remember. WBZ was the last outpost for non-syndicated overnight talk. I was introduced to Bostonian legends like Larry Glick and Norm Nathan as a youngster when I would spend the night at my grandmother's house: she fell asleep nightly listening to WBZ. After I graduated college, I found myself listening to those same programs: Norm Nathan until his passing, Bob Raleigh until his retirement, Jordan Rich on the weekends, and Steve LeVeille.

Steve LeVeille took over WBZ's overnight (midnight to 5:00 AM) slot in 1999, and for the past decade he has presented the most enjoyable late-night radio program found on the dial. While echoes of LeVeille's predecessors can certainly be heard in his broadcasts, he had a signature style all his own. The Steve LeVeille Broadcast was a nightly mix of thoughtful debate on current events (both those local to Boston and those affecting the entire country...or the entire world) and general lighthearted fun that often slipped into outright silliness, as when he would have Mel Simons in the guest chair conducting his Audio Clip Trivia Quiz. The revered LeVeille-Hagopian Polls (cofounded with WBZ writer/producer Garo Hagopian) got to the heart of issues affecting listeners, asking such soul-searching questions as "paper or plastic?", "red, white, or blue?", or "soda, cola or pop?", and listeners waited for the tell-tale siren indicating a Deviation Alert: someone had made the first non-offered choice!

Though I never met the man, and never called into his program, I felt certain common bonds with LeVeille. Being a life-long Phillies fan, I could easily identify with his yearly frustration with his beloved Red Sox -- and found myself swept up in the joy of the Bosox finally winning the World Series in 2004. Like me, Steve was flabbergasted that each winter's snowstorms brought on a rush to the grocery stores to stock up on milk and bread, as if everyone should hunker down and subsist on French Toast until the storm passes. When he campaigned to change that tradition to one where we should run out before a storm and stock up on Marshmallow Fluff instead, I jumped on that bandwagon.

What made his radio program work so well was Steve's inherent understanding of his role: while so many who enter the talk radio field model themselves after the Limbaughs, Sterns, Larry Kings, and others who shine the spotlight mainly on themselves, Steve LeVeille knew from Day One that he was not the star of his show. He was merely our Master of Ceremonies whose job it was to guide us through whatever may ensue in each night's five-hour block; the callers were the stars. He gave everyone the ability to speak their piece, and while he certainly let his opinions on things be known, he always did so as an aside while trying to get at the reasons the callers felt as they did. He never belittled anyone for their stances, although he did not suffer fools long. If you couldn't explain why you felt as you did, or, worse yet, rambled on without getting to a point, you were done. But, every caller was treated well by Steve, whether they were weekly regulars or one-time callers, and his easy, conversational approach made even the most nervous first-time-caller-long-time-listeners a bit more confident.

Steve LeVeille is no longer on the air. As LeVeille himself noted in an interview with the Boston Herald, he was laid off without warning after he completed his December 29th show. After a decade, The Steve LeVeille Broadcast is suddenly no more, with barely a statement from WBZ, and without the opportunity to say "goodbye." Sadly, it has been replaced on WBZ by something called Overnight America - another soulless, syndicated, cookie-cutter piece of network talk radio product. And to say that LeVeille's many fans in the "38 states and all the best provinces of Canada" that WBZ's signal reaches are upset is an understatement.

A "Bring Back Steve LeVeille" campaign has been initiated by several of his fans; I quickly added my name to this petition. If you were a fan of Steve's, I urge you to join the chorus of voices asking for his return. If you never listened to The Steve LeVeille Broadcast, but understand that losing one of the last of a dying breed of true radio personalities only means a greater influence of CRaP (Corporate Radio Product) and hate that as much as I do, I urge you to sign the petition. If and when Steve returns, you can hear him on WBZ's website, which offers streaming live audio, and perhaps find yourself becoming a fan.

I, for one, sure hope WBZ listens to those who have been listening to WBZ for so many years. We miss you, Steve!


  1. Great piece, Bryan.

    Nice to know there are more radio geeks out there like me. As a teen in the '70s I would stay up late at night with my AM transistor radio trying to see what stations I could find...listening to Larry Glick on WBZ, as well as stations like KMOX, WRVA, WWVA, and more. As much as I hate to admit it, I even kept an index card file logging all the distant stations I was able to pull in.

    It's a shame that there really is no good local community radio anymore. Some of my fondest memories are of my first jobs in the radio business, working at small local AM stations in Western PA and Lancaster. Sadly those days are gone.

    Thanks for writing this. Someday I'll have to write some of the funny stories of my days in smalltown local radio...

  2. I signed the petition on Tuesday when I tuned in to WBZ online expecting to hear LeVeille's distinct voice.

    I also wrote to WBZ, CBS and many of their advertisers. So far only one, Jordan's Furniture, has replied.

    They said that they plan to continue advertising on the station, but added they never had ads during Steve's show.

    It is sad indeed, but perhaps inevitable.

    On the one hand, you'd think that Steve would think of this as an opportunity because doing night shift work for years and years probably isn't great for your health (I know because I am still doing shift work, though not all through the night). He filled a much needed void on the insomniac airwaves and if he doesn't return he will be missed.

  3. Bryan, thanks for writing such an insightful piece, you hit the nail on the head regarding this real loss. It is in reality the end to Boston's night time radio identity,it's very sad that some a-hole with no sense of history or tradition can be so ignorant to approve and take this measure.

  4. awesome piece and I agree 100% with what you wrote. I listened to "OA" for about ten minutes before I realized it's just another generic radio show that brings nothing to the Boston market. I found out about this on the Boston Radio Board. Keep up the good work

  5. Thank you for this well-written piece!
    I, too, have signed the petition, e-mailed WBZ, and this morning sent letters in the mail to both CBS in New York and WBZ's General Manager.

    I've been a fan for many years, and we all need to speak up. As a savvy and smart audience, we are taken for fools. This is New England, and we are surely not cookie-cutter about anything- let alone media!
    I hope you write letters, too.

    (from Portland, Maine)

  6. My Husband and I have "slept" with RKO on our radio since we were married in 1960. Our grown children do this too. We are not callers, but love Steve. Also his nights with Mel Simons and Steve's musings of his weekends in Maine with his Diane. We've now moved DOWN the dial.
    We're disqusted with management at RKO!!!!!

  7. The reality is, to management, employees are considered liabilities. And Radio wonders why its ratings keep going down and down and down...