January 26, 2016
ALISON STEELE (1937–95), known as the Nightbird, was a legend of New York radio. She had been a star of WNEW, the town’s foremost “progressive” station, since the late Sixties; in 1989, she moved to the classic-rock WXRK (“K-Rock”), which is where I, a loner new to the city, found her. She had a vague and lovely voice with a wisp of smoke in it, a caressing way with the microphone, and she would unfold sentences so grand — all about sailing over the stars, in command of time and space — that no voice but hers could shake them of camp, let alone entexture them so. Come fly with me, she said. Her tone invited, enfolded, and accepted you; listening in the dark morning, sunrise a suggestion of blue beyond the housing projects, you could not but imagine that she was in your room or in your head, doing the show for you alone.
Almost every morning, to fill the minutes between the end of her show and the hourly station break, Alison Steele would play the Beatles’ instrumental “Flying.” Over it, she would deliver the morning’s benedictions and last vocal nuzzlings, then leave you to a day you’d have to work hard to make into anything other than a comedown. When she died, she was eulogized in the city papers with the fondness and fascination she’d earned long before I made her fleeting but unforgettable acquaintance.
READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).