“Steve was my hero”: a remembrance of a radio rebel

By Larry Josephson

Steve Post, legendary New York radio personality for more than 50 years, died Sunday. He was 70 years old.

Steve was the acerbic host of Morning Music, heard on WNYC-FM for 25 years. Every morning Steve read his version of the news. When Mayor Ed Koch had a stroke, his doctors announced that he had “the brain of a 12-year-old.” Ever after Steve referred to His Honor as “him with the 12-year-old brain.”

Caption (Photo: )

Steve Post, looming large on the air.  (Photo: WNYC )

Weather reports were called “the weather lies.” Steve delivered news of leaks from nuclear reactors, always ending with the line, “No significant amount of radiation was released,” whether in the wire copy or not, read absolutely straight with an incredulous voice. It became his mantra on the many occasions of nuclear failure.

Steve had absolutely no respect for authority of any kind. He once read an NPR spot for Squirrel-Away, a non-toxic substance designed to repel squirrels, the cockroaches of the countryside, who eat everything in sight, including your house. “Who wudd wanna hurt da itty bitty widdle sqwuirrels?” said Steve, channeling Elmer Fudd. Mr. Squirrel-Away, a squirrel, called NPR to protest. Steve was asked by WNYC to apologize. Big mistake.

Steve raised millions of dollars for WNYC during fund drives. His pitches were laced with humor and gentle mockery of the station’s pretensions. He opened one pitch for matching funds by claiming that he had locked Mary Nichols, the station manager, in the 17th sub-basement of the Municipal Building, refusing to release her until that hour’s goal was met.

More recently, Steve hosted The No Show, a wide-ranging, often live mix of opinion and interviews. Steve’s worldview was perfectly expressed by the show’s title.

Steve started his radio career in 1965 at WBAI-FM, the alternative Pacifica station, as the bookkeeper. When it soon became apparent that Steve was profoundly unqualified for that position, WBAI put him on the air (a Pacifica tradition), first as an announcer, then for many years as the host of The Outside, a free-form program of personal commentary, satire, oddball guests, phone calls and music. The program was heard on weekend overnights.

Free-form radio was created at WBAI by Bob Fass, host of Radio Unnameable, still running on WBAI since the early ’60s. I was then WBAI’s “morning man.” We copied Fass, adapting the form to suit our individual personalities and worldviews. The triumvirate of Fass, Post and Josephson was a crucial element in the transformation of WBAI from a super-serious, often stuffy mix of left politics, lectures, great documentaries and avant garde culture to the New York radio hub of sixties counterculture. We announced, and sometimes led, a zillion demonstrations.

Programs and personalities on the station supported the struggle for civil rights, protests against the Vietnam War, the use of recreational drugs, the fight against injustice of all sort, and later, women’s and gay rights — all underscored with an eclectic combination of comedy, satire and brilliant mixes of found sound, skillfully combined with folk, protest, avant garde, classical or rock music.

Steve Post loomed large in this era. His personality was the same on air as off: mordant, satirical and very funny. He was soft-spoken, low-key, depressed, but also warm and loving, under the carapace of a curmudgeon. He ridiculed the absurdity of modern life, general stupidity, self-important politicians, puffed-up press releases, and magisterial memos from management. He skewered confidential memos marked “for station personnel only,” reading them on the air exactly as written, in a subtly mocking tone. For this and for many other acts of rebellion and courage, Steve was my hero.

Born in the Bronx, Steve styled himself a “D-minus Dewitt Clinton dropout.” He was in fact one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, though he never set foot in any institution of higher learning. Steve had politics. He cared deeply about the state of the world, was moved to anger by injustice visited on the many by the few. His heroes included Pete Seeger, Bob Fass, Bayard Rustin, A.J. Muste and Lenny Bruce. Steve was Lenny’s assistant for a brief, chaotic period. The Outside featured offbeat personalities like Marshall Efron, Paul Krassner, Brother Theodore and someone who called herself The Enema Lady. Don’t ask.

Steve described himself as a “physical coward.” One morning he found himself locked inside a bathroom on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building. Pounding on the door aroused no one. With no apparent way out, he opened the window, climbed out on the ledge, and walked most of the way around the building until he found an open window. He returned to master control just as the record ended. Some coward!

Steve Post had no enemies, none. He was deeply loved by his friends and family, by his colleagues and his fans — with the possible exception of Richard Nixon. Steve was obsessed with everything Nixon, with the many self-reinventions and self-destructions of Tricky Dick. Steve wasn’t exactly a Nixon hater, more an ambivalent Nixon observer, a wry curator of all the contradictions embodied by our 37th president. Like moth to flame, he was both attracted and repelled by his hero’s ability to “get away with it” for so long. Steve’s collection of Nixon memorabilia — campaign buttons, posters, books, articles, photos and marginalia — is unrivaled, the Nixon Presidential Library East.

He finally met his antihero at a session where Nixon recorded his memoir. Steve, who possessed a magnificent, resonant radio voice, was hired to record wraparounds for the audio book. He left the session with a copy of Nixon’s memoir, personally inscribed to Steve, and a picture of Steve and Dick arm-in-arm. Nixon had no idea who Steve was, nor of Steve’s career-long fascination with him.

Steve published a memoir of his time at WBAI, Playing in the FM Band. He organized a “Fat In” in Central Park to celebrate the overweight, and to counter the deeply-ingrained stigma in thin-obsessed modern society. (Steve was a fat kid, but as an adult really wasn’t.)

Steve Post also served as WBAI’s station manager. As station manager, he made a great radio host. If someone is really good at doing something, why in America are they too often promoted to management? Certainly not, in Pacifica, for power or money. Steve wrote an article for WBAI’s program guide about the incredible stresses of managing the station, with the semi-serious title “Now I Know Why Lew Hill Committed Suicide.” Lewis Hill was one of the principal founders of Pacifica. He took his life after being thrown out of KPFA in Berkeley, Calif., the station he inspired and got off the ground. Pacifica’s Jesus!

What kind of God would take Steve Post and Margot Adler in the same week?

Steve Post was my friend for 50 years. I loved and admired him without reservation. We fought on occasion, but our friendship and love for each other continued for five decades.

He is survived by Laura Rosenberg, his devoted, loving wife, friend and companion of 47 years; a brother, Gerry; a brother-in-law, Charles Rosenberg; nieces Leah and Jessica Rosenberg; two complicated dogs, Phoebe and Olive; and a cockatiel named Moorea. And by more friends and fans than would fit in the Manhattan phone book.

Steve’s radio voice and soul were unique; there will never be anyone like him.

Larry Josephson is a veteran public radio host, producer, manager and engineer, and founder of the Radio Foundation Inc., a tax-exempt, not-for-profit radio production company.

  • Jim Russell

    Larry, no surprise, you write beautifully. I never knew Steve Post, but I feel — from your article — that I did.

  • http://irwin.wfmu.org/ Irwin Chusid

    Steve Post was one of my biggest influences in broadcasting. I listened avidly to Post (and Josephson) on WBAI for about five years before starting at WFMU in 1975. Post was witty, urbane, unpredictable, and delightfully idiosyncratic. At the time I shared his leftist politics (and a disdain for Nixon), tho his viewpoints were invariably expressed thru absurdist humor and satire. His delivery was always cordial, never fueled by malice. His musical selections were 98% classical—and we’re talking DWEM classical, not 20th century mavericks. I didn’t care for that music (still don’t), but no matter, it was worth enduring for his mic breaks. As David Hinckley noted in his Daily News obit, Post was “one of New York radio’s all-time great contrarians.” Even on a station like WBAI, which at the time was largely staffed by iconoclasts, Post seemed an anomaly.

    His opening theme was a scratchy, turgid, distant-sounding 78 rpm disc of Alma Gluck bellowing “Home, Sweet Home.” I began rummaging thru boxes of 78 rpm records at yard sales and flea markets looking for that record. I didn’t find it, but did discover other platters by Gluck, then Olive Kline, Elsie Baker, and assorted sopranos and contraltos from the early 20th C. Then old jazz, novelty discs, and R&B. Within a few years I had a unique collection of rare 78s, which eventually led me to the door of WFMU’s Old Codger, with whom I have remained on tense diplomatic terms ever since.

    Post loved language. He had a daunting vocabulary—and used it. He was one of the most eloquent broadcasters in radio. He never talked down to listeners. If you didn’t understand a polysyllabic word, it was an article of faith that he was using it correctly and you needed to look it up and learn it. He made me want to improve my vocabulary, and I’ve since felt that a better-than-average lexicon is an essential tool for broadcasting. In that sense, few have followed in Post’s footsteps.

  • http://irwin.wfmu.org/ Irwin Chusid

    Steve Post was one of my biggest influences in broadcasting. I listened avidly to Post (and Josephson, et al.) on WBAI for about five years before starting at WFMU in 1975. He was witty, urbane, unpredictable, and delightfully idiosyncratic. At the time I shared his leftist politics (and a disdain for Nixon), tho his viewpoints were invariably expressed thru absurdist humor and satire. His delivery was always cordial, never fueled by malice. His musical selections were 98% classical—and we’re talking DWEM classical, not 20th century mavericks. I didn’t care for that music (still don’t), but no matter, it was worth enduring for his mic breaks. As David Hinckley noted in his Daily News obit, Post was “one of New York radio’s all-time great contrarians.” Even on a station like WBAI, which at the time was largely staffed by iconoclasts, Post seemed an anomaly.

    His opening theme was a scratchy, turgid, distant-sounding 78 rpm disc of Alma Gluck bellowing “Home, Sweet Home.” I began rummaging thru boxes of 78 rpm records at yard sales and flea markets looking for that record. I didn’t find it, but did discover other platters by Gluck, then Olive Kline, Elsie Baker, and assorted sopranos and contraltos from the early 20th C. Then old jazz, novelty discs, and R&B. Within a few years I had a unique collection of rare 78s, which have been sporadically aired on WFMU under a programming pseudonym (The Old Codger).

    Post loved language. He had a daunting vocabulary—and used it. He was one of the most eloquent broadcasters in radio. He never talked down to listeners. If you didn’t understand a polysyllabic word, it was an article of faith that he was using it correctly and you needed to look it up and learn it. He made me want to improve my vocabulary, reinforcing a belief that a better-than-average lexicon is an essential tool for a broadcaster. In that sense, few have followed in Post’s footsteps.

  • Melody Joy Kramer

    This is an amazing obituary.

  • becky

    Thank you Mr. Josephson for writing this beautiful tribute.

    Laura, family and friends I’m so sorry for your great loss. You do have the fabulous memories.

    Admittedly am jealous that I didn’t know off the radio.

    Steve was my teenage crush. I was simply smitten when I first heard him on’BAI. Still am. ‘My blue heaven’ brings a flood of tears.

    Crossed my legs on the wooden floor of many a free ‘BAI event, thrilled to catch a glimpse of that illusive, gorgeous guy. He never noticed the gaa gaa admiration of a gawky girl.

    Steve gets 100% credit for bringing this life time radio listener over to WNYC when he came.

    Love & miss him terribly.

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