Radio trailblazer is grateful for longevity
London may have Meghan Markle, but honey, we’ve got Jearlyn Steele! Ms. Thing is Twin Cities royalty as a member of the world-renowned singing family The Steeles.
In addition to making music with her siblings J.D., Fred, Billy and Jevetta, Jearlyn has performed with such legends as Prince, George Clinton and Mavis Staples. From Carnegie Hall to Paris, she has also earned international acclaim with her soulful spirit and powerful vocal performances.
But, that mouth of hers ain’t just for belting out tunes. This sista is celebrating two decades at one radio station — that’s unheard of in the fast-paced and fickle media industry, especially for a Black woman.
For 20 years, she has graced the airwaves as radio talk show host on WCCO 830 AM on Sunday nights. Each week, Jearlyn’s velvet voice can be heard talking about everything from politics to the new pumpkin lip liner. She chats about everyday topics with upbeat humor, charm, and intelligence.
I knew I had to not only do a story to memorialize this milestone, but also find out the keys to her success. See an excerpt of the conversation below.
Sheletta Brundidge (SB): Girl, you have been on ONE job for 20 freakin’ years! How have you managed?
Jearlyn Steele (JS): It seems unbelievable at times, but 20 years it is. It really is remarkable. I don’t look back over those years and at my 10-year mark say, “Oh it’s been 10 years.” It really crept up on me and suddenly I thought, “Wow, it’s my 20th year!”
SB: I am so proud of you.
JS: I can’t say I am proud. I’d like to say I’m grateful.
SB: Isn’t that the same thing?
JS: There is a difference. Pride means, “Oh look what I did. I’m really great.” A lot of people might not agree that I’m great. So, I’m grateful for the opportunity because I had never done radio before. WCCO is the only radio station I’ve ever worked at. I’ve only been a host at WCCO Radio and that, in itself, is remarkable.
SB: You ain’t lying. This business is always looking for the next big thing. It says something about your talent and your gift that you’ve had such staying power. Take me back to the beginning. How did it all begin 20 years ago?
JS: I was asked to be there because they wanted to change the station up a little bit. They wanted a different voice to make sure more voices were being heard. It was 1998. It was a different time in our nation.
People were doing well, but we were still having some challenges when it came to racism and people coming together. I’d never done radio before and here am I am at a 50,000-watt station. That’s really something.
SB: How important was it for you to announce to the world that your presence was different than anything else they had heard before on WCCO Radio?
JS: It was so important that I actually put it in my opening statement from the very beginning. I began with, “You’re listening to Steele Talkin.’ I am your host, Jearlyn Steele. WCCO Radio decided to put a little bit of coffee in the cream.” I made it very obvious that this was a deliberate thing.
SB: How did you get ready for your first time on the air?
JS: I realize the importance and power of broadcast and media. I was very careful. I would pray every night, Sheletta. I would ask God to bridle my tongue. There were calls that were coming in, in the early days that were threatening my life and so much more.
SB: What the hell?
JS: They didn’t want a Back woman on WCCO Radio. They didn’t want the change.
SB: But this was all a part of God’s plan.
JS: I remember when I was 18 years old; I was trying to get a job at First National Bank. They asked on the resume what my objective was and I wrote, “To have my voice heard by the masses.”
This is something I would really love to spread to every person I can: What you say really does have power. If you write it down, that makes it travel. You just never know how far that statement is going take you. People listen to my show every Sunday night and they are as far away as Germany, London, Canada…
Jearlyn is the mother of two adult children, Michael, who is an actor living in Los Angeles, and Venise, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania in Boston.
You can catch Jearlyn performing with her sister Jevetta at The Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on Monday, July 23. Her radio show airs every Sunday night on WCCO 830 AM, 7-11 pm.