On the occasion of Frank Sinatra’s birthday centennial, a fond radio memory with Allison Steele comes to mind. Allison was one of those larger-than-life legends in the radio world who everyone knew as the Nightbird. Her sultry, late night delivery won over the Big Apple for years with classic rock n roll, poetry and conversation.
Years later, as it turned out, she was working down the hall at WNEW-AM while I was over on the FM side of the building. Now she was playing some of the finest jazz and big band hits like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald with that same sexy delivery. Every Sunday night for a couple of years, I’d come down the hall to say hi, take meter readings (FCC required) and catch-up with her while listening to some truly great stories.
One evening as we were talking shop the hotline rang in the air studio. That’s the direct, private studio number for radio station staffers or close friends. “Hold that thought, and let me get this Ray.” With that breathy perfect voice she picked up the phone and said, ”hi, this is Allison. Hey, hi Frankie, I was just talking with one of the guys here at the station. How have you been? What’s new? No, I’m getting off in a few minutes at 8. I’d love it…let’s definitely get a bite and catch-up. Have your driver pull up in front of the building and I’ll meet you there.” As she hung up I immediately quizzed her with a smile, “Frankie?” She laughed and said yeah it was Sinatra. They were old friends and he was driving around Manhattan listening to her show on the radio and thought they ought to go to dinner, so he called from his limo. We said goodnight and as I left Allison’s radio studio I smiled again and said “have a nice dinner, you lucky duck!.” As I headed home to Long Island I imagined the Nightbird and Frank Sinatra heading up Third Avenue in Old Blue Eyes fancy wheels.