Without any advance warning, WCCO Radio host Jearlyn Steele resigned Sunday night after 27 years of her weekly program "Steele Talkin'."
"My listeners were very shocked because I didn't tell anyone," Steele, the first regular host of color on the Twin Cities' once-dominant radio station, said in an interview on Thursday. "All of the sudden the phones went nuts. I wasn't too emotional. I was just peaceful. It's just the way I wanted to go out from radio."
During her WCCO swan song, she explained, "I want someone else to come and do a great job and learn, hopefully as much as I have learned."
Steele signed off from what had been a four-hour program, including an hourlong segment devoted to Twin Cities entertainment and another hour featuring mother-and-son talk with Michael Battle. Her program had been trimmed to two hours just last weekend.
WCCO management wasn't surprised but didn't envision Steele's exit coming so soon.
"We knew on Thursday or Friday before the show that she was going to be done," said Lindsey Peterson, director of news and operations. "It's a little unusual that someone is done that quickly. We were fine with it."
In an interview Thursday, Steele said she wasn't feeling sad. "It was time," she said. "I feel great. I got to tell my story" on her final broadcast.
Peterson talked to Steele Monday when she turned in her keys to the station. "She was very happy, just grateful for all the people who called in on her show," he said.
He said Steele was instrumental in the changing of the guard at the prominent AM talk-radio station in the 1990s.
"For an African American woman coming on a major media outlet in the Twin Cities in 1996 or '97, that was unusual at the time," Peterson reflected. "She took on issues and gave us perspectives that were important for listeners to hear. She was brave in the way she did it, and she was willing to have those conversations. Beyond that, she brought lots of attention to the arts community — small theaters, musical artists and the like — and gave them a spotlight on the radio that they didn't normally get."
Henry Lake, WCCO nighttime host since 2019 and the first Black person to host a daily show on the station, called Steele a pioneer, "a strong Black woman, which means so much to me.
"In the media business, you love to be around talented, humble and creative people. Jearlyn is all of those things," he said. "She epitomizes class, and she cares about her community and the world around us. It's definitely a loss for WCCO."
Steele feels her impact was "one of peace and joy."
During her program, she often talked about diversity and challenges facing the Twin Cities.
"I remember my general manager saying, 'While other people were talking about [Derek] Chauvin [the police officer convicted of killing George Floyd], Jearlyn you were saying things that would calm us down.' That was pretty special, knowing that people had peace at the end of my show."
When she first started on WCCO, Steele was the subject of racist comments and death threats for several weeks.
Over the years, she had concerns with WCCO not providing security for night hosts, and station managers no longer asking her to fill in for regular personalities who were on vacation.
However, she praised her bosses for making arrangements for her to broadcast from Philadelphia where and when her three grandchildren were born.
Steele, 65, doesn't know what's next. She will continue to serve as an entertainment reporter on TPT's weekly "Almanac" program, and she has four classes to complete for her master's degree in leadership and innovation at Luther Seminary. And, of course, she will continue to sing, with her siblings, the Steeles, and others.
"Singing is my favorite thing in life — my family and my singing," she said. "I sing every day. I love it that much."
Peterson said it is too early to determine how WCCO will fill Steele's 7-9 p.m. slot on Sundays.