One of the real old-time legends of broadcasting is Broadcast Pioneers founding member Jack Steck, our fourth President (1965-1966).
During World War One, Steck served as Chief Clerk for the United States Quartermaster Corps from 1914 until 1918. Then in that same year, Jack worked as a singer, actor, dancer, and emcee for theaters, stock companies and in 1922 at local stations when radio found its way into Philadelphia. He started as a song-and-dance man, until one night at the Dixie Rose Theater in Manayunk when an overzealous partner practically threw him through a wall and that’s when Jack Steck thought to himself that radio was safer and the way to go. Most of Steck’s radio adventures were as a free-lancer until he was hired by WCAU Radio in 1926.
In 1928, Jack Steck worked as a Rights of Way Agent for the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania. For awhile, Bell loaned Jack’s services to AT & T performing the same duties in Petersburg, Virginia.
Longing to return to show biz, Jack went to WPEN Radio as Program Director, producer and emcee (The Laughing Roundup) in 1932 and stayed until 1936. To cut station costs at WPEN, Steck fired six people involved with other local shows. That night, he heard a young singer belt out “Forgotten You.” The next day, Steck mentioned to someone that the singer should be promoted. They told him, “you just fired her yesterday.” Her name was Florence Bendon. He put her on his own show, the Laughing Roundup and later married her on November 14, 1959.
It was the year 1936 that Jack turned up at WFIL Radio as a staff announcer; duties he maintained from 1936 until 1942. It was at that time, he premiered his “Jack Steck Amateur Hour” on WFIL originating live from Woodside Park. Jack also did "Jack Steck's Kiddie Hour" from Sylvan Hall, also at Woodside Park. Woodside Park after going out of business would still remain in broadcasting as the home of WDAS AM & FM Radio for four decades. The radio towers went where the old wooden roller coaster was located.
Then Jack got a promotion to Director of Public Relations and Special Events for WFIL Radio. In 1945, he was named Program Director for WFIL (AM). From 1948 to 1952, he held the same post for WFIL-TV, Channel 6 in Philadelphia.
During 1952, Steck was appointed to the position of “Manager of Programs and Production” for both WFIL-TV and radio. He performed those duties until 1956 when he was named “Director of Program and Talent Development" for all of the Triangle broadcast stations. He retained that post until 1972, when he retired and the stations were sold.
Then Jack formed his own consulting company for the industry, “Jack Steck Associates.”
While at WFIL-TV, Jack Steck produced the nationally broadcast Hayloft Hoedown, The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club and the first children's program on local television, “Starlet Stairway.” The latter was on WFIL-TV on Saturdays at 7:15 pm in March of 1948. Just a couple months earlier, in January of that same year, it was on at 7:30 pm.
A little about "Hayloft Hoedown." The barn dance show were heard every Saturday over the ABC Radio network with the show originating through WFIL Radio. It was broadcast from Town Hall and started in 1945. For awhile, the program went on "the road" and was broadcast live from different locations during the summer of 1947. In 1947, the new time was 10:30 pm to 11 pm. Previously, it aired in an earlier time slot.
Steck attended the Temple University’s School of Business from 1930 until 1932, and later took classes in television production and management at New York University.
His memberships were many including the Poor Richard Club (where he was a board member and past president); the Philadelphia Public Relations Association, the Delaware County Press Club; the Art Alliance of Philadelphia and the Society of American Magicians.
Steck received a citation from the United States Treasury Department for his direction and production services in War Bond Drives during the Second World War. He also received a citation from the United States Congress for his television series: Benjamin Franklin, the compleat Man.
Jack Steck was a lecturer on broadcasting at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania; also at the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University; plus Glassboro College (now Rowan University) and Drexel University.
Jack loved performing his magic tricks for senior citizens groups, children’s parties, nursing homes and at hospitals. He wrote national articles on magic that were published in professional magazines.
Vaudeville, stock and musical comedy provided the background of showmanship that Jack Steck brought to Philadelphia broadcasting. That same quality served him well as he progressed through all phases of broadcasting, in both radio and television.
As talent, writer, director, producer and executive, Jack Steck has done it all and still found time to write two successful musicals, plus a “Handbook for Broadcast Performers.” That published work was used as a training textbook for the sixteen radio and television stations owned by Walter H. Annenberg’s Triangle Stations.
Steck has produced for broadcast everything from a circus (Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey) to a symphony concert (the Philadelphia Orchestra).
At the age of 19, in 1916, he married Alice McTague and they had two daughters, Jackie and Betty. Alice passed away in 1958.
Born on Saturday, January 2, 1897, Jack Steck celebrated his 90th birthday by flying in a hot-air balloon. His second wife, Florence Steck, our 17th President (1979 to 1980), gave her impression of Jack’s behavior: He never grew up. For the event, Jack Steck wore a striped sport coat containing the colors of a combination pizza. Steck said: I don’t want to be out-colored by the damn balloon.
On December 31, 1986, Ed McMahon wrote: When I first came to Philadelphia with John McClay to pursue a television career, the first television personality I met was a gentleman named Jack Steck. I use the word “gentleman” in its highest form. He greeted me with open arms and told me that television was a great business and I should, indeed, pursue it. So see, Jack, look what you’ve done!”
On December 23, 1986, Dick Clark wrote: Though it seems like history, let me reflect back to a very terrified young guy who arrived on your doorstep in Philadelphia in 1952. At the audition, you were kind and understanding, and through those early years, you taught me the ropes of “life in the big city.” Words can’t express my appreciation for your taking me under your wing. I learned from one of the best!
Broadcast Pioneers member Jack Whitaker wrote on January 15, 1987: You are a treasure for us all. …I will never be able to thank you enough for what you did for me and this business.
In June of 1994, Broadcast Pioneers member and our former President (2002 to 2004) Bill “Wee Willie” Webber said: He is an era all by himself. …He was involved in the careers of just about everyone who came through Philadelphia, most notably Dick Clark, and all the children's shows, like Sally Starr and Chief Halftown.
In December of 1989, The Delaware Valley Press Club did a “This is Your Life, Jack Steck” program in an area auditorium. The emcee was Dick Clark, who interrupted his vacation in Rio de Janeiro. Ed McMahon was there and so was Bill White, former Phillies first baseman, whom Steck had helped prepare for a baseball broadcasting career on Action News and who had later become president of the National League. Broadcast Pioneers members Jack Whitaker, Shelly Gross, Larry Ferrari, Bill “Wee Willie” Webber and Howard (Happy the Clown) Jones were also on hand. With everyone onstage, Steck said: I made plenty of millionaires, but I never got to be one myself, but just look at the wonderful friends I've made.
Jack’s daughter, Jacqueline (Jackie) Steck was a Journalism professor at Temple University for 45 years. Jack’s grandson is Danny Bonaduce, of Partridge Family fame.
Jack Steck had once said: We learn virtue at our mother's knee. More disreputable things we pick up in other joints. After a heart attack, Steck quipped: I guess I was spared this time because I hadn't finished my harp lessons. That’s the Jack Steck everyone knew and loved.
In 1974, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia honored “Jack Steck” by selecting him “Person of the Year.” He was inducted into our Hall of Fame along with his wife, Florence, in 1992. Jack Steck passed away on Friday, June 17, 1994 at the Bryn Mawr Terrace convalescent home in Bryn Mawr. He was 97. Florence Steck passed away later that same year on Monday, November 14th.
In Philadelphia, Jack Steck was Mr. Show Business!
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Test written, researched and compiled by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Bill Webber
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