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A voice that will be missed

Fraser Smith BigThe voice, the laugh, the backslapping hail-fellow style,  the voice of the community, the voice of reason (usually), the voice of someone eager to speak for you, that voice, gone.

The universally recognizable radio voice of Baltimore signed off on WEAA Monday in a heartfelt outpouring of praise from the voiceless he was suddenly joining.

Marc Steiner lost his mike. Was that possible? Morgan State University decided, as they say, to go in another direction.

Not the way he would have had his nine-year run end, he said bravely. Wasn’t  his call. None of his many friends and bankrollers could or would, at this point in time, bail him out.

He says he will return with a podcast. Let’s hope.

A voice, a usually independent voice, is a terrible thing to lose.

Our country needs, more than ever, independent thinking and voices. We have fewer and fewer of them.

The New York Times and The Washington Post give us much of what we need nationally. They can field professional journalists and support them when President Trump calls them fakers and fabricators.

The Sun, an emaciated shadow of its former self, gives us everything it’s got. We are blessed to have skilled, seasoned editors and young reporters with legs and smarts for the long haul.

The 71-year-old Steiner loved being the voice — a voice in the wilderness, a voice speaking truth to power (usually), a voice struggling to deal with change and the failure to change.

Some of the men and women who spoke on his swan song were in tears. He had been there with them on the streets, facing down the drug lords of today — and the haters of a half-century ago.

He had the bruises and the stories to tell.

A charter member

In the 1960s, in Cambridge, he was arrested during one of the many civil rights protests. Police, he says, wanted him to say he’d been duped by Communists. He refused.

He was 16.

He says a policeman asked, “What would you do if your sister married one?”

“I said I would buy them a present and go to the wedding.”

He became the charter member of his own civil rights group. He was an echo of the late U.S. Rep. Parren Mitchell, who said, “When you get on the civil rights train, you never get off.”

The Steiner story got in the street — a city, ultimately, could recite parts of it. WYPR was, for a time, thought of as Steiner Radio.

He wasn’t able to sustain his own voice — but whoever did more on his own? He raised money to buy the station but not enough. He and station management fell out permanently. I wasn’t in the room when the separation non-agreement came along. But, no need to rehash all of that.

WEAA smartly offered a soft landing. The voice, the laugh, the involvement had a second and third life.

What he wasn’t

He was not a journalist or a broadcaster. He loved the community. Sometimes battered and bruised but still laughing and rallying the cadre that persevered with him.

Battered and bruised, yes. And, sometimes, misdirected.

“Marc was that really you emceeing Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s swearing-in ceremony? Not good. Not about party or ideology. Just not professional.”

Everyone or almost everyone forgave and forgot.

Clayton Guyton, founder of the Rose Street youth refuge, spent the goodbye-morning with him reminiscing.

Rep. John Sarbanes called in to thank him — not in these words — for being the voice of access for the access-less.

Amy Goodman, the voice of Democracy Now, called to thank him for fighting the good fight.

Also, Kojo Nnamdi, a Washington call-in colleague, said he had admired Steiner for years, thought of him as a brother-in-radio arms.

We all must mourn the loss, the loss of the voice that offered a seat at the table long before this time of upheaval. It’s always something. And fewer voices. The News Post is long-since gone. The Evening Sun followed. The morning paper may reel forever from downsizing. The City Paper goes dark soon.

And now Steiner, voice of the community.

No big thing, some may say. Past his prime. Never really liked that laugh anyway. Keep calm and carry on.

Yes, we must. But we can’t lose our voices.

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at smithfraser911@gmail.com.


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