Sgt. Steve Stephens, USMC, Korea 1953
Steve came to THV11 and sat down with Craig O'Neill who asked him a flood of questions. Let's start from the beginning, how it all started.
"How does it feel coming back here [to THV11]?" asked Craig. “It feels wonderful!” said Steve. So, what comes to mind when he sits in the studio? “Oh, the myriad of kids that used to come down here. And how happy they were and just dancing like crazy. The studio was filled with kids, you know. Busloads from all over the state would pull up out front of channel 11 and they'd pour in,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the studio became so full that the fire department marshal came in and he said 'you gotta restrict the kids here. It's a fire hazard.' And so, we issued tickets. Then some of the kids started issuing counterfeit tickets, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger.”
"So, this show gave birth to counterfeiters?" said Craig. “Oh, I wish you wouldn't have said that,” Steve said laughing. “Naw, they were all good kids.” "Weren't kids asking you for your autograph?” said Craig.
“I don't think anybody ever asked me for my autograph because they were so into themselves. This was their gathering. And that's when I realized I wasn't the star of the show. The kids were the stars of the show.”
So, how did Steve become a star? He was a small-town man from Newport, Arkansas, who just returned from serving with the United States Marine Corps in Korea.
Steve's friends in the Corps told him he had a radio voice. He never thought about it, but he decided to go down to the local radio station in Newport and audition. The station told him he had good voice quality but his southern accent was terrible.
“So, I went back and you know, most of us don't hear our own voices, we just speak to communicate. And I began to read billboards aloud, newspapers aloud. And I began to hear my own voice. And rather than saying, I'm going to git to go there, I would say I'm going to get to go there. You know, nuances,” Steve told us.
Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, he was Steve's childhood friend. They graduated together. Sonny had a Rock N' Roll band and said, “Steve we're going to Little Rock, channel 11 has invited us down to be on the noon show. Would you like to ride down with us?” And Steve said, “There's nothing to do in Newport, so why not?” So, while they were rocking and rolling, rehearsing, Steve began to stroll around the television studio.
“I'd never been in a TV studio before. There was a door that was ajar and it said, manager. And I pushed it open and there was Jack Bomar who went on to become a great part of my life, a great mentor. I said, 'You don't need any announcers, do you?' And he said, 'Well you know, as a matter of fact, we do.'
And Bomar told Steve to send him a tape. Steve went home to Newport and forgot about it. So, Jack called him. “How come you didn't send me a tape?” said Bomar. “Well, I got to thinking about it. I just got out of the Marine Corps, I saved enough money in Korea to buy a car debt free, I'm living at home with my mother and father. I've got a girlfriend. I'm making 65 dollars a week. Why would I want to come to Little Rock?” Steve laughed.
But Bomar told him to come back down to Little Rock anyway and audition. So, his mother drove him down for his audition. “So, I walked into this studio and Bomar and some others said, 'You see that studio out there [where the interview took place now] there's a mock kitchen set up, go out there and sell all the appliances in it.' They didn't know that every summer in high school and college that I worked at my father's appliance and furniture store,” said Steve.
Bottom line, Steve breezed through that audition. It just came naturally. So, the station called and offered him the job for far less than he thought they would. “But you know what? It taught me another lesson. If you want something, you need to go for it regardless of the circumstances because it's what you want. It's what I wanted! I wanted to evolve from radio to TV. This was my chance and it really didn't matter what the salary was,” he said.
But, Steve didn't come down to Little Rock for a dance show. He came down here to be a booth announcer. As a booth announcer, he sat in the booth and every 30 minutes he'd said, 'This is Channel 11, KTHV Little Rock.' And then so on and so forth. After that, Bomar and some others thought about starting a dance party and asked Steve what he thought. “I don't know, what is a dance party?” said Steve. “You spin records and kids dance,” said Bomar. “A caveman can do that!” Steve said while laughing.