LEGEND: A word with a few meanings. Miriam-Webster describes it as a noun; a person or thing that inspires legends. In 2020 it’s also a word that’s used without proper context and often. Then again, every once-in-a while we come across a person who personifies the description. This is a story about such a person, he’s a broadcaster from southern California by the name of Steve West.
He was born Stephen John Vintner, he called Harrow, Middlesex, England home. He was the eldest of three brothers; some would say the biggest music fan on the planet. He grew up with his brothers Peter and Tony listening to R&B and soul. The boys loved Motown, Atlantic and Stax… it was this passion that Steve ran with. As he got older, he went with the name we know him best as, Steve West.
Sadly, we lost West on May 11th. He had succumbed to his battle with prostate and esophageal cancer. An ugly word cancer, it’s taken far too many from us. West was fearless in his battle with this dreaded disease, his journey inspired us and made us better people along the way.
As for his radio background, West was part of the early voices of the 91X on-air staff. Unlike most New Wave DJ’s, West had a unique sound. He didn’t pop out of a Valley Girl skit on SNL, he was regal in his delivery. He was a pro and very relatable. He was that guy you could share a beer with at your local watering hole. That, and he knew music and had some of the greatest stories ever. That’s what listeners loved about him, it was like listening to one of your pals telling you a great story over a beer and learning a little something while you were at it. Not sure what it was, but his voice, that British accent, big smile and crazy hair made everyone who met him feel at ease.
Circling back to those early-early days… West tried the 9-5, but it just didn’t stick with him. Somehow the Fates helped him segway into club gigs and it went from there. As the those primitive radio gods would have it, West found himself on the west coast of the United States at a small station in San Clemente, California.
He did well there, but being the music rebel that he was … he pushed what was considered far out music by John “Cougar” Mellencamp. As the story goes and luckily for all of us… West found himself looking for a new radio home. Before you knew it, West was at the early studios of 91X. As the story further goes, he had no idea that in 1983 the 91X studio was in Tijuana.
Over the decades there have been a ton of great and legendary voices that have come and gone from 91X. Longevity in any medium is earned, and the voices from 91X put the station on the map. No matter who you ask, West has always been considered one of the signature voices of the station. To this day, listeners still remember him manning the mic so we could hear our favorite bands and those unforgettable stories from yesteryear during his Resurrection Sunday broadcasts.
“Follow your passion, always!”
That combination of lust for life and music translated to radio magic. New Wave was literally the new wave and West was our tour guide. So Cal found itself transitioning from Donna Summer, KC & The Sunshine Band and Led Zeppelin to bands like the Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order and the Smiths. From there, we all grew up to American bands like Berlin, Dramarama and Boingo… all delivered to us courtesy of “The Incredible Mr. West.”
If you are lucky enough to remember those early days of new wave and 91X you got to hear history as it was happening. West brought it to us from the bands that were leaving their mark on us. Not only did you get to hear the music, but you heard directly from the bands what inspired them to make their era defining tunes that evolved into the soundtrack of our life.
To get a good perspective on what West was like with bands, we spoke with a couple of them. We caught up to the bands that knew him best and asked them for their thoughts.
We first caught up with Johnny Vatos of Oingo Boingo. Vatos is a very accomplished drummer, and he goes way back with West. Johnny said “I’m very saddened to hear of Steve’s passing… he was a brother and definitely one of a kind!”
“What I appreciated most about Steve was that he was the real deal… he was a genuine friend… he knew music and he was like another musician to us… he knew his stuff. He was practically an honorary member of the band; we knew him that well and he knew us.”
“As for a Good Steve West story? I remember going down to the station and he drove us up to their transmitter in the hills of Tijuana. I mean, the drive is what I’ll never forget. He had this van that was like out of a movie, you know… the kind that made every sound imaginable and you didn’t know if the breaks would work. He would drive as if he owned the road and he knew every turn. I remember being scared for my life, and when we got there he just looked at me… smiled, then asked “you alright mate?” As scared as I was, I never felt in any danger with Steve, he had a calming effect on all of us. His smile and laugh always took over any conversation. We always ended up eating tacos in downtown TJ; it was one of the best times of my life.”
We then caught up with John Easdale, lead singer of Dramarama. Easdale also had a long history with West. We asked for his thoughts on the life and legacy of Steve West. He said “I was heartbroken when I heard the news of his passing. He had it before and somehow he survived, so when this last bout came around … you knew it was serious, but he was like Superman. You never thought this day would ever come.”
“Yes, he was a great DJ, but for me, I think of him as a great friend. I really respected the way he lived his life. He was always giving 100% at everything. Music, life, friendship or championing men’s health causes. I can tell you a ton of great stories about what Steve was like to work with, but I’d rather tell you something very subtle about him. You see, I have a ton of people I come across in the music biz, but very few call or text me for no other reason than to just see how I’m doing.”
“That’s the thing about Steve, it didn’t matter what kind of hits you had or what was next for the band, he was your friend and he treated you like one. That’s what I want people to know, he was a genuinely good person. That’s what I remember most, the person he was…. he was my friend and I will miss him very-very much.”
Before we chatted with ALT949, we wanted to get the thoughts from the staff at 91X. We chatted with Hilary Doneux. Hilary knew Steve very well… she’s also worked at both stations. She’s currently the Music Director and midday host at 91X.
We asked her a few questions about the life and legacy of her friend and former co-worker.
We asked what impact she thought Steve had on San Diego and 91x fans? She said “Steve changed many San Diegans’ lives, especially in the 80s, by sharing alternative and modern rock music with 91X listeners so passionately. He educated us and turned us on to bands and songs we never would have discovered without him.”
We then asked what impact did he have on the legacy of 91x? She said “91X would not be the same without Steve West. With his larger than life personality, naughty sense of humor, and distinct British accent, he was an ambassador of the 91X lifestyle, especially in the 80s and 90s. Steve was synonymous with 91X music and the station was better because he was a part of it.”
What are some bands that owe their careers to Steve? “I wouldn’t say they owe their careers to Steve, but he certainly had a big hand in helping bands like Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode, Oingo Boingo, the English Beat and countless others gain popularity in Southern California and the US as a whole.”
How would you describe Steve as a DJ, music expert and as a person? She said “he cared about people, and sharing his passion for – and encyclopedic knowledge of – good music with others is what gave him joy and purpose. He had a wicked sense of humor and was game for any adventure, all while being a doting father to his daughter and a lover of dogs.”
What’s one of your favorite moments you had with him that will forever make you smile? “I have a ton of great memories with Steve, but more than any one of those, it’s a feeling that I get when I think about him: the way he said “’Ello, ‘Hil” with a huge smile and hug whenever I saw him. He made you feel good and his excitement about music was infectious. He was such a good friend.”
To Catch CATCH RESURRECTION SUNDAY
Lastly, we caught up with Bryan Schock at ALT949. Schock currently hosts Legends of Alternative. Schock told me that what he values most is that he worked with West in those early days at 91X and the past few years at ALT949 means everything to him. In a recent interview, Schock said “working alongside Steve is one of the greatest honors of my life.”
For some background and context, in 2014 West left 91X. New ownership had taken over the station and as with most transitions they were there for a reason. Sadly, some changes and difficult decisions had to be made. Like his days in San Clemente, West found himself looking for a new radio home, but it didn’t take long for him to find a place to hang his hat.
Luckily for San Diego, ALT949 immediately picked him up. He’s had several shifts over the years, but Legends of Alternative was his baby.
We asked Bryan to give us his thoughts about West as a colleague and friend. Shock said “Steve was the most passionate person I’ve ever met. If it was music, he was all in, if he was your friend, you could never find anyone as loyal and kind.”
“Steve was so excited to be doing Legends of Alternative. He got to play the music he wanted and he got to do it the way he always wanted. ALT949 gave him the vehicle to put together the show in his image, any way he felt he could deliver the best show possible… that meant the world to him.”
Schock went on to say “Steveloved his daughter Natasha and loved being her Dad. He did all the things you would expect a Dad to do… you know, all the little things a parent does. PTA and Girl Scout cookies are at the top of that list. He loved telling me those stories just as much as all the cool music stories. The smile on his face when he told those stories was infectious. I couldn’t help but smile when he told me about the time he spent with Natasha. It didn’t matter what was going on in my life, when I heard one of Steve’s stories, it made my day a little brighter. Other topics he would share with me included what kind of tea he liked and he was very passionate about the solar system… I will miss all those moments … I was very lucky to be part of that.”
As soon as the news hit about his passing, countless tributes took root. Former colleagues, bands and fans took to social media and gave condolences and expressed heartfelt stories thanking the legend that is Steve West for all he did.
Sabrina Rae Hahnlein
Sabrina was a long time friend and roommate. She echoed Bryan Schock’s sentiments. He loved working at ALT949 and doing Legends of Alternative.
“Something people may not know about Steve is that he loved chocolate cake, and he was very competitive when it came to things like backgammon. He loved to talk about the universe and airplanes, especially flight simulators… he loved my cats, all animals really… and he was a very good friend.“
To Catch LEGENDS of ALTERNATIVE
As for me, I had a different kind of relationship with him than most. I was a radio guy who worked at another station over the years, and I was a writer. Often, when I worked on an interview or a story on certain band’s I’d ask Steve for any suggestions for good questions. I also asked him for help from time-to-time when I needed help getting into a show to interview bands playing in San Diego.
The radio or publishing biz can be a little weird. You don’t always get immediate responses from media people, if you did, often it was a message “See attached.” Steve was very different in this regard. I never got a canned response from him. He always wrote me back, often followed with an off-script story that always made the story even better.
Whenever I spoke with him, he was always so very polite. When I saw him at a show, he’d ALWAYS ask how I was, how my family was and most importantly… how my health was. He was very sincere about that. You always knew he cared about people, that’s my biggest takeaway from my time with him… he was as genuine as it gets.
Steve West was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in July of 2004 and immediately dove into treatment. He subsequently encouraged men at every opportunity to get screened. He hosted the “Movember” broadcast; the event raised money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and to raise awareness about men’s health issues.
What was even more inspiring for all of us was how he dealt with being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2016. He fought it and kept going. Sadly it came back, this time he didn’t survive his final battle. The way he lived is the way we’ll always remember him. A man of character who was very well respected.
Those two words aren’t always synonymous with each other these days, but perhaps it’s the main reason why the word LEGEND applies to Steve West.
His legacy lives on through his daughter Natasha Vintner, and his brothers, Anthony and Peter Vintner.