Saying it’s “time to take that next step,” Steve Downes is retiring after 44 years in radio — including the last 14 as morning personality on classic hits WDRV FM 97.1.
Downes, 64, said Thursday he’ll be stepping down from his job at the Hubbard Radio station “within the next month or so” and plans to travel with his wife, spend more time with his grandchildren in Colorado and pursue other interests.
“I want to make it clear that this is 100 percent my decision,” he said. “Even though I still love what I do and I’m sure I’m going to miss it, I would rather end it when it’s still fun than wait a little too long. I’ve always respected the [professional athletes] who step out when things are moving great. And you know what? It’s time for somebody else to come in and give what they’ve got.”
Downes agreed to stay on until his bosses name a successor for the show, which airs from 5 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Along with news anchor Kathy Voltmer, Downes has hosted mornings on The Drive since its inception in 2001. For four years before that, he held the same job at classic rock WLUP FM 97.9, making him the only person to have hosted mornings on both The Loop and The Drive, two of Chicago radio’s most iconic brands.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have worked side by side with Steve for the past 18 years, 14 of those as the only morning man The Drive has ever had,” said Greg Solk, senior vice president of programming for Hubbard Radio and the man who put the station on the air. “Steve is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest rock air personalities, but as everyone who has ever worked with Steve can tell you, he may be the most down-to-earth, likable and sweetest men you would ever want to hang out with.”
Solk said Downes will continue to be heard as a prominent voice of The Drive in recorded announcements and promotions, and he’ll continue to host “The Classics,” the weekly retrospective of the greatest artists and album tracks in rock history. Nationally syndicated by United Stations Radio Networks, the long-running show airs here from 9 to 11 p.m. Sundays on The Drive.
As successful as he’s been in radio, Downes is even more famous as the voice of “Master Chief” from the wildly popular Halo X-Box video game series. To the delight of millions of fans, a new edition of the game is due out at the end of the year, and Downes will continue to make personal appearances around the country promoting the series.
Downes, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, first became a star in Los Angeles, where he hosted the nationally syndicated call-in show “Rockline” and spent most of two decades there, including 10 years at KLOS. But he considers Chicago the peak of his career.
“Back in the ’60s I used to listen to WCFL and WLS at night,” he recalled. “I have favorite memories of listening to those stations, literally with the transistor under the pillow. So I grew up idolizing the radio that came out of this town. It’s the greatest city in the world when it comes to radio — bar none. And to have been able to work in Chicago for the last 18 years has been an honor beyond measure. I told Greg [Solk] the day he hired me at The Loop that I am a very lucky man. These last years have certainly borne that out.”