The idea for a great mash-up came to Michael Steele late one night. The hours escaped him, giving way to the rhythm of a sick beat and the electrifying sound being created on the board. But at the end of the incredibly powerful session, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee realized he forgot to hit record.
Steele — host of SiriusXM’s ‘Steele & Ungar’ — retold the story on a bright February day, standing outside the P.O.T.U.S. studio in Washington, D.C. wearing a crisp new blazer adorned with a cream-colored pocket square and holding his travel coffee mug.
“I used to be a D.J. and I still do a little bit on the weekend for myself,” Steele explained. “I’ll sit down and I’ll do a mix and I’ll throw it up on the internet or something like that, which is really kind of crazy because people don’t believe that I actually do that.”
Steele’s late night hobby and love of deep progressive house music might surprise many who are used to hearing Steele as the Republican voice on the news. But that’s Steele – a person more complex and interesting than your run-of-the-mill politician.
He’s a Washington, D.C. native — a real one, the type who thinks motorcades are just a nuisance. Growing up surrounded by the federal government gave Steele a deeper understanding to the how “this town” functions.
His mother played a key role in his political identity through her rejection of government assistance, leading Steele to connect more with the Republican party, much to her dismay.
“I put it as, she raised me well,” Steele says of his decision to register as a Republican. “Which always drives [my mother] nuts because she’s a staunch Democrat. She’s like, ‘if I raised you well you’d be a Democrat.’”
But to Steele, he connected with the party and its message on a deep level.
“It’s this sense of self, the sense of independence and what this country’s core message has always been about. It’s been about freedom. It’s been about the ability to come and do whatever it is you want to do in the space you’re occupying.”
The 58-year-old has occupied many spaces — and thrived. After deciding the priesthood in the Augustinian Order wasn’t for him, he worked as a lawyer then served as Lt. Governor of Maryland — a role that distinguished him as the first African-American elected to statewide office — and was elected as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2008.
Steele admits with a smile that his “pathway to the present has been a little bit windy.”
These days, Steele uses his voice and influence on a wide-range of mediums. He’s a staple on MSNBC as a political analyst – and weekday evenings he co-hosts a three-hour show ‘Steele & Ungar’ on SiriusXM P.O.T.U.S. (Ch. 124).
“At first glance, you come in, you think, ‘oh it’s a conservative and a liberal and they’re going to go, alright, whatever.’ But it’s not that — there are times where the audience is sitting there scratching their heads because ‘I’m like OK, I’m taking the liberal position on this because’ and Rick’s over here on the conservative side. And it tells you that on any given issue there is no right side or left side, there is no wrong side or right side, it is how you absorb that information. It is how you process it impacting you.”
Steele has taken to radio quickly since “it’s a real spot for the public to meet.” And there’s no shortage of people across the country wanting to meet Steele.
It’s impossible to take a few steps without someone stopping to shake his hand. A group of visitors to the SiriusXM offices stopped Steele to thank him for his perspective. Employees and other hosts went out of their way to say hello. And he stops and talks to each one with a smooth swagger.
And in Washington, D.C., this is Steele’s town.
“No matter what you do, you don’t forget where you come from because that’s part of your story.”
The monthly series Behind the Voice profiles SiriusXM hosts in one-on-one interviews and gives listeners a closer look into our on-air personalities and their shows.
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