The Tracy Steel Bio

BY VICTOR STREDICKE for PUGETSOUND.MEDIA

Tracy Lynn Smith, b. August 14, 1943, enrolled in a Tacoma broadcast-training school right after graduating from Vashon High School. He left the trade school midterm because he got a job at a small radio station in Sunnyside. From there he went to Raymond, WA. Soon he set his sights on Seattle radio stations. (Recounting the cumulative list now, his stations jumps seem pretty significant; he worked at the top stations of the day.). He first had the all-night shift at KING-AM, then a contemporary music station. But he felt isolated as the all-night announcer,
seldom crossing paths with other employees. So he moved to KAYO, country-music pioneer, for an early evening shift. Then he worked briefly at a new progressive rock station, KZOK, just long enough to appear naked on a poster spoofing the new national phenomena, “streaking.” Next he moved to the evening shift at KVI, a personality-and music station where his shift included board op for the nightly local “Theater of the Mind” program.

 As Hard as Steel  While at KVI Tracy Smith had the distinction of changing his air-name while on the radio. On the air! Between a record set Tracy noted there were too many Smiths on the radio. He listed local disk jockeys China Smith, Robert O. Smith, Sunset Smith, Emperor Smith, “From now on, I’m Tracy Steel,” he said into his open microphone. This surprised even the unsuspecting evening news announcer. Tracy refused to respond until referred to by his new name.
After KVI, the “new Tracy Steel” moved to an evening shift at KOMO, a middle-of-the road music station. . KOMO studios are adjacent to Seattle Center, so Tracy had plenty of daytime hours to stroll the former fairgrounds. He volunteered to look into the International Fountain which was no longer functioning. He quickly mastered the fountain’s hydraulic system so he could reinstate the synchronized waterjets and then he developed a contemporary-music accompaniment now familiar to all fairgrounds visitors.

Through his relationship with Center officials he was able to wrangle a unique locale for his second marriage — to Colleen (Ruddy) Jones. Tracy and Colleen were married on top of the Space Needle.

Did you get that? The top! Up a small trap door above the observation deck, to the roof! No guardrail! Just a very nice view all around. There they were, topside, hunkering against a short ledge that held the antenna-like spire — just the bride and groom, the best man and maid-of honor and a daredevil minister.

In the restaurant below, the Stredickes, Smiths and Joneses were treated to a Space Needle treat, champagne-and-eggs breakfast. Lots of champagne! Older brother Jim Smith explained the feeling with a festive toast: “I’ve never been this high….this high!”

Tracy’s marriage to Colleen didn’t last, but they had one child, Amy Victoria Smith, b. Jan. 18 1974, – later to go by the name Torrie. Torrie grew up in California with her mother, but eventually entered the radio business like her dad for a couple of years and lived in New York City. She now has one child.

Tracy toured Europe with an uncle, Mike Warwick, and a female Seattle art collector, and at one point trekked across the states with a hippie girlfriend looking for the meaning of life.

A radio listener usually forms a mental image of his favorite announcer. Which image do you think listeners conjured up when Tracy Steel was on the air?

But, back to radio. Tracy joined KRPM-FM, Tacoma, and a country music station. While working at the station, Tracy bought a house in Tacoma. . When the radio station was sold, he jumped for afternoon drive at KPUG, in Skagit County, and then the nearby KBRC.

He bought another house in Clear Lake, a Skagit County hamlet of maybe 100 people. After a few months he boldly asked Burlington Northern officials to turn over an abandoned railway to the citizens of Clear Lake. BNSF agreed!

Tracy organized a volunteer group to clear the right of way and prepare a “strip park” alongside the town’s only north-south street.
In Skagit County he met a companion, Lynda Holman. They had two children, Daisy Lynn Smith and Travis Holman Smith.

Tracy felt that small stroke he had in 1987 hampered his ability to perform on the radio so there were lapses — perhaps more than in any other regular broadcast career — between radio jobs. Between stations and after souring on radio he had many fill-in jobs, including new-car salesman, hydraulics sales, a boxboy at a Safeway, one season on an oil rig in Alaska and for a short time, a telemarketer selling Time-Life books.

He died in 1991 on Vashon Island. Age 48.

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