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Published: Sunday, 3/25/2007

Jim Steel s long struggle

Jim Steel doesn t think about tomorrow, let alone next week, next month, or next year.

His future offers no hope.

Steel s focus is on making the most of the time he has remaining.

Five years ago, the former announcer and program director at WIOT-FM, 104.7, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig s disease.

It is a progressive neurodegenerative illness that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

ALS is terminal. There is no cure. The average life expectancy is two to five years.

Jim Steel with his wife, Karin, and daughter, Delani. Karin is with her husband around the clock. Jim Steel with his wife, Karin, and daughter, Delani. Karin is with her husband around the clock.
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The 44 year-old Steel, who works from home in Nebraska and is still employed as the director of operations for four Clear Channel radio stations in Lincoln, already has surpassed those averages.

But make no mistake, Steel whose real name is Jim Lyle is dying a slow death.

The 1984 Bowling Green State University graduate has lost 90 pounds since first being diagnosed with ALS in February of 2002. He now weighs less than 110 pounds.

He has been in a wheelchair for quite some time, and gets some of his nutrition through a feeding tube. The disease has stripped him of the voice that has been so instrumental in his career.

E-mail has become his lifeline for communicating with his family, friends and co-workers.

It s tough, he wrote. It s a humbling disease that requires an eventual dependency on others. Not being able to hold my wife (Karin) and daughter (Delani) is mentally brutal.

I deal with it by reminding myself that God s plan is perfect that s easier said than done. Currently, my lung capacity is only 25 percent ... the power of prayer is what I cling to.

Karin, a former assistant business manager at the Lincoln stations, married Jim on May 4, 2000, and is with her husband around the clock, although she does get some outside help.

Steel calls Karin his rock. And he refers to his daughter, Delani, born July 29, 2002, as his angel.

Watching her husband suffer has been painful for Karin.

Seeing the love of your life struggle and dwindle away before your eyes every day is awful, it s numbing, she said, fighting back tears. Some days, I get so mad, I want to punch a hole in the wall.

But then I think of Jim and my daughter and I smile. And I get to thinking, If I had to go through this all over again, I d do it in a minute. Jim is well worth it.

Vibrant talent

Steel, from Barberton, Ohio, got his start in radio at WIOT in 1983 while still attending BGSU. He worked as an intern, and his duties included wearing a smelly fox mascot outfit at various remote broadcasts.

His brother, Dennis Lyle, is an attorney who lives in Sylvania. And some of Steel s former WIOT co-workers also are still in the Toledo market, including Lyn Casye, one of the Wake Up Bunch at WWWM-FM, 105.5, and Mark Benson, a morning host at WXKR-FM, 94.5.

Both Casye and Benson remember their colleague as a vibrant, energetic talent.

Jim was a great guy, Benson said. I loved working with him. He had a great attitude. He was very popular on the station. He was a real stand-up guy. He was very athletic and in great shape.

To think of him then and now, it just shows you how terrible ALS is.

Steel was instrumental in bringing Melissa Etheridge and Def Leppard to town in the late 1980s.

Steel, who also has befriended rock superstar Bruce Springsteen, quickly moved up the ranks at WIOT. He was program director from 1988-91, and Casye succeeded him.

Cayse Cayse
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Steel also was Casey s mentor, personally and professionally.

Jim was a very smart radio guy, she said. He was never too busy to answer a question for me. He achieved success in the business without compromising his integrity. He recommended me for his old job when he left, and I was so flattered and excited.

After leaving Toledo, Steel worked at WHTQ-FM in Orlando, Fla., until 1993. He was hired as the program director at a classic rock station in Lincoln later that same year and has been there ever since.

Along the way, he did some on-air work and served as operations manager of nine Clear Channel stations in the Lincoln-Omaha market for four years.

Get in the game

In January of 2002, Steel s right arm and hand began to shake violently after he woke up. When it happened a few more times, he scheduled an appointment with his family doctor the following month.

But he didn t tell Karin. His wife was three months pregnant, and he believed she already had enough to worry about.

Steel s doctor referred him to a neurologist. An exam indicated he was suffering from a serious illness, likely ALS, so his doctor advised him to seek a second opinion at a major hospital.

He made an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. In late April, Steel s worst fear was confirmed. His first diagnosis was correct he had ALS.

When he returned home to Lincoln, he finally broke down and shared the horrible news with his wife, Karin, who is also now his caretaker.

She lifts me from the bed and gets me in my wheelchair, Steel said. I ll listen to one of our four stations on the radio and sometimes one via the Internet. I ll concentrate on the content of the on-air talent and the positioning of the station.

The unique thing is that I m not going to be interrupted with phone calls or meetings at home, so each station gets my undivided attention. I type using software that follows my head movement with a virtual keyboard.

Julie Gade, the market manager for the Lincoln stations, hired Steel 14 years ago. And she remains one of his biggest fans.

She hired a group called Guardian Angels, which provides 15 hours of help per week for the Steel family. They do all kinds of odds and ends, including cleaning and cooking.

And a staff member from one of the Clear Channel stations visits Steel daily and brings him lunch.

You won t find a soul in our building who doesn t love Jim, Gade said. He s a sweetheart. I think we re all devastated by his disease, but we keep in close contact with him. He has maintained a wonderful outlook on life, and he is still a real pleasure to be around.

Karin and Jim Steel with Bruce Springsteen, center. Steel once was program director for WIOT-FM in Toledo. Karin and Jim Steel with Bruce Springsteen, center. Steel once was program director for WIOT-FM in Toledo.
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Lately, he s been asking all of us to gather information about when we first knew him, so Delani will have the scuttlebutt on her dad when he passes on. He wants that relatively soon. I don t know if it s because he s feeling different or what.

Karin agreed that things have changed recently.

In the past month or so, he s really started planning for what s eventually going to happen to him, she said.

Steel has tried to make something positive out of his disease. He started the Get in the Game (www.getinthegame.cc) foundation a few years ago to get people to volunteer their time to help others.

WIOT-FM program director Aaron Roberts said the station has been running the GITG promotion for about a year. Jim is part of the WIOT family, and we take care of family, Roberts said. The campaign drives people to volunteer at the United Way.

Casye believes the fact that Steel is still alive is a blessing.

We re all a little bit better because of him, she said. Every day he s here with us is a bonus.

And every day gives Jim Steel another chance to brighten someone s life, rather than focus on his fate.



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