Steve Warne: The Bigger Picture

Steve & Michael Warne / Photo: Scott MacLeod (Flagstick)

The Bigger Picture

When Steve Warne emanates from your radio, he usually makes you pay attention.  As the veteran leader for the Team 1200’s TGOR Nation (Three Guys On The Radio), his ability to speak knowledgeably about any athletic pursuit while keeping things light has proven him to be a master at his craft.  And while the daily testosterone laden discussion may not be for everyone, the popularity of the Ottawa based morning show is undeniable.  Warne is a big part of that success.

“We may be the last normal guys on the radio,” is Steve’s claim as we talk on a Spring day about his life in radio and his affiliation with golf.  “Just about everybody is radio is a little quirky; we’re just three guys who really love sports.”

Normal by his account, but for TGOR listeners they hear three guys with a wealth of knowledge, a trio of raucous sports fiends who are somewhat larger than life.  And, while being on the airwaves regularly does give the listeners some familiarity with the trio, their on-air personalities certainly do not delineate them – especially in the case of Steve who is often the ringleader in the mayhem.  He habitually provides clear glimpses into his daily life including the segment that has drawn all sort of attention, “Adventures in Autism.” It is a thought provoking look at life in the Warne household as they deal with the impact of Autism. (12 year-old son Michael is afflicted with the developmental disorder that impairs social interaction and communication)  It’s this candour that evokes not just empathy but a realism that lets you believe there is likely more to Steve Warne then his show reveals.  It makes you curious to know a little more about a guy who not only has a high profile job, but, especially important to Flagstick readers, also a passion for golf as well.

When you speak with Steve about golf, his quickly reveals his affection for the game.  It is not hard to tell it holds a special place for him – in his past, in his daily life, and in his hopes for the future and what the game can do for others, even within his family.

Born in Ottawa, he grew up in Richmond where he was a sports right from the start.  “Oh yeah,” he says when asked about the subject.  “I used to have a nap on Saturday afternoons just so I could stay up and watch the hockey games with my dad.”  “I played all sports, all the time.  That was just my thing.”  With affection, he recalls many mornings trudging up Cockburn Street in Richmond to the arena for hockey games.

While hockey dominated Steve’s winter, golf definitely was his favourite summer pursuit.  It started innocently enough.  He and friend Andy Anderson would bat around golf whiffle balls in the backyard.  Eventually their fathers took them down the road to a real course, Richmond Centennial.  That progressed to Andy and Steve mounting their bikes, with golf clubs in tow, and making the two or three mile trek to Richmond Centennial on their own.  Warne says he hates to admit it now but not having a lot of money, he and Andy would often sneak on to the golf course.  They would leave their bikes near the second hole, hop the fence and play away.  “That’s how and where I fell in love with golf,” he says with fondness.

These days, with family and work commitments Steve finds himself playing a lot of corporate type events more than anything.  “I probably play a little more best-ball golf than I like.  I love those games where I get to play my own ball but they might only happen once a week at most.”

He follows the professional game religiously and is happy to engage anyone in a little golf chatter – on or off the air.

Golf IS often a subject of discussion on TGOR, with just about every part of the team enjoying the game.  And for Steve, being able to talk about golf and sports in general on a daily basis makes it somewhat of a dream job.  It’s a long way from where he started in radio.

He jokes that “initially it (the radio booth) was just a place to keep warm in the winter.”  It was actually much more magical then that but for him to even end up behind the microphone was more of a happy accident than anything.

“Its funny how your life takes a weird turn because your guidance counsellor tells you one thing that is patently wrong,” exclaims Steve.   Initially interested in journalism he was told by that counselor that because he didn’t have his grade 13 French he wouldn’t be accepted by journalism programs. “I found out several years later that was totally wrong.”  Looking for an alternative strategy he considered his options. “I was a fan of media and had spent 6 or 7 years watching WKRP in Cincinnati so I thought ‘radio is kind of cool.’ I guess I was going to be the next Johnny Fever.”

Steve’s next step was to apply to Algonquin College Radio & TV Arts Program.  It wasn’t as easy as just applying however.  There were about 450 kids vying for spots in the program, and part of the entry requirements was a test on current affairs.  “I wasn’t exactly a news ace but I guess I did alright because I got in and that’s how I got into radio,” says Steve.

Essentially his first year in the program also had him doing television work so the “smooth path” to the radio waves was not quite set.  “I was learning all about things like the flow chart of TV switching equipment and stuff like that and really, I didn’t care.  I wanted to be on radio”

The real radio hook came between school years when a weekend job opened up at radio station CJET.  “That is where my love of radio gathered speed.  It was the most god awful job in radio terms but it was just so exciting to turn on the mice and go live the first time.  I was just hooked after that.”

Steve progressed to doing DJ work in Renfrew and he says that full time experience was one of his best in radio.  “It was a great place.  It is where I met my wife (Linda who is now an on air personality for Y101).  Everybody was in their first real job in radio and it was an exciting time for everyone.”  Steve cites Linda as being the rock of the family – having sacrificed a lot in her career in raising the kids, Michael (12) and Lindsay (8).  “Sometimes we are ships that pass in the night with our schedules but to be able to raise your kids without using daycare has meant a lot to us.”

Steve really found his groove in 1990 when he headed back to Smiths Falls, this time as sports director.  Two years later, with the arrival of the Ottawa Senators he came to Ottawa to continue his on-air sports chatter.  Eventually Team 1200 was born and the dream job for Steve was finally his.

“I did not have high expectations when I envisioned my career.  This job literally exceeds all expectations – I don’t have to travel – I can talk sports all day long – it’s a “guy” show too so any other off the page stuff we want to blab about is fair game.”  He says it is pretty much like being at the bar talking sports.  “You react, you argue, you talk about every sport imaginable.  I kind of get to do on the air what I do with my friends on the weekend – without the beer.”

With a wife who also works in the media Steve jokes that she is “completely unimpressed with my radio exploits” and that is just fine by him.  Unlike some Rock DJ’s who think of themselves as celebrities Warne is clear about his take on fame.  “We just do what we do – some people may know you from the radio show or from being an emcee at a golf tournament but it’s not like we’re Brad Pitt or something.  It’s a lot more normal than people would think.”

One thing that radio has afforded Steve is the opportunity to communicate with people and often about personal issues, like the Autism diagnosis for Michael.  Steve says at the time of the diagnosis, there was even less understanding about Autism than there is now so they kind of kept it to themselves.  “So many things go through your head – initially there mourning period because your kid is not the one you expected to have.”  Eventually he says you just realize how random is at all is that Michael or any other child could be afflicted with this disorder.  He started to talk about it on air.

Five and half years ago a listener, Rudy Sleiman (who also has a child with Autism) approached Steve about becoming involved in a golf tournament to raise money for Autism related research and support activities.  The Microsoft Golf Classic for Autism was born and after five years the grand total of funds raised has surpassed $200,000.  The event is hosted in conjunction with the Ottawa Senators Foundation.

Talk about the tournament and Autism on air has been a real positive for the Warne family.  As Steve says it has created a very healthy dialogue for people to learn more about it and have a little more empathy for those dealing with it.  “There is so much to deal with just being a parent and being a kid.  When I do Adventures in Autism and approach it with a sense of humor it seems to make people more comfortable in discussing it.  They begin to realize that these kids are just kids, and that they are just dealing with Autism.  The disorder does not define them.”

In the meantime, Steve Warne, despite a public life played out on radio and the arrival of Autism in the household, continues to stress that he is nothing special.  He just has the best job in the world for him and a wonderful wife and two great kids.  “There is a lot less than meets the eyes he jokes.”

Even if that is true people still like to listen to him anyways.  Sports Radio with Steve Warne is a good time – guaranteed.

For more details on Autism, go to www.autismottawa.com

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