Until he lost his job about six weeks ago, Steve Cooper had been on the Indianapolis airwaves consistently for 32 years.
First there was WNDE-AM (1260), a Top 40 station he helped start in 1973, where he was a mile-a-minute screamer known as Super Cooper. Then he was one of the last WIFE "Good Guys" from 1976-'82. Then he was the morning man at WFBQ-FM (94.7) before a duo named Bob and Tom came along.
And finally, there was WTPI-FM (107.9), another station he helped launch and saw through all its incarnations - "top for Indianapolis," "most music," "soft FM," "soft rock" and "continuous light rock." TPI remained his radio home for 21 years until the Oct. 3 shakeup that ended the long-running Steve and Kelly (Vaughn) morning show.
"I've never been off for more than two weeks, so this is a new experience," Cooper said in an interview a couple of weeks ago. "But I have confidence, I have faith in my talent and, to an extent, my future because I think talent will out. I may be a nice guy" - something someone in the radio business recently accused him of - "but I know what I'm doing and I do it pretty well."
Cooper lost his job when WTPI switched from mainstream adult contemporary to adult hits as a way of differentiating itself from several other stations playing essentially the same music. Like an increasing number of Indianapolis stations, "The Track," as WTPI is now known, operates with a minimal number of DJs. That seems counterproductive in the age of the iPod, given that personalities are what give radio stations their personality, but that's the way of the radio world.
Cooper soon turns 57, and right now he's looking back on a career that began when he used his college theater training to land his first radio job in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1971. He figures he has several good years of radio left in him. Now he hopes someone will give him a chance.
"I love radio because it's a real personal, real one-on-one medium," he says. "In spite of the fact that you're talking to thousands of people at one time, you're really only talking to a single person. And you try to affect them.
"I've received about a hundred e-mails since I've left, and almost to a person they've said to me, 'You were like part of our family.' They knew about me, they know about my wife, my dog, my life. I'm going to miss that. But if I never get behind a microphone again, I will consider that I had a good career."