Local media pillar E. Steven Collins dies

E. Steven Collins died of a heart attack Monday. He was director of urban market- ing and external relations for Radio One Inc.
E. Steven Collins died of a heart attack Monday. He was director of urban market- ing and external relations for Radio One Inc.
Posted: September 11, 2013

E. Steven Collins, 58, a Philadelphia media mainstay and tireless community worker, died of a heart attack just after midnight Monday, Sept. 9, at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Praise and remembrances for the man simply known as "E." (for Ernest) came from government, media, and community, with Mayor Nutter calling Mr. Collins' death "a significant loss for Philadelphia."

In a remarkable multimedia outpouring, expressions of grief and celebration went out over the airwaves and the Web, as many who benefited from his mentorship and advocacy paused to remember.

WRNB-FM (100.3) suspended the popular syndicated Tom Joyner Show and dedicated its airtime solely to Mr. Collins, who at his death was director of urban marketing and external relations for Radio One Inc., including stations such as Praise 103.9, Hot 107.9, and WRNB. TV stations such as NBC10 joined calls for reminiscences, which were shared throughout the day.

Catherine L. Hughes, chair and founder of Radio One Inc., spoke by phone from Italy on WRNB, calling Mr. Collins by his frequent nickname: "He was the unofficial mayor of Philadelphia. In some parts of Philadelphia, they might know his name and not know the name of the mayor."

On Twitter, the radio, TV, political, and literary communities recalled Mr. Collins as a mentor and booster. Author Solomon Jones remembered "a leader and a friend who always supported me." Loraine Ballard Morrill, radio host on WDAS-AM and Power 99, recalled that Mr. Collins "was kind & supportive even tho we worked for rival stations at the time." Shamara of Hot 107.9 tweeted, "#RIP E. Steven Collins now you can walk around heaven all day."

On Saturday, Mr. Collins had hosted his traditional backyard pool party for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and on Sunday morning he had hosted his public-affairs talk show Philly Speaks on WRNB. Afterward, he had a half-hour phone chat with a longtime friend, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. They had been scheduled to do a fund-raiser for sickle-cell anemia research later in the week.

Reached by phone, Fattah said, "We grew up within blocks of each other. In my teenage years he loaned me his 280Z to go out on a date." Fattah said Mr. Collins "used radio as a way to be a community leader. In a thousand causes in this city, he used his media standing to advocate for positive change." In a statement, Fattah remembered Mr. Collins' work in causes such as Goods for Guns and the Father's Day Rally.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a close friend, said by phone: "As a journalist, look at his book of interviews, from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama to Bill Clinton and thousands of individuals. . . . He loved his Sunday morning show. He could have left that and taken other positions and gotten a lot more money, but he did not want to lose that opportunity to communicate with people every Sunday morning."

"There are photographs in his home of E. with presidents," said family friend Terri Dean, "but he preserved an essential humility. He was just E."

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Collins attended what was then West Catholic High School. From there, he went to Temple University, where he majored in radio, television, and film; his first radio show was on WRTI in 1973. After stints at WHAT, he got his first big job in June 1978 at WDAS, auditioning in his first newscast on the midday show of Joe "Butterball" Tamburro.

On the WDAS-FM show FM News Magazine in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Collins shared a mike, and often tussled, with Karen Warrington, now communications director for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady. She recalled "a type-double-A personality. He liked being in the spotlight but he tried to use that spotlight for good. He used it wisely and he used it for good purposes." Mr. Collins was to stay with WDAS and other Clear Channel venues for 22 years.

Almost all of Philadelphia's major African American radio stations - WHAT, WBLS and WDAS-AM/FM, Power 99, as well as WHYY - have enjoyed a Collins presence. He regularly credited among his own mentors such Philly figures as journalists Chuck Stone and Art Peters, and radio standouts Tamburro, Mary Mason, and Georgie Woods.

He was a frequent commentator on local news shows such as Fox29's Good Day Philadelphia and Comcast Newsmakers. He also had a national profile, providing commentary on CNN and   MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews.

"E. Steven was a great guy and a reliable voice of reason," Matthews said by e-mail. "He had the most important thing: good values. He cared."

Mr. Collins was chairman of the Mayor's Commission on Literacy and a board member of the Philadelphia Martin Luther King Jr. Association for Nonviolence, the Multicultural Affairs Congress of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Urban League of Philadelphia, the Marian Anderson Award, and the Ivy Legacy Foundation. He was also involved with Concerned Black Men of Philadelphia and the first Unity Day, helping produce for 12 years the Greek African American picnic in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Patricia Coulter, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Philadelphia, called Mr. Collins "the most ardent, hardworking supporter Philadelphia could have had," a man who "used his radio voice to engage people on issues such as voting, literacy, nonviolence, and education."

Coulter said Mr. Collins had planned to take part Monday morning in a "Walk Your Children to School" effort as part of the national Million Father March. "He was talking about it on his show" on Sunday, she said.

Mr. Collins is survived by his wife, Lisa Duhart Collins, and two sons, Rashid and Langston.

Funeral arrangements were in the planning stages.

Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane. Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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