E. Steven Collins, 58, radio host, activist

PHOTO: ROBERT MENDELSOHN E. Steven Collins , seen next to Sarah Glover, hosted a pool party Saturday for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
PHOTO: ROBERT MENDELSOHN E. Steven Collins , seen next to Sarah Glover, hosted a pool party Saturday for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
Posted: September 11, 2013

THERE HE WAS, a big, robust, happy guy, bubbling with energy, manning the grill for a pool party Saturday at his home in Laverock.

E. Steven Collins, one of the most recognizable radio personalities and community activists in the city, was, as usual, the host with the most at the annual end-of-summer gathering of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

The next day, he dispatched a tweet to Serena Williams congratulating her on her fifth U.S. Open singles victory: "You are unstoppable."

That evening, he became ill and was taken to Chestnut Hill Hospital, where he died of a heart attack shortly after midnight yesterday. He was 58.

His death sent shock waves through the city that he had devoted his life to serving in numerous capacities beyond his popular Sunday-morning radio broadcast on WRNB-FM, "Philly Speaks."

"He wanted to make sure the urban community always had a voice," said Darisha Miller, a longtime friend and president of the Philadelphia Black Public Relations Society. "He was a community giant.

"He was also well-versed in national and international subjects. If you wanted to have a conversation with him, you had to be well-versed, too, to keep up with him."

E. Steven, who was director of urban marketing and external relations for Radio One 100.3 FM, obviously loved his work.

A listener, Darlene R. Taylor, left a message on a website in which she said that although she had never seen E, "I always could hear his smile.

"He seemed to be full of joy. What a blessing to have had him touch our lives."

Mayor Nutter summed up some of E's contributions to the city:

"E. Steven was more than a radio personality. He was a Philadelphia icon, civic leader, mentor, activist and, most importantly, a family man and a dear friend.

"E. Steven's passing is a significant loss for Philadelphia. He was one of our city's most important civic voices. I have fond memories of working with him on many occasions through the organizations with which he was involved.

"E served on several boards, including the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Urban League of Philadelphia, the Multicultural Affairs Congress and the Marian Anderson Awards Association . . . and I had the pleasure of appointing him chair of the re-established Mayor's Commission on Literacy on Sept. 8, 2010."

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah had an early experience of E. Steven's generous character. When Fattah, then in his late teens, needed a car to go on a date, E generously lent him his Nissan sports car.

"That was an example of the kind of a friend he was," Fattah said. "He was a great guy. We grew up together and worked together on a lot of projects."

E. Steven worked at WDAS for 30 years before taking the executive position with Radio One.

"Brother E was a tireless supporter of PABJ and believed in speaking up and mentoring the next generation of black journalists in Philadelphia," said Johann Calhoun, PABJ president. "As long as you were positive and possessed a drive to help others to make the community better, you had E's support.

"If there's anything we can learn from knowing E, it's that humility, kindness and being a friend to all will take you a long way in life."

"To me he was a big teddy bear with an even bigger heart, who loved to help and improve the lives of others," said Sarah Glover, past president of PABJ and a former Daily News photographer. "Philly's airwaves will never be the same."

In May, E lost his mother, Edith Marie Collins, who died at 92. "She was an incredible mother," he said at the time. He credited her emphasis on speaking good English and diction for preparing him for his radio career.

Her husband, Ernest J. Collins, a carpenter, died in January 1982.

E's brother, Michael, a police narcotics cop, said his brother "tried his best to emulate the hero of our family, our father.

"He always stressed the importance of the family. I was at the [radio] station when Bill Gray announced his retirement and I was amazed at how good he was at what he did. I kept thinking, 'How does this guy do this?' He loved it."

E helped to plan the annual Philly's Men Are Cookin', a cooking event sponsored by the Ivy Legacy Foundation. E's specialty was Kahlua turkey, said Shariah Dixon-Turner, the foundation's vice president of finance.

"E did a lot of things behind the scenes that a lot of people may not be aware of, but he never sought the limelight," she said. "He simply did all that he did because he cared."

E grew up in West Philadelphia, in the same neighborhood that produced Fattah, as well as the late Ed Bradley, who went from local radio to CBS' "60 Minutes."

E graduated from West Catholic High School for Boys, which had a radio station and a newspaper, both of which E worked on.

At Temple University, he studied journalism and worked for the university's radio station, WRTI-FM.

He then went with WHAT-AM, and later WDAS, where he was both a newsman and disc jockey, and the rest is radio history.

E also coordinated the annual Greek picnic of African-American fraternity and sorority members from all over the country in Fairmount Park.

He was an organizer of Unity Week in Fairmount Park and Unity Day on the Parkway.

He traveled to Africa, had his photo taken with President Obama in Philadelphia during his first election campaign, and met President Ronald Reagan when E was part of a delegation of Concerned Black Men of Philadelphia, which Reagan honored in a White House ceremony in 1985.

E was married to Lisa Duhart-Collins, a Philadelphia public-relations executive. Besides his wife and brother, he is survived by two sons, Rashid and Langston, and three sisters, Judy Cherry, Janet Ridley and Cheryl Jackson.

Services: Were being arranged.

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