Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Steinberg, Martha Jean "The Queen"

A larger-than-life figure on the air and in the black community, Martha Jean Steinberg was a majestic and charismatic Detroit media icon who personified the power of radio to influence and inspire the public. Pioneering R&B disc jockey, civic activist, spiritual leader and trailblazing station owner, “the Queen” – a nickname bestowed during her early radio days in Memphis – fashioned a remarkable 46-year career and is a member of the Black Radio Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Born Martha Jean Jones in Memphis, she worked as a nurse to support her three children after divorcing jazz musician Luther Steinberg. She entered a contest to win an on-air job at legendary WDIA – a white-owned station believed to be the first to have an all-black staff playing black music – and earned a weekend shift on the male-dominated airwaves.

In 1963, she was brought to Detroit by the owners of WCHB-AM and became an overnight sensation. Three years later she was wooed to WJLB-FM, where her on-air persona broadened, focusing less on R&B and more on gospel and social commentary. During Detroit’s 1967 riots she remained on the air for 48 straight hours, imploring listeners to stay off the streets. That remarkable moment evolved into a regular call-in show with the city’s police commissioners called “Buzz the Fuzz.”

In 1972, Steinberg became an ordained minister and founded a church called the Home of Love. Her shows, tagged by her sign-off, “God loves you and I love you,” became even more spiritual in nature. In 1982, she and several partners bought a Detroit AM station, changed its format to gospel and talk, taking the call letters WQBH (which many say stood for “Queen Broadcasts Here”). She bought the station outright in 1997 and remained its star performer until her death three years later. So profound was her impact on the success of the station and the lives of her listeners that WQBH continued airing daily recordings of the Queen’s programs for years after her death.

 


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