Trying to get hold of actor, comedian and radio personality Steve Harvey isn’t easy. His day starts at 4 a.m. and seems to have no end.
“It’s been on and cracking ever since I got up,” Harvey said one day last week as he was leaving Atlanta, where he makes his home. Hurrying through the airport terminal, where he was greeted by fans, Harvey boarded a flight to Chicago, where he hosted a big parade and picnic Saturday. This weekend he’ll be hosting an award show in Las Vegas. He’s got a book on the bestseller list and is planning a comedy tour in October. He runs a charity foundation and has his own clothing line.
But wherever he goes, his radio show goes with him. Or plugs him in, at least. The nationally syndicated “The Steve Harvey Morning Show” is based at WBLS-FM in New York, but often Harvey’s voice is blended in with those of his sidekicks from an Atlanta studio or an affiliate in the city he’s visiting.
And today that voice returns to L.A. Ten weeks after being dropped by KDAY-FM (93.5), his 6-10 a.m. weekday program returns on KJLH-FM (102.3), the urban contemporary radio station owned by Stevie Wonder’s Taxi Productions.
“The two Stevies are making it happen,” he quipped.
Harvey and KJLH officials are hoping what happens is more akin to the experience he had in his first L.A. radio venture, not the one at KDAY.
“L.A. has a dear place in my heart,” Harvey said. “I wouldn’t have a nationally syndicated show if it had not been so successful locally in L.A. It was a huge monster of a show in L.A. that is now a huge syndicated show.”
Harvey, 53, began his career as a stand-up comedian in the mid-1980s, which led him to star in two well-received TV sitcoms, including “The Steve Harvey Show,” which ran on the WB from 1996 to 2002. He then stepped into the world of film, where he acted in “Johnson Family Vacation” in 2004 and lent his voice to “Racing Stripes” in 2005. He also was featured on a comedy tour with Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac and D.L. Hughley, which turned into the 2000 Spike Lee-directed film “The Original Kings of Comedy.”
He started in radio in 2000 and for five years hosted the morning show on what was then KKBT-FM (100.3). For a while he helmed the most popular English-language show in the Los Angeles- Orange County market.
Harvey resurfaced with his syndicated show in 2006 on KDAY, but he never rekindled the fire. In his last month on the station, in May, the show ranked 35th, attracting on average just 0.9% of the L.A.Orange County audience, according to figures from Arbitron.
Part of the problem, Harvey believes, is that his R&B; music format was incompatible with the station’s hip-hop platform. “It’s frustrating when decisions are out of your hands,” he said.
KJLH’s ratings are generally lower than KDAY’s, but Harvey isn’t worried that his KDAY history will repeat itself, and neither is KJLH Executive Vice President Vinny Brown.
“You can have the right product on the wrong station,” Brown said. “But we feel that this is a right fit, and he feels confident about it.”
How men think
Out of the success of Harvey’s syndicated radio program came another: becoming a bestselling author. His first book, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” has been on the New York Times’ bestseller list for 27 weeks since its release in January, and he may write a sequel.
His inspiration came from his show’s “Strawberry Letter” segment, in which Harvey and co-host Shirley Strawberry answer mostly female listeners’ relationship questions.
“I was joking about some of them,” Harvey recalled, “but as I looked at them, I found that they weren’t really funny at all. There’s a lot of women who are hurting and want some answers because they do not understand how we [men] tick and operate.”
Wanting to empower women, Harvey took what he learned from his male friends and female listeners and decided to write an advice book that had a comedic spin, is a bit twisted, but is always brutally honest, he said.
“I’m not your guy, but I’m going to tell you the truth about your guy,” he said. “You may not like the things I say to you, but that doesn’t make them not true.”
And with chapters titled “First things first: He wants to sleep with you” and “The 90 day rule,” Harvey’s book, co-written with relationship expert Denene Millner, has captivated a female audience wanting to understand the male psyche and set realistic expectations.
“I had no idea that it would go this big. I’m glad it did, but I was clueless,” he said.
Its popularity isn’t surprising, though, said Reginald Hudlin, director (“House Party,” “Boomerang”), comic book writer (Black Panther) and former president of entertainment for Black Entertainment Television.
“I think Steve Harvey is an underrated entertainer, and he’s had an extraordinary track record with the success of the ‘Kings of Comedy,’ two different television series, a radio show and now with this book,” he said.
“Steve talks about things from a grown man’s point of view. That crosses class. It crosses races. And he’s really funny,” Hudlin said. “A combination of those two things is extraordinarily appealing.”
Sense of service
Harvey’s relationship with his fans has also grown with the national Hoodie Awards, taking place Saturday in Las Vegas. Launched seven years ago, they honor business and community leaders and include such categories as best church, best soul food place and best beauty salon.
“It’s an award show that’s once again done with the element of empowering people and giving the everyday common businessman a round of applause,” Harvey said. “It’s something that gives the community a sense of pride.”
His Steve Harvey Foundation provides funding support to public schools in urban areas. It also sponsors an annual Father’s Day Mentoring Weekend, during which Harvey holds life-skills workshops for 100 boys from single-mother households.
“I’ve had a great run. My career has been absolutely wonderful,” Harvey said. “But I think at the end of the day, I kind of really want to be remembered as a person that mattered. That’ll probably mean more to me than anything.”