CCI Alum and WUOT’s Todd Steed Inducted into East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame
Todd Steed (’84 ) traveled the world for his various intersecting careers of journalism, music, and teaching, but he and his songs inevitably end up back home in East Tennessee. His 2000 album, Knoxville Tells, is all about the city where he grew up and earned an education both academically and in life. For this work and more, Steed was recently inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame.
“Songwriting has always been a kind of therapy for me, a way to process all the stuff that keeps flying into your brain; it’s a joy to write, regardless of the quality,” he said.
Though making music has morphed into a hobby these days, the interim WUOT station manager, host, and producer once played a few shows with the likes of REM in his college days. The Knoxville native was making enough money with his band, Smokin’ Dave, to pay for his tuition, board, and food. He juggled getting his degree in journalism with traveling and playing gigs, though eventually that lifestyle wore on him. —so once he graduated, he stayed in the music life.
“I had several friends from J-school who were working at newspapers and doing good work but I felt that this was a unique chance,” he said.
When he decided to make a career switch, he began asking all the pen pals he’d acquired throughout the years what he should do. That’s when a friend in Lithuania told him she had a job all lined up for him teaching at a music school in the town of Vilnius.
“I went to Lithuania and worked at the music school, and by chance I ran into an American woman from Atlanta who was working at the television station. Her name was Tina, and she needed someone to edit her newscast, which was the first English language newscast in the country,” Steed recounted.
So, for the first time since earning it, he began using his journalism degree—a fact Steed said thrilled his parents. Then the day came when Tina was too sick to be on air and Steed was the only fluent English speaker at the station so he was pushed into doing the newscast. He jokes that the Lithuanian grandmas must have called in and said they liked the young American man newscaster, and from that point forward, he did the newscast with Tina.
‘\”It was fun, but it was actually challenging,” he said, noting that he did have experience from his student days at UT in radio broadcasting, and of course had spent a lot of time performing in front of people. The newscast simply combined a set of skills Steed already had, and provided him with some new ones.
Eventually Steed decided he loved his teaching job so much that he wanted to earn a master’s degree in education, so he came back home to Knoxville and UT once again to earn one. After that, he began teaching at the English Language Institute on campus, then traveled to Indonesia to teach there for a year. Once again, he returned to UT and started working at the Center for International Education.
“UT is a great place to come back to and it’s always been home, you know? I worked there for 10 years, mostly in study abroad, and it was wonderful,” he said.
All the while, Steed continued writing songs and playing music, and also picked up doing a radio show at WUOT. It occurred to then WUOT director Regina Dean in 2010 that Steed would be a good fit for the station, and she was right—now he’s interim director and she’s working as a special advisor until her retirement this may.
Steed continues to write songs and his position at WUOT keeps him well positioned to stay involved in the regional music scene, and he enjoys serving his community in various other ways. He has even sat on the selection committee for the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame, and jokingly said if he had been on the 2023 committee, “I’m not sure I would have voted for me.”
In that same vein of humility, when asked about the honor, Steed turned the conversation towards the annual ceremony to honor the Hall of Fame inductees.
“They have a wonderful ceremony that benefits the Friends of Literacy, which is really the reason for it all, the core of the whole thing. Friends of Literacy started the Hall of Fame, it’s a wonderful organization and I’ve done some volunteer teaching for them, and that’s the best part—anybody who comes to the Hall of Fame induction is supporting this great cause.”