Great cause can make great radio: 12-Step Meeting On-The-Air “Steppin’ Out”

There’s nothing yet like it in Australia. Maybe there should be. Everyone knows somebody who has struggled with an addiction of some kind  “These personal stories of substance abuse and recovery are riveting – ‘Steppin’ Out’  transforms and saves lives,” says “Steppin’ Out: The-12 Step Radio Show, Stories of Addiction and Recovery,” executive producer Denise McIntee.

“It’s one of those rare shows that performs a vital public service and is entertaining radio. It’s never boring.” McIntee says, “These true, emotionally charged stories of addiction and recovery are universally relatable and deeply moving. Each week there’s tremendous audience response from listeners who simply find it interesting, funny or enlightening, along with those who are fighting their own personal battles with addiction and have actually been helped by hearing the show.” McIntee spoke with radioinfo contributor, Valerie Geller. 

“Steppin’ Out” is professionally produced, compelling, often humorous, and always riveting. It responsibly and constructively illustrates one of America’s most serious and pervasive issues. McIntee adds, “There are also many sponsorship opportunities for ‘Steppin’ Out,’ and it can be a great cause-marketing opportunity for advertisers.”

Every now and then, if you write a column or sit behind a microphone, you get the opportunity to help. By way of full disclosure, I’ve been involved as a consultant with “Steppin’ Out” from the day Denise McIntee, President of Powerful Radio Productions, Inc. and “Beyond Powerful Radio” contributor came up with the idea, when we worked together at WABC in New York. Her point: “These stories are so powerful they could  bring in and could hold an audience.” She believed that radio was the perfect medium for the “meeting on the air,” as people could retain their anonymity in keeping with the philosophy of AA and the other 12-step fellowships.

It Worked!

“Steppin’ Out: The 12-Step Radio Show” first aired in 1999 on then-WEVD in New York (at the time a mostly brokered station with negligible ratings). Within a year, the station had an astounding 3.4 rating at midnight on Saturday nights, all due to word-of-mouth as AA members passed the word around New York about the meeting on-the-air. 

13 Years Later…

A lot has happened since those early years. Hollywood and media, fueled by high profile examples like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, discovered the subject and produced a slate of reality intervention TV shows. There’s more awareness of 12-step programs today. But the show has evolved. McIntee explains, “In the early days on WEVD, ‘Steppin’ Out’ was often pre-empted by sports. Yet, the show still got ratings. After the tragedy of September 11th, I wanted to bring these stories to the nation. We, as a country, needed inspiration to offer hope and healing. Everyone in the nation was confused and in tremendous pain. The show has broadened. It’s grown from the basic 12-step meeting format to featuring additional stories of inspiration – not only from those grappling with substance abuse, but also from those who have overcome issues of all kinds, and have healed in many different ways.” McIntee adds, “This is an almost perfect radio show, because it’s based on powerful stories.”

Public Service With A Difference

One out of every 10 people struggles with an addiction to alcohol.  McIntee (left) adds, “One out of three of us is obese and grappling with food issues. And the numbers don’t include those addicted to prescription medication, gambling, debt, etc.. They also don’t include the friends and families of those who are struggling with these problems. They, too, tell their riveting stories in meetings. This is a social issue that affects everyone. Depression is a huge problem along with substance abuse, resulting in drunk driving, public safety, child abuse, domestic violence and all of the associated related health, family and economic issues. All of these fall into community public service categories.” McIntee’s company sends each affiliate a comprehensive Quarterly Issues Report that can be included in the list for their public file.

Clear Channel’s (KFBK Sacramento, KNEW San Francisco) Alan Eisenson was the first PD to take the show. He says, “‘Steppin’ Out’ is true ‘reality radio.’ Finally, there’s  a compelling public affairs show. ‘Steppin’ Out’ covers local community issues and grows audience. I’ve put it on in four markets and it’s never failed to increase ratings.”

Today, “Steppin’ Out,” syndicated through Powerful Radio Productions, Inc., is heard on 25 stations, on the American Forces Radio Network in over 180 countries and on all the naval ships, three days a week, and by thousands more via the websites:  and 

How does it work? 

McIntee explains, “Each week we gather in the studio and record real people sharing their stories of what it was like to find their way back after going over the edge. Everyone is dealing with something in their lives.  No one escapes. People tell their true stories, how the problem started, how it progressed, what took them to take action, and what their life is like now. ’Steppin’ Out’ features different people, from all walks of life, who share with the audience their experience, strength and hope. We have had every kind of speaker imaginable:  from rock stars to superstars, and doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs–and everyone in between. Young and old; black and white; male and female, rich and poor, etc. There’s a lot of humor, and the stories are compelling and unique.”

Is it just for talk radio? 

McIntee continues, “It’s a talk show, but ‘Steppin’ Out’ fits all formats. ’Steppin’ Out’ currently airs on sports stations, talk stations, and music stations as a public service show. We also tailor the show to target stories for specific formats, so if it’s on a sports talk station,, we use stories from Darryl Strawberry, Josh Hamilton, and lots of male speakers; if we are on a rock station, we’ll air stories from Greg Allman, Steve Tyler, etc.” 

Where did the idea for the show come from?

McIntee says, “When I was working as operations manager at WABC in New York, I was completely immersed in talk radio. While taking psychology courses in grad school, I had attended some 12-step meetings as part of my course work, and became completely fascinated. The stories I heard in the meeting rooms were captivating, compelling, and real. Something magical happened. Since great talk radio is based on powerful storytelling, and 12-step meetings have the best storytellers in the world, it was logical to bring it to radio, and that’s how the idea for ‘Steppin’ Out: The 12-Step Meeting On-The-Air’ was born. Storytellers are those overcoming adversities in life, and we hear from their friends and families as well.”

“I Got My Life Back”

While “Steppin’ Out” helps fulfill public service requirements for stations, it’s so much more. McIntee recalls a listener e-mail from a man who wrote: “I don’t think I would be alive today if it weren’t for ‘Steppin’ Out.’ I was never the kind of guy who would go to a meeting – that was for other people. But when I heard the stories on-the-air, it was like they were talking about MY LIFE. It gave me hope. I got help the next day. I’ve been clean and sober for 16 months. I got my life back. Thank you, ‘Steppin’ Out.’”

For more info on “Steppin’ Out” you can reach  Denise McIntee at [email protected]

About the Author of Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age

Valerie Geller, president of Geller Media International Broadcast Consultants, works to help communicators become more powerful in 30 countries, including Australia, for news, talk, information and personality. Through consulting and individual coaching for news and talk talent, Geller finds and develops personalities, leads “Creating Powerful Radio” and “Communicate Powerfully” workshops and seminars for radio and TV broadcasters, internet radio and podcasters. Geller is the recipient of the Conclave’s 2010 Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award and is the author of four books about radio including her latest from Elsevier’s Focal Press Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age. To contact Valerie Geller for a one-on-one coaching or consulting, appointment, or for information on the “Powerful Radio” seminars and workshops, call +1 212 580-3385

Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on and has been republished with permission.