The DEAD-box proteins CYT-19 in Neurospora crassa and Mss116p in Saccharomyces cerevisiae are general RNA chaperones that function in splicing mitochondrial group I and group II introns and in translational activation. Both proteins consist of a conserved ATP-dependent RNA helicase core region linked to N and C-terminal domains, the latter with a basic tail similar to many other DEAD-box proteins. In CYT-19, this basic tail was shown to contribute to non-specific RNA binding that helps tether the core helicase region to structured RNA substrates. Here, multiple sequence alignments and secondary structure predictions indicate that CYT-19 and Mss116p belong to distinct subgroups of DEAD-box proteins, whose C-terminal domains have a defining extended alpha-helical region preceding the basic tail. We find that mutations or C-terminal truncations in the predicted alpha-helical region of Mss116p strongly inhibit RNA-dependent ATPase activity, leading to loss of function in both translational activation and RNA splicing. These findings suggest that the alpha-helical region may stabilize and/or regulate the activity of the RNA helicase core. By contrast, a truncation that removes only the basic tail leaves high RNA-dependent ATPase activity and causes only a modest reduction in translation and RNA splicing efficiency in vivo and in vitro. Biochemical analysis shows that deletion of the basic tail leads to weaker non-specific binding of group I and group II intron RNAs, and surprisingly, also impairs RNA-unwinding at saturating protein concentrations and nucleotide-dependent tight binding of single-stranded RNAs by the RNA helicase core. Together, our results indicate that the two sub-regions of Mss116p's C-terminal domain act in different ways to support and modulate activities of the core helicase region, whose RNA-unwinding activity is critical for both the translation and RNA splicing functions.