April 27, 2012

Pete Fornatale "was at the forefront of the FM revolution, along with WNEW-FM colleagues..."

"... like Scott Muni, Rosko, Vin Scelsa, Dennis Elsas, Jonathan Schwartz and Alison Steele (who called herself “the Nightbird”). They played long versions of songs, and sometimes entire albums, and talked to their audiences in a conversational tone very different from the hard-sell approach of their AM counterparts."

That meant so much. Maybe you had to be there back then to understand how this mattered, but I'm sad to say goodbye to Pete Fornatale, who died of a stroke yesterday, at the age of 66.
As a sophomore at Fordham University in 1964, he persuaded the school’s Jesuit leaders to let him do a free-form rock show on what was officially an educational station....

Mr. Fornatale came on board in 1969 and quickly moved to the center of New York’s music scene. He gave early exposure to country-rock bands like Buffalo Springfield and Poco. He did one of the first American interviews with Elton John, and got a rousing ovation when he brought a rented surfboard to Carnegie Hall for a Beach Boys show. He introduced Curtis Mayfield to Bob Dylan at a Muhammad Ali fight....

One of Mr. Fornatale’s signatures was playing songs that followed a theme. It might be colors, with a playlist including the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” Or it might be great inventions, as when he celebrated the 214th anniversary of the United States Patent Office. Or the theme might simply be radio....
Radio.

28 comments:

EDH said...

Pre-SNL Bill Murray and Christopher Guest from National Lampoon Radio Hour.

Mel Brewer's Insomnia Time

Early FM underground radio satire.

SteveR said...

I'm not thinking it will ever be that way again but I'm glad to have lived in that era of FM radio.

Quayle said...

I understand. It was the only station we listened to, so I never really knew any other format.

Then when we would visit my relatives out west, my cousins didn't know most of the bands I liked.

(There wasn't yet an MTV to inject the same music simultaneously into the cities and the heartland.)

Also, when in New York, the bands would stop by the WNEW studios and visit for an hour or two on air with the DJs.

An era gone.

chickenlittle said...

I used to love listening to Radio Free Madison, WIBA-FM as a kid. I wish I could find one of those colored flyers they used to distribute with their "featured artist" and the cool artwork.

Dopey said...

Ah, the era of the sound-like-I'm-stoned FM DJ. Only came to the middle South in the very late sixties. For some reason I always associate that tone of voice with "Inna Gadda Da Vida" and drum solos. Had a DJ friend who maintained that Iron Butterfly's one-and-only was a sure sign that the DJ was either lighting up or on an extended bathroom break.

Richard Dolan said...

I have fond memories of listing to Jonathan Schwartz going on about Frank Sinatra and other stars of American pop music. He's still on the air in NYC, but I haven't tuned in much in recent years. It's odd that the internet has displaced the radio but (except when driving) it really has, at least for me.

Amartel said...

No static at all.

Quayle said...

It's odd that the internet has displaced the radio but (except when driving) it really has, at least for me.

That's coming soon, no doubt.

Quayle said...

The internet radio while driving, I mean.

Chris said...

No static at all.

All we hear is radio ga ga.

William said...

Back then, people thought that there was some kind of profound difference between Cousin Brucie and Pete Fornatelle. You are what you eat. If you listened to WNEW rather than WABC, it was almost like you had converted to a different, reformed church that offered a greater chance of salvation......Dick Clark, Pete Fornatelle. Cousin Brucie will have a troubled sleep tonight.

Rich B said...

I came from high school in Philly to Fordham in 1968. I thought NY FM radio was inferior to that in Philly. Like many others in NY, these DJs thought they were the center of the universe.

BTW, with an iPod (Phone or Pad) and a wireless modem, you got your internet radio in the car.

Ann Althouse said...

"I have fond memories of listing to Jonathan Schwartz going on about Frank Sinatra and other stars of American pop music. He's still on the air in NYC, but I haven't tuned in much in recent years. It's odd that the internet has displaced the radio but (except when driving) it really has, at least for me."

He's on satellite radio a lot. On the Sinatra channel, I think.

Cousin Brucie is on satellite too. 60s on 6... which I think is the most popular satellite channel.

wild chicken said...

FM was cool before underground radio. They played jazz and classical and stuff, and the announcers were very cool. I liked my underground KPPC in Pasadena, but it was the beginning of the end of music.

Mutaman said...

Pete was a good guy and a great DJ. His story about introducing Dylan to Curtis Mayfield is a classic. I know a lot of folks who back in the 70s woke up listening to WNEW and fell asleep listening to WNEW.

RIP

Ethan said...

AM is for kids.
FM is for adolescents.

joated said...

Grew up in Northern New Jersey and listened to a lot of WNEW-FM. I enjoyed all the DJs and found them far more friendly than some of the AM jocks. (Cousin Brucie and Dan Daniels being the exceptions.)

RIP Pete.

Michael Haz said...

About the only music radio station I can stand anymore is Chicago's WXRT, which I stream whenever I'm near a computer.

Oh, and the extraordinary Friday Night Blues Show from little WXPR in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Possibly the best six hours of radio in America, every week. It's available for online streaming.

cassandra lite said...

I don't know how, in 1969, you could give "early exposure" to Buffalo Springfield, given that they'd had a top ten hit in 1966 and were already broken up by '69.

Jack Bogdanski said...

Remembering Pete here.

Jonathan Schwartz's current Saturday show can be heard, free, at wnyc.org, or on WNYC-FM on iTunes. Noon to 4 p.m. New York time.

Elliott A said...

I used to talk to Dennis Elsas on the phone in the middle of the night at my night job in the Nuclear Physics lab at Rutgers in the early 70s. One night he excused himself to visit the head, put on "The Four of Us" (23 minutes) and proceded to lock himself out of the studio. He always told me that if i didn't call him he might not stay awake. The beauty of the radio then was the variety they could play, and the control they had over what they played. Fornatale had a marvelous voice and put together some great sets.
When the station first came on the air, they had only one sponsor and they read the same 30 second commercial every hour on the hour. Otherwise, just music. It's never been the same

Lava said...

I was at NYU in the late 70s and 'NEW-FM was the only station I listened to...what a range of artists, early Springsteen concerts broadcast live, Sinatra on Sunday morning...a musical education on one dial..

Lava said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Lynch said...

You can do internet radio while driving via your smart phone.

I have XM, because I drive all day and the bandwidth would be too much.

cokaygne said...

Hey Lava,
I went to NYU in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before that I went to Columbia. Absolutely loved WNEW and its DJs. Please, Dopey, don't assume that the WNEW staff were "sound-like-i'm-stoned" DJs. They cared about the music that went beyond top-40. They discussed it not to hype it.

Of course this is about Pete Fornatale, but Jonathan Schwartz proved the point with his Sinatra shows. At that time, "hip" people were down on Frank, partly because his daughter got so much air time and had so little talent, and partly because his demographic was part of Nixon's silent majority. It was about the music.

In a round-about way, WNEW connected me to WFUV (Can anyone imagine today's Jesuits encouraging a student to explore the music that Pete did?). One of the WNEW DJs, cannot remember who, started playing the Chieftains. I, an Irish-American who grew up in a family that loved a more sentimental style of Irish music and frequented Hibernian Hall in Malcolm X's old neighborhood at the heart of Boston's African-American community, thought Irish music was past its prime. The Chieftains taught me otherwise, and I soon discovered Celtic music programming on WFUV.

Those were the days my friend.

dandean said...

(geezer alert)

Losing Pete hurts.

Kids today will never know the beauty of free-form FM radio. There may be pockets scattered around the dial somewhere, but the art form is gone - buried under mp3's and iPods and most internet-related technology.

I can't tel you how much WNEW-FM meant to me while growing up in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Scott Muni, Dave Herman, Richard Neer (chck out his book 'FM'), Dennis Elsas, Pete Fornatele, Allison Steele, Jonathan Schwartz all opened my ears and influenced my world in so many ways.

Is there a similar place somewhere on the internet that attempts to recreate the freeform FM style? I'd love to go back to the garden, so to speak, if only for a little while.

BTW: I hear a couple of other WNEW-FM expats on Sirius XM a lot. Dan Neer and Earl Bailey came along later, but were still a big part of the experience.

Rick Lee said...

"internet has displaced the radio but (except when driving) it really has"
I spend a lot of time in the car. I haven't listened to the radio in years. Podcasts are infinitely better than talk radio and my selection of 4000 songs is infinitely better than terrestrial and satellite radio.

Hank Rearden_WI said...

WNEW 102.7 Where Rock Lives.

As Pete Fornatale was one of my least favorite hosts on NEW I was going to leave this topic alone. Then I read dandean's 4/28 comment.

To dan I offer 4 totems: Jacks Music; Windmill Hotdogs; bennys; GSP Exit 105, and 1 question:
Do you remember the song and artist for WNEW's 1 millionth song?

WNEW was HUGE in it's day. Name a band at the time and if they were in town playing MSG, the Pier, of Jones Beach that day, they'd stop in the studio, generally during Scott Muni's afternoon show. I recall half of Tull doing an impromptu set, the Stones reminiscing tours, Pete and Roger talking about new material and the late Keith, and the Davies brothers were easy to count on for a visit as soon as the latest Kinks tour dates were released.

I don't mean to infer that the British Invasion was the entire playlist. Aside from the major national acts of the time, local groups got plenty of playtime, such as, Bruce, Southside Johnny, Gary US Bonds, da Ramones, and BOC.

Early on with Muni you could judge the tone of that days show by the first song he played that day. The day he opened with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was impressive. The John Lennon murder was life changing for Muni. After that, each show was opened with a Lennon song.

Dave Herman had the Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue segment immediately after the noon news. Each day's playlist was drawn from an never ending flow of listener contributions.

Not only did NEW sponsor many concerts, more than a few were broadcast live, night and day. ZZ TOP at Passaic's Capitol Theater at the time of their Deguelo release was monstrous. I still keep my original recording, unedited, with the couple of station call letter pronouncements, and the DJ banter during the audience cheers for an encore.

Not all live shows went so smoothly. When Leslie West revived Mountain WNEW sponsored a 75 minute noontime concert, broadcast live. Someone forgot to add in the 15 second delay. There was no way to catch the F-bombs Leslie would toss off every couple of songs. Leslie was a rarity after that show.

Someone earlier on in the blog mentioned Philly radio. WMMR was a good station back during the time of NEW, and Chicago's XRT had it's moments and help me get over missing NEW. Those days of radio, like Pete, are gone. But the memories will last forever.