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April 26, 2012 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Legendary New York City radio DJ Pete Fornatale has died.

Starting as a college student at Fordham University's college radio station WFUV in the mid 1960s, Pete helped pioneer the transition from AM top-40 to FM rock & roll radio, most notably at WNEW (scroll down the Wikipedia page for its history). He returned to WFUV in 2001 (here's their tribute on their blog, where you can post comments). He was also an accomplished author; you can see a list of his books here, and you can listen to him talk about his book Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. He passed away today at age 66.
posted by flyingsquirrel (40 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuck. I grew up with 102.7. Pete, along with Scott Muni, Dave Herman and the rest (and Cousin Brucie) were an enormous part of my musical education.

RIP.
posted by jonmc at 2:04 PM on April 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


jonmc -- Me too. Dennis Elsas is the one who broke the news -- he's at WFUV now as well (90.7), and that's where I heard about it. No one had a voice like Pete's, no one.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 2:06 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]



posted by Smart Dalek at 2:08 PM on April 26, 2012


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posted by the1inBK at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2012


Damn. Same as jonmc. A major part of my formative years. A background voice to my musical upbringing. Wow.

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posted by Splunge at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2012


Not familiar with him, but in the age of generic, watered down corporate radio, watching the local personalities and flavor fade from the dial has been painful to watch over the last 10-15 years.

So here's a big "." going out to all my favorite Martians at midnight...you know who you are. Here's Credence with Fortunate Son. (hits the post)
posted by jquinby at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by mikelieman at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2012


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posted by infomaniac at 2:44 PM on April 26, 2012


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What jonmc and flyingsquirrel said. A radio personality from when radio had personality.
posted by oneironaut at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm in that age group as well... but I hated all DJs for talking over the songs I was trying tape off the air onto a C60.

(just kidding - back then radio DJs could actually be a source of good musical info)

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posted by bashos_frog at 2:47 PM on April 26, 2012


jonmc, flyingsquirrel, Splunge, oneironaut...same here.

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posted by bakerina at 3:24 PM on April 26, 2012


I think it's difficult to explain to younger people just how important radio DJs were back in the day. Not only was there an art to the song selection and patter but you have to remember, today you hear about an artist and you can just go download something. Don't get me wrong, that's great. But back then getting music based on an article or word of mouth meant risking $8-10 sight unseen, no small amount in a kids or teenagers world.
posted by jonmc at 3:30 PM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Listening to Allison Steele late at night on the radio was like listening to a close friend play songs just for me. The same with Pete Fornatale during the day, but then it was like, one more friend on the beach. Especially when all the radios on the beach were tuned to WNEW. The echo was amazing. On Brighton Beach you could walk from the water to the street to McDonalds and back and never miss a song or a word. Now that I think about it, it was really amazing.
posted by Splunge at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


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posted by thinkpiece at 3:54 PM on April 26, 2012


No one had a voice like Pete's, no one.

Haven't heard his voice in probably 30 years, but I'm hearing it in my head right now.

But back then getting music based on an article or word of mouth meant risking $8-10 sight unseen, no small amount in a kids or teenagers world.

Yes indeed. Like a treasure hunt, it was...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:11 PM on April 26, 2012


I remember on the soccer bus, the older kids all had Walkmans (bright yellow snap closing sports model, natch), and would shout to each other the dial number of one of the NYC stations that was playing a cool song. 17 years ago, another era. We all miss radio, even if we don't know it.
posted by oneironaut at 4:14 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of the soundtrack of my life, that voice. Another icon of an era passes. RIP. I feel ya'll, jonmc, flyingsquirrel and you other oldsters.

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posted by dbiedny at 4:38 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by fatbaq at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2012


Scott Muni, Alison Steele, Pete Fornatale, hell, WNEW itself... all gone.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't Vin Scelsa still around (no pun intended)?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2012


not only was there an art to the song selection and patter

Yes, that's it exactly! It's why I still insist on listening to the radio when driving to work. I want DJs I trust to select songs for me, surprise me, expose me to new sounds, talk about what's going on in music and the world.

shout to each other the dial number of one of the NYC stations that was playing a cool song

My friends and I would listen to the radio in the morning, and write down all the songs we heard, and then compare notes when we got to school.

when all the radios on the beach were tuned to WNEW... echo

Wow, that takes me back. I'll never forget when I first learned about this thing called "FM radio," from another kid on the third day of 7th grade (this was circa 1982). After that, I noticed that at every party, every beach, every Springsteen concert tailgate party I went to, WNEW was the soundtrack, from grade school right up til I left for college -- where I was a radio DJ (Binghamton's WHRW).

But when I came home from college, WNEW was gone, taken over by talk or sports or some such crap. That was the end of an era, for years... and then I found WFUV (local, nonprofit, independent, streamable radio), and it was perfect... except for the missing vinyl. God, how I miss the sound and feel and smell and weight of vinyl.

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posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:25 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't Vin Scelsa still around?

Yes, his Idiot's Delight has found a home at WFUV too. :-)
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:28 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Live long and prosper, Vin!
posted by Splunge at 5:47 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I sometimes get Vin Scelsa and Vin Scully confused. That'd make for an interesting hybrid.
posted by jonmc at 5:55 PM on April 26, 2012


Part of my musical history, too. Damn.

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(Insert rant about "Clear Channel and the Death of Good Radio" here)
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:02 PM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Miss him
posted by caddis at 6:40 PM on April 26, 2012


Those who recall the night of December 8, 1980 (when John was shot) know just how important Pete was to all of us who were enamored of him in the NYC are back in the Day. He got many of us through that horrible, awful night and he did it with sincerity, warmth and a great deal of making you feel you had a friend with you. He is greatly missed.


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posted by Seekerofsplendor at 7:26 PM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Jeez, I remember that, Seekerofsplendor. We were listening to him as a bunch of us piled into my Pinto at Rutgers, and drove into the city, directly to the Dakota, where we spent the next who know how many hours.
posted by dbiedny at 7:33 PM on April 26, 2012


When I was a mere lad I listened to the AM jocks... Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram (went to school with his son Dave) and Don Imus (quack, quack). As I grew older, I started to listen to the FM Jocks. Pete Fornatale and Vin Scelsa were my heroes then... WNEW was, at that time, the pinnacle of FM radio.

Man, looking back on that I realize now how lucky I was to have listened to that lineup... makes me feel old!
posted by lotusstp at 8:01 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Makes me feel lucky. And old. yeah, old too.

Seekerofsplendor- Yes indeed. What a night that was. And you're right about Pete. Scott Muny as well. Once again it was a closeness. A feeling of kinship that I have never felt before or since. It might sound cliched but these people were our friends. They cared about what we cared about. And though I never met any of them, I believe that the feeling of relationship was a real thing. Back then you could call in, while a record was playing and you'd go directly to the jock. No screeners. Have a quick chat. Request a song. And in a few minutes they'd say they just spoke to so-and-so and here's your tune. And for me that was like being a star. They are playing the song I asked for and they said my name. On the radio!
posted by Splunge at 8:12 PM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oooh nooooo!

Me too, me too. I grew up with him and all the other WNEW DJs. (I'm glad to know where Dennis Elsas is, as he was always a favorite). But Pete had a special place. His Saturday morning show in the 80s was one of few places on the radio of the day where you could hear alternative, smaller-time, rootsier and folkier artists. His annual holiday show with the Roches and other special guests was always terrific. He had this mellow voice and warm appreciation of music - and I liked the fact that while I was growing up tuning in to him for music tips I couldn't get elsewhere, my parents also remembered him as a leader in the early days of FM, breaking music the mainstream stations wouldn't play.

You made a difference, and you are missed already, Pete.

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posted by Miko at 8:26 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't Vin Scelsa still around?

Yes, his Idiot's Delight has found a home at WFUV too. :-)


I posted about him here a while ago when I found some stuff on the web.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on April 26, 2012


One time around 1986, I was driving through the city with my old man, and I asked if I could put my station on. He said sure, so I put on 102.7. After a while he said "That DJ sounds familiar, who is he?" "That's Scott Muni, Dad." "SCOTT MUNI?? You're kiddin' me? That guy was old when I was a kid!"
posted by jonmc at 8:29 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


BTW, a lot of the old WNEW jocks can currently be heard on Sirius/XM radio.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:42 PM on April 26, 2012


He was only 66.
posted by Miko at 8:59 PM on April 26, 2012


Damn. WNEW was a fixture of my teen years in Jersey. Sad that that commercial radio has fallen so far since then.
posted by octothorpe at 9:37 PM on April 26, 2012


Thanks for the memories in response, dbiedny and Splunge. True and truer.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 9:41 PM on April 26, 2012


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posted by From Bklyn at 12:18 AM on April 27, 2012


Just, damn.

Here is an amazing history of WNEW with video clips, audio clips (many of Pete, including one of his Christmas shows), newspaper scans.

So glad Pete and the others were able to find a home at WFUV in recent years.
posted by mikepop at 6:58 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by zaelic at 5:11 PM on April 27, 2012


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