Obit of the Day: A “Mixed Bag”
Growing up in New Jersey, my father was an avid WNEW listener. The station “Where Rock Lives” not only featured the greatest music in rock and roll history but some of the greatest on-air talent to match: Scott Muni (who hosted OOTD’s favorite show, “Ticket to Ride,” which featured only Beatles songs), Jonathan Schwartz, Alison Steele, and Pete Fornatale. Mr. Fornatale who had been a DJ in New York for 45 years, died at the age of 66.
WNEW, and Fornatale along with it, pioneered the “progressive rock” format, which gave DJs a latitude to play what they wanted, when they wanted. It was a distinct style change from the disc jockeys of the 1950s, like “Cousin Bruce” and “Wolfman” Jack, and their high-energy intros and established playlists. Fornatale and his colleagues would talk to listeners, provide background stories not only on the artists, but on the songwriters, producers, and musicians. They could play a top ten hit, a “deep track,” or even an entire album.
Fornatale began his broadcasting career at Fordham University, where, as a sophomore, he convinced the administration to allow him to start a progressive rock show on the college station. In 1969 he joined WNEW. His best-known show was “Mixed Bag,” which he developed in 1982, featured music and interviews with singer-songwriters. He would take his show with him to WXRT, after WNEW changed to a more conventional music format, and then eventually back to WFUV at Fordham.
Fornatale, who also wrote or co-wrote five books (his last was Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock in 2009) was awarded the Armstrong Excellence in Broadcasting Award in 1983 and AFTRA’s Media and Entertainment Excellence Award in February 2012. He suffered a stroke on April 15, 2012 and died on April 26.
(The album Time It Was (The Simon & Garfunkel Songbook) - 2009 ItsAboutMusic.com - features Fornatale introducing almost every song. Aztec Two-Step recorded the album before a live audience, through Fornatale’s “Mixed Bag Radio” from Fordham. Fornatale had an encyclopedic knowledge of Simon & Garfunkel, having written a book, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (Rock of Ages) 2007, documenting the duo’s career.)