Disc jockey, rock historian and author Pete Fornatale, a New York radio icon for more than 40 years, died April 26, his family announced.
The Bronx native got his start in radio in 1964 as a Fordham University undergraduate, hosting a program on WFUV called “Campus Caravan.” At a time when rock on the radio was confined to Top 40 AM stations, Fornatale spun records by lesser-known artists and played deeper album cuts than the current hit singles.
In 1969, the summer of Woodstock, Fornatale began work at WNEW(FM) in New York, eventually launching his Sunday morning program, “Mixed Bag,”in December 1982.
Over the years he conducted insightful, in-depth interviews with hundreds of performers, including Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Carly Simon, Dion and James Taylor. He also helped launch the careers of many singer-songwriters, including Suzanne Vega and John Gorka. Grammy winner Shawn Colvin told The New York Times in 2001, “Pete helped pave the way for so many of us. He was a rare guy in radio then.”
One of his frequent guests, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, recounted, “When we would talk together, the nature of our discussions would be very personal, very deep and very revealing. They were the kind of in-depth discussions you rarely hear in the media.”
In 1991, Fornatale moved the program to WXRK(FM), where it was renamed “The Sunday Show.” In 1997 he returned to WNEW when it launched a format of “Classic Rock with Classic Jocks.” He came full circle to WFUV in 2001 as the host of “Mixed Bag” on Saturdays from 4–8 p.m. The latter-day “Mixed Bag” typically focused on a single theme each week, with Fornatale drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of music for songs to illustrate that week’s theme and engaging his listeners in the process through the program’s online bulletin board.
That knowledge and passion for music was also reflected in his career as an author. He wrote or co-wrote six books all touching on music. At the time of his death, he was working on a book on the Rolling Stones.
He is survived by his three sons: Peter, a book editor (who worked with his father on several books); Mark, a wine importer and Steven, a New York City police officer. Donations in his name may be made to Why Hunger.
To honor Fornatale’s memory, WFUV(FM) at Fordham will offer an on-air celebration of his life and career on May 5, from 4–8 p.m. More information can be found at the WFUV website.