Pete Fornatale, 66, died on Thursday after suffering a brain hemorrhage earlier this month. He was one of those DJs who came along at a time when the popular culture was throbbing with change and the music both drove it and reflected it back.
Fornatale was kind of the gee-whiz kid at WNEW-FM. His voice had none of the gravelly gravitas of Scott Muni or the cool, martini-kick of Jonathan Schwartz. He was the friend who dashed into your house, dropped the needle on the record and said, “You HAVE to hear this!”
That was the beauty of what came to be called free-form radio. There was so much great music being created in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, so many directions to pull from and push toward and Pete Fornatale knew what we wanted to hear.
He was a Bronx boy who graduated from Fordham University and started his radio career at Fordham’s non-commercial station, WFUV. After his tenure at WNEW-FM, he went to Classic Rocker WXRK and then, coming full circle, hosted “Mixed Bag Radio” back at WFUV for the past 11 years. “Mixed Bag Radio” was also heard on satellite radio’s Sirius/XM.
He was a prolific author, writing books about the music he loved, including Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends and Back to The Garden, in which he interviewed Woodstock-goers about their take on that iconic event.
It’s unlikely that any local radio person who grew up here and came of age listening to WNEW-FM wasn’t in some way influenced by Fornatale’s friendly voice and keen knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll – inspiring so many of us to say “I want to do THAT for a living.”
Pete Fornatale is survived by his former wife and their three sons. Details for his funeral will be posted on his Web site.