Category Archives: History

Civil Rights Jazz P.S.

 The photo above was inscribed by Gene Klavan and Dee Finch “To the great dane, Chris ” Albertson who worked in promotion and as continuity director while with WNEW between 1961 and 1964. Albertson was born in Reykyavik, Iceland and attended schools there and in England and Denmark. It was while in Denmark in 1947, Albertson says, that he heard a recording on radio by Bessie Smith that changed his life, for it led to a life-long devotion to jazz and blues music.

In case you missed it, “Civil Rights Jazz” was posted here on March 12, 2012.

Publicity photo by James J. Kreigsman


WBW vis-a-vis RNR

William B. Williams is pictured above in a late 50’s  newspaper ad.  His opinions about rock ‘n’ roll  were evidently expressed in a more courtly manner during a TV appearance in 1963, according to listeners who wrote to him after the show.  Those listener comments were included in one of   WNEW’s  column-like promotional ads, What’sNEW, (see below) placed in New York’s major dailies in 1963 /64. This is the  5th edition we’ve reconstructed from original clips collected by Bill Diehl. 

Footnote: From the mid 1960’s to the early 80’s, WNEW tried to acknowledge top pop music  to no one’s satisfaction. The station’s return in the early 80’s to the style of programming that had long sustained it, was undone by a  succession of owners whose  starvation budgets and programming bludegons rendered the WNEW of times past unrecognizable and without immediate value except for one more sale.   E.B.WBW RNR

Bang! They’re Off!

“. . .news on  the hour and half-hour, Nat Asch Sports Reports . . .part of Klavan In the Morning  once upon a time.  An e-mail and a photo from Stuart Zuckerman appear below.

I was Promotion Manager of WNEW-AM for less than a year (June 1974-March 1975) but have fond memories of the great on-air talent I worked with, particularly Gene Klavan and Julius La Rosa.

 It was a stressful time in the station’s history. A new Program Manager had arrived from the Cleveland station where Don Imus was the morning man. The program manager, John Lund, had been brought in to make the music more contemporary, but not be rock’n’roll. (Think pop Top 40). The on-air talent was not happy. Imagine Willliam B. Williams being told to mix “Baby I’m-A Want You” by Bread in the same set as something by Sinatra.

 I’m most proud of an ad campaign I created for the morning drive program with the somewhat risqué headline. “Klavan gets you off in the morning”.  (The runners L-R: Sales reps. Ed Mohr, Dick Barry, Nick O’Neill, PD John Lund.) Hope this brings back some fond memories to some of the gang that was at Eleven-Three-Oh back then.

klavan gets you off

Pete Fornatale

 Update — Saturday, April. 28, 2012 — Bill Diehl (WNEW/ABC) spoke with Pete Fornatale a couple of years ago on ABC radio, after Fornatale released his ode to the Woodstock era entitled “Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock.”

 New York Times feature story by Douglas Martin, published: April 27, 2012, appears  below the following item.

 Pete Fornatale, pioneering NYC rock radio deejay and writer, dead at 66

Bronx native was one of first free-form deejays on early FM rock radio

By David Hinkley –  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Thursday, April 26, 2012, 4:07 PM

 Pete Fornatelle, a New York deejay, historian and writer who for almost 50 years championed the spirit of musical freedom on the radio airwaves, died Pete Fornatale Thursday at Beth Israel Medical Center. He was 66.

He suffered a brain hemorrhage on April 15 and been in intensive care for the last week.

A native of the Bronx and a graduate of Fordham, Fornatale started his deejay career Nov. 21, 1964, hosting “Campus Caravan” on Fordham’s WFUV.

He continued “Campus Caravan” until 1970, by which time he was also working at WNEW-FM as one of the pioneer free-form deejays on early FM rock radio.

“For the first time, we could play music on the radio the way we played it in our lives,” he said last year. “It wasn’t just the top 40 played over and over. You could play longer tracks, you could play older tracks, you could make the music fit together.

“It was magical.”

“My fondest memory of Pete,” said his long-time radio colleague Pat St. John, “was listening to him one Sunday morning when he was doing a show on different songs about life.

“A particular favorite of mine is a very little-known song by Rick Nelson simply called ‘Life.’ After about an hour, I called Pete and suggested this tune, and he told me he’d just cued it up and it’d be the next song he was going to play.

“It goes, ‘Life, what are we here for? / I want to know more.’”


Fornatale worked at WNEW-FM until 1989, when he moved to WXRK. He briefly moved back to WNEW-FM a few years later.

But as commercial radio moved further away from the free-form spirit, he and other free-form advocates became increasingly disenchanted.

In 2001, he returned to non-commercial WFUV, where he hosted a free-form show he had started in 1982 called “Mixed Bag.” He also hosted a weekly in-depth interview show, and he frequently tied both shows to historic or contemporary themes.

His last “Mixed Bag” show on April 14, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

“This is just the right amount of radio to be doing,” he said last year. “I have this show every week where I can say what I want, but I don’t have to be scrambling to fill four hours every day. That gets harder as you get older.”

He developed close relationships with artists like Paul Simon over the years and was also active in several charity organizations.

That included World Hunger Year, which was co-founded by his friend Harry Chapin in 1975 and is now run by cofounder Bill Ayres as WhyHunger.

Fornatale raised money and hosted WHY events for many years.

He also wrote a number of books on music, including a history of Woodstock and a biography of Simon and Garfunkel. He often hosted shows on WNET and was a consultant on music projects for MTV and VH1.

He said last year he was always fascinated by “the real stories of what happened with music and songs. So much gets mythologized, but to me the real story is almost always better.”

Pete Fornatale attends the AFTRA Foundation’s 2012 AFTRA Media and Entertainment Excellence Awards in February. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

He won the Armstrong Excellence in Broadcasting Award in 1983 and received AFTRA’s Media and Entertainment Excellence Award in February at the Plaza.

Fornatale was born and raised in the Belmont section of the Bronx, known as Little Italy.

He was just a few years behind Dion and the Belmonts, who were one of his favorite artists, and he recalled growing up to the sound of vocal harmony groups, as well as Elvis and early rockers.

The first record he bought, he said, was Elvis’s “Hound Dog.”

He graduated from Fordham Prep before he attended Fordham, and after he graduated he spent two years as a teacher before going into radio full-time.

“Pete was always teaching us,” said folksinger and friend Christine Lavin, “even when we thought we were just being entertained.”

Fornatale is survived by his ex-wife Susan and their three sons, Peter, Mark and Steven.

Click on link for New York Daily News

Pete Fornatale thumbnail photo and WNEW-FM promotion publication added by



Published: April 27, 2012

 Pete Fornatale, a disc jockey who helped usher in a musical alternative to Top 40 AM radio in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, presenting progressive rock and long album tracks that AM stations wouldn’t touch and helping to give WNEW a major presence on the still-young FM dial, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 66. The cause was complications of a stroke, his son Mark said.
Pete Fornatale in 2002 at WFUV at Fordham University, where he first hosted a radio program as a sophomore there.Photo by Ting-Li Wang/The New York Times
FM radio had been around for a while but did not come of age until the 1960s, when, amid the whirlwind of a growing counterculture, the federal government mandated that FM stations carry different programming from that of their sister AM bands. Enterprising D.J.’s grasped the chance to play longer, fresher, rarer music and give voice to the roiling political and social issues of the day.
Mr. 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.
WNEW-FM may have been the most influential experimenter. When the station dropped rock music for talk radio in 1999, Billboard called it “a legend, affecting and inspiring people throughout the industry.”
Mr. Fornatale (pronounced forn-a-TELL) had actually beaten WNEW to the punch. 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. He continued that show for a few years after he graduated, and for a while could be heard on both WFUV and WNEW.
WOR-FM became the first commercial station in New York to adopt the format, in 1966, but abandoned it after about a year. WNEW, with the slogan “Where Rock Lives,” adopted it in 1967.
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.
In 1982 he started “Mixed Bag,” a program that emphasized singer-songwriters, on Sunday mornings. His regular guests included Suzanne Vega, who introduced herself to him by sending a fan letter.
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.
Peter Fornatale was born in the Bronx on Aug. 23, 1945, and graduated from Fordham Preparatory School, on the campus of Fordham University. His introduction to rock ’n’ roll came in 1956 when his father summoned him to the television to see “this crazy guy” — Elvis Presley. The first record he bought was Presley’s “Hound Dog.”
Mr. Fornatale graduated from Fordham with a degree in communications in 1967 and taught English at a Roman Catholic high school before joining WNEW. His voice drew praise for its mellow, almost professorial tone, although some listeners may have chosen to describe it as nasal.
By the early 1980s, stations specializing in what had been known as free-form radio were bringing in business consultants who urged less variety in records and more control over the disc jockeys. Mr. Fornatale later complained that he and his colleagues had been demoted from chefs into waiters, “and fast-food waiters at that,” as he told The Record of Bergen County, N.J., in 1999.
He left WNEW in 1989 to follow the station’s program director to WXRK-FM (K-Rock), which followed a more conventional approach to pop music. Mr. Fornatale’s show came on after Howard Stern’s. Mr. Stern, whose shock-jock format was becoming radio’s new wave, called Mr. Fornatale the “anti-Stern.”
In 1997 Mr. Fornatale returned to WNEW-FM, which had decided to go back to album-oriented rock after a succession of owners and formats. But within a year the station had changed formats again, to talk. In 2001, Mr. Fornatale returned to where he had started: WFUV. “I love the idea I’ve come full circle,” he said.
Mr. Fornatale wrote several books, including one on the making of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1968 album “Bookends,” and one on the Woodstock music festival. He was also the main writer for a series of 600 trading cards on the life of Elvis Presley.
He had lived for six years in Rockaway, Queens, and the previous four decades in Port Washington, N.Y.
Mr. Fornatale’s marriage to Susan Kay Flynn ended in divorce several years ago. He is survived by his sons, Peter, Mark and Steven, and his brother, Robert.
His WFUV show, which like his earlier WNEW singer-songwriter show was called “Mixed Bag,” ran from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays.
“If you give me the right idea for a program,” Mr. Fornatale said in 2004, “I can give back to you a three-hour journey where, if you tune in at any time, you’re likely to hear something that will entertain you. But if you take the ride with me, when we get to the end, you’ll say, ‘Wow, what a long, strange trip it’s been.’ ”

Civil Rights Jazz

As a jazz DJ/journalist, Chris      Albertson arrived  in New York in 1960  from Philadelphia radio stations WCAU and WHAT-FM.  While employed as WNEW’s Continuity Director, he was also producing  jazz recordings   and working nights as a volunteer at leftist, avante garde WBAI-FM. He left WNEW in 1964 to work at WBAI full time, eventually becoming General Manager.

From his WNEW files, he sent us captioned website photos from a 1963 special event MC’d by William B. Williams at  the North Stamford, Conn. home of Jackie Robinson.  Albertson was there to record the event. 

On his website, Albertson wrote, “I made a stop at one of my favorite blogs, Villes Ville and learned the sad news that Joya Sherrill left us on June 28, 2010. You may recall that Joya sang with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra off and on between 1942 and 1959. I took this photo of her in 1963, at a summer afternoon lawn party thrown by Jackie Robinson and his wife as a benefit to raise bail money for SNCC. (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee).

Many performers were there, including Quincy Jones and Billy Taylor, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and the Ellington Alumni Orchestra, led by Mercer Ellington. . . I was there with William B. Williams and a WNEW crew. “


 “Here are  more photos from that afternoon. Willie B was the MC and you’ll spot our host behind him.”


More later from Chris Albertson’s Klavan and Finch file.  His web biography:

“Södertälje Calling”

After reading Wolfgang Hanson’s letter (below) Andy Fisher sent this e-mail comment.  “I believe one of the engineers once told me we got a DX card from Iran.  We were regularly received in Britain, and two BBC officials stopped by the station one night to say that they listened to WNEW’s 1AM newscast at Broadcast House in London every morning at 6.  Lots of people in Nova Scotia listened to us on a regular basis, and in distant parts of New England, we came in at night like a local station!”

Södertälje, Sweden is about 19 miles from Stocholm.  Bjorn Borg was born there. The Big “W” had a pen pal there. Thanks to Bill Diehl for this special delivery. Clicking on 14-year old Wolfgang Hanson’s  letter should enlarge the image.

WIP, at 90, Lives On

WIP Philadelphia has a celebrated history of its own, but to many former WNEW staffers, WIP, during years it was owned by Metromedia, was  the other side of a revolving door, through which people came and went to promotions or exile.  Two of the many people who worked both sides of that door, Andy Fisher and Dick Carr, attended  WIP’s 90th birthday party yesterday (March 21) and took notes.  Andy’s note, posted on the  NY Radio Message Board, is also reproduced below

Andy Fisher — A radio station that has at times served as a farm team for New York talent celebrated its 90th birthday today, at a luncheon sponsored by the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia at the Bala Country Club in Philly.  Speakers at the WIP anniversary event included programmers Dick Carr and Dean Tyler and air personality Bill St. James.  Jerry Del Colliano, founder and former publisher of the industry newsletter Inside Radio, and a former news anchor and programmer at Philadelphia stations, was master of ceremonies.
         Speakers recalled WIP’s founding by — and at — the Gimbel department store in center city Philadelphia,  the purchase of the station by Metromedia in the late 1950s and its heyday as a standards station, its acquisition of the rights to Eagles football play-by-play, and its current success in sports talk radio.
After a lifetime at 610 on the AM dial, WIP recently began duplicating its broadcasts on FM and billing  itself as 94 WIP.

Dick CarrDick Carr posted his WIP notes on his Big Bands, Ballads and Blues blog:  


Definately Not An Undercover Assignment

In What’sNEW#1, posted February 2nd, mention was made of one of WNEW’s red mobile units, taking News Director Lee Hanna, Tech. Supervisor Shel Hoffman and engineer Howie Epstein to Washington D.C., Aug. 26, 1963 to cover  the March On Washington. A photo of one of those Chrysler red hots, was discovered just a few days ago by chance on  the internet.  The photo, taken by Bill Cotter in April, 1965, shows the wagon in front of the Irish Pavillion, during the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. Cotter posted the photo, and others, in 2010 on “World’s Fair

wnew-wagon worlds fair

When trade-in time came, WNEW stayed with the Chrysler New Yorker, but in quieter white.     



Another geyser from Bill Diehl’s deep memoribilia wells.  Bill has come up with  scores of 1960’s paid pieces WNEW placed  in New York newspapers. Background on  how the PR pieces were created, later on.  Right now, here’s What’sNEW#1 on Martin Luther King Jr.’s March On Washington, Aug. 28, 1963, published  a few days later.
 Reid Collins sept 63