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Editorial: Pete Fornatale Signs Off

“There goes the last DJ/Who plays what he wants to play/And says what he wants to say, hey hey hey...” – Tom Petty “The Last DJ”

On April 26, a seminal voice that was an integral part of the local airwaves was silenced when Port Washington’s hometown hero Pete Fornatale died from a stroke at the age of 66. Part of the class of free-form rock DJs whose ranks included Dennis Elsas, Vince Scelsa and Carole Miller along with late lamented names like WNEW-FM icons Scott Muni, Fornatale mentor Rosko and Alison Steele, the former high school teacher was part of a vanguard of FM broadcasters who counterbalanced the condescending and infantilized manner in which the dominant AM stations of the ’60s and early’70s treated rock ’n’ roll. And while corporate radio monoliths eventually wrapped their rapacious tentacles around any semblance of creativity by way of narrow formatting, skeletal playlists and jocks who were essentially scripted if not automated, Fornatale was one of the dwindling group of Don Quixotes titling at the Clear Channel windmills of the world.

Fornatale got his start on radio in 1963 at Fordham University as an undergraduate. Somehow he got university administrators to sign off on “Campus Caravan,” a primitive free-form format that predated West Coast progressive radio legend Tom Donahue’s infamous Rolling Stone article, “AM Radio is Dead and Its Rotting Corpse Is Stinking Up the Airwaves” by four years. Fornatale later came full circle when he returned to 90.7 WFUV-FM, the campus radio station of his alma mater.

During the nearly five decades he was on the radio, Fornatale eventually became best-known as the longtime voice of the much-beloved “Mixed Bag,” a program that was a blend of rock and folk, with a heavy emphasis on singer-songwriters. The show was most noted for its creator’s propensity to string songs together around a theme, be it a holiday, current event or Fornatale’s deep-seeded love of baseball. It was what he once said was, “…a three-hour trip with me from Point A to Point F, and if you stay for the duration, when we arrive at our destination, you’re hopefully going to be wowed.”

Naturally inquisitive and easygoing, Fornatale was one of the medium’s best interviewers. And while he counted The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, Richie Havens and Art Garfunkel as personal friends, the late DJ was as avuncular in person as he came across on the radio. Both times that I had the privilege of meeting up to interview him for separate pieces, Fornatale was a genial subject, who gave me a tour of his North Shore hometown of Port Washington and Rockaway Park, where he later lived. And while I came to chat with him about music and later projects like his books and multi-media presentations, Pete would invariably turn into the natural-born interviewer he was, genuinely inquiring about my family and projects I was working on.

Fornatale’s empathy extended to the less fortunate and it was as large as the encyclopedic breadth of music knowledge he carried around in his head. While it would have been easy to pick a pet cause and lend a minimal amount of support to it while doing his weekly broadcast, the Bronx native instead became a board member of World Hunger Year, (now known as WhyHunger), the organization co-founded by Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres in 1976. For me, hearing Pete’s voice on the radio serving as the co-host of numerous annual Hungerthon fundraisers was as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and cranberries.

During the brief time spent with him during his program, Fornatale’s mellifluous and genial tone made it feel as if you were exploring music with a close friend whether you were in a car, with a group of friends or in the privacy of your home. His passion for music and being a broadcaster was genuine and if there was any doubt on my part, he pointed out that, “The thing about radio is that as long as you can keep your voice and wits, you can probably do it until you drop, and that’s my current intention.” I’ve no doubt that Pete is warming up those golden pipes and getting ready to pull together the first of an infinite amount of themed-playlists sure to keep St. Peter and his acolytes entertained for eons to come.

News

Two hundred business students from high schools across Nassau County, including Massapequa High School, competed for scholarships and cash awards—more than $33,000 in all—from various sponsors at Nassau County’s annual Comptroller’s Entrepreneurial Challenge.

The events on Sept. 11, 2001 had a profound effect on nearly all in the tri-state area, but for first responders, the effects were overwhelming. Long-time Massapequa resident Michael Smith, a member of the New York Fire Department, experienced those effects firsthand.

“While I’ve always been a person that could appreciate life, after 9/11 I became so distraught,” he said. “I realized I need to do something I want to do — something I love to do.”

A 30-year veteran of the fire department, Smith retired in 2002. He and his wife of 33 years, Teresa, began to look for a place they could enjoy life. This mindset brought them to the East End of Long Island, where they often went for day trips. They settled down in a home in Orient Point in 2004; in a home that needed quite a bit of work. And when it was time to landscape the property, a new idea took root — a vineyard.


Sports

Massapequa athletes recently received honors from their coaches at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

Each season, the coaches of all of the Kellenberg teams choose one member of their team who stands out as an athlete that has worked hard to improve themselves in their chosen sport.

The Farmingdale State women’s lacrosse team won the first game of their Spring Break trip to North Carolina with a victory over Greensboro College. In wet and muddy conditions, the Rams (8-1) held an 8-5 lead at the half and took the eventual 13-10 win.

In the first half and tied 2-2, the Pride (7-5) pulled ahead 4-2 with two unassisted goals by junior attack Nadya Fedun. Farmingdale State answered with four straight scores for a 6-4 advantage, on goals by juniors Alyssa Handel, Nicole Marzocca and Massapequan Jackie Kennedy.

Sophomore attack Ashlynn Parks put Greensboro within a goal at the 7:03 mark, but the Rams scored two more to lead 8-5 at the halftime break.

Calendar

Free Wine Tasting

Friday, April 18

Boating Course

Saturday, April 26

Massapequa Memories

Tuesday, April 29



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com