Raised on Radio
A Tribute to Pete Fornatale (FCRH '67)
By Lew Goodman (FCRH '71)
A strange event occurred at noon on Saturday, November 21, 1964. A rock music show or a rock 'n' roll show, as many still called it, debuted on FM radio in New York City. Some of us know what the "F" and the "M" really stand for, but in 1964, stodgy America said it meant "Fine Music." Fine, as in Mantovani and Andre Kostelanetz (commonly referred to in later years as Muzak or elevator music) and fine, as in "real" classical music. For a 19-year-old Fordham University sophomore to convince the powers that be at a Jesuit-run radio station, licensed as an educational radio station, to allow him to host a weekly rock ’n’ roll show was a phenomenal work of persuasion that might rank up there with the power of a master politician, say a Bill Clinton, for argument's sake. But that is exactly what this kid from the 'hood was able to do. He called himself Pete Fornatale, which, by the way, was his real name. That's all—just a common ordinary diminutive of a first name and his entire last name. To look at the landscape of New York rock radio in 1964, there were three powerhouses—all on the AM band—and the most popular DJs went by the stage names of Murray the K, BMR and Cousin Brucie. Sure, we knew their real names, but the audience was deemed too unsophisticated to accept them—we needed something catchier, so it was thought.
It was on a Saturday between noon and 2 p.m. in January or February 1966 that I entered Macy's Parkchester, in the Bronx, to search for a color TV/AM/FM/phono combination. I was 15 years old and no rich kid. We were definitely lower middle class, but I had amassed some $2,000 from my bar mitzvah (which occurred the day after JFK's assassination) and I was quite determined to part with some of it. After all, CBS and ABC had joined the ranks of NBC in September 1965 with all-color programming and being obsessed with rock music, I felt it was time to get a stereo phonograph, but I actually don't recall why I wanted an FM radio—perhaps it was only because "they" didn't make color TV/AM/phono combos. I immediately caught the rock song that was coming from one of these combos at Macy's. Considering that all the salesmen were middle-aged, I found that odd. You see, rock was "just for kids" back then, though, of course, Ed Sullivan was savvy enough to know it made money for adults as well. Then, all of a sudden, my need for a color TV became quite unimportant—this music was coming from an FM station! I was flabbergasted. I learned in a very short amount of time that day that the station was WFUV at 90.7 FM and that this show was on every Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. I memorized that and knew that as soon as my combo arrived, I had to listen to this DJ who wasn't talking as if his chair were on fire. No, he spoke in a normal pattern at a moderate speed—not unlike a Walter Cronkite or an Eric Severeid—but he wasn't speaking about Congress or inflation, he was talking about rock! Holy excrement!
That my RCA color TV/AM/FM/phono combination arrived on a Saturday between noon and 2 PM was just a coincidence, but it was an astounding one at that. Immediately after the deliverymen left, I tuned to 90.7 FM and my life would never be the same! The date was March 5, 1966. I started listening to Pete Fornatale, whose show, by the way, was titled Campus Caravan, for all 120 minutes every Saturday and it quickly became the most important part of my week. You may wonder why Pete's show meant so much to me. The best way to put it was that here was a child of rock who was extremely knowledgeable about the music that he played and, obviously, loved, talking to us as if he were a friend. He also had a weekly "Sinatra's Corner," before that was considered cool, and a weekly "Comedy Capers," where I fell in love with the recordings of Woody Allen.
But as much as I totally adored Pete and everything about Campus Caravan, one day in July 1966 I had just about enough of his favorite group, the Beach Boys, and wrote him a lengthy letter, in which I said, "All good things must come to an end," and requested that he start concentrating on my favorite group—the 4 Seasons. The following Saturday, to my utter and total surprise, Pete read my entire lengthy letter on the air, only omitting the names of the DJs who were on WMCA and WABC on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m., whom I had mildly reproached. (By this time, there were only two rock stations left on New York radio.) Pete did something else which caught my ear; he signed my letter off from "Lew" Goodman, though I had signed it "Lewis" Goodman. I continued to mail Pete a letter every week, signing it "Lewis"; Pete continued reading them on the air, calling me "Lew." Before long, I loved being called "Lew," and I "became" Lew, so, in effect, Pete Fornatale named me. This was quite appropriate, as he certainly meant a lot more to me then than my parents did. I believe that the thrill of hearing my name on the air affected me profoundly. I was a very smart kid and very proud of that. I had my love of the Beatles, the British invasion in general, and the 4 Seasons. I had some good friends. But my home life was one of intense sadness. My older sister, and only sibling, was hospitalized for schizophrenia. My mother forced me to keep that a secret. My parents were extremely neurotic. I had virtually taken off from school for an entire school year—September 1964 to June 1965. I didn't respect my father. I didn't have a girlfriend and the thought of having one was quite remote. But Pete was there for me and, in effect, saving my life.
Yes, Pete profoundly affected me in many ways. From the time I was seven until I was 14 or so, I had wanted to become a newspaper sports reporter (a combo of my love for Clark Kent and sports). Then, for a year, I had wanted to become a lawyer. But soon after Pete Fornatale came into my life, I decided to follow in his footsteps and become a DJ at WFUV. And in order to become a DJ at WFUV, one, even if non-Catholic, had to first become a student at Fordham. It didn't take me long to fall in love with Fordham's campus. With gothic architecture and lots of grass (this was in my pre-marijuana days) its 80-acre campus was an oasis that sat in the middle of the Bronx. I first got to speak to Pete on the phone in October 1966 and he asked me my age. I said, "15, but I'll be 16 next month." Well, I guess that impressed him enough to invite me to the show the following week. Needless to say, that was the thrill of a lifetime. I soon realized that WFUV's antenna, atop Keating Hall, was clearly visible from virtually all the windows in my parents' apartment (two and a half miles away), so I'd often look at the antenna while listening to Pete. I visited the show many times that senior year of high school. And Pete frequently asked me to join him, Frank DeLigio and Tom Luciani (Pete's engineers) after the show for lunch. The first time it was at a nearby coffee shop that Tom called "the Greeks." Now, my mother had forbidden me to eat hamburgers out. ("You never know what they're chopping up.") But I guess since everyone ordered a burger, I followed suit. And there it was—a frozen patty that tasted just great!
I'll never forget that Saturday, in April 1967, when Rosko was Pete's guest. By then, FM had a full-time rock station, WOR-FM, thanks to the FCC forcing AM stations that simulcast on their FM stations to cease and desist doing so, and Rosko had quickly established himself as a giant there and a giant of New York radio. After the show, Pete invited me to join him and seven others for lunch at Ralph's, an Italian restaurant in the Allerton section of the Bronx that was owned by Ralph Gaudio, the first cousin of Bob Gaudio of the 4 Seasons. (Pete was quick to point that out to me.) I was wearing prescription sunglasses and inadvertently left my regular glasses in Bill Crowley's MG (Bill's now an anchorman on WCBS-AM), so by the time I retrieved them and entered the restaurant, there were only eight chairs at the round table. Rosko insisted that I pull up a chair between him and his wife! He treated this 16-year-old wonderfully! We discussed Richie Havens (someone Rosko had been playing a lot of and who I thought was great) and his debut album, titled Mixed Bag. (Does that name ring a bell?) I told him that I wanted to be a DJ and he asked me many questions. I told him that I had been accepted to Fordham and Pete exclaimed, "You tell him before you tell me!" And though it was Passover, I decided to eat chumitz (nonkosher for Passover food) for the first time at that luncheon. So, between the hamburgers at the Greeks and the chumitz, Pete Fornatale has certainly affected my culinary lifestyle (not to mention my rebelliousness against my mother and religion)!
Because of my finding Pete when I was 15, I got my own rock show at WFUV when I was 17. I became the station’s rogram director when I was 19 and hosted the show until I was 22. Pete appeared on my show in 1972 and, with him by my side, my first letter to him was read on the WFUV airwaves for the second time, though this time by me. Pete, of course, went on to WNEW-FM in 1969, where thousands of other "Lew Goodmans" out there in Radioland were lucky enough to encounter him for the next 35 years—though I doubt if anyone was ever affected by him as much as I was. No event, person, or situation in my life has ever affected me as profoundly or made me as happy as my years listening to Campus Caravan and my relationship with Pete Fornatale, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.
Happy 40th anniversary, Pete!
This essay was originally posted Nov. 19, 2004, on the WFUV Bulletin Boards.