Pete Fornatale: 1945-2012

by WFUV Staff | 04/26/2012 | 2:30pm

Pete Fornatale: 1945-2012

We are sad to report that our friend and colleague Pete Fornatale has passed away after suffering a stroke. The host of Mixed Bag on Saturday afternoons on WFUV had a long and illustrious career in New York radio, and a history  at FUV that dated back to 1964. A private funeral mass is planned.

Mixed Bag fans know there was no one who could ride out a musical theme like Pete, whose extensive music knowledge was built over decades as a DJ, interview host and author.

A native of The Bronx, Pete got his start in radio in 1964 as a Fordham University undergrad, 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, played deeper album cuts than the current hit singles, and conducted soul-searching interviews with artists such as The Beach Boys, The Mamas and The Papas, and Simon & Garfunkel, all of whom came through Fordham on tour.

After graduating from Fordham in '67, Pete taught for several years before beginning his professional career in 1969 at the legendary WNEW-FM in New York. He hosted several different shifts there before launching his Sunday morning program, Mixed Bag, in December, 1982. As the name implies, the program was designed to be a reflection of Pete's eclectic musical taste. He helped launch the careers of many singer-songwriters, including Suzanne Vega, John Gorka, and Christine Lavin.

Over the years he conducted insightful, in-depth interviews with hundreds of artists, including Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Carly Simon, and James Taylor.

In 1991 Pete moved the program to WXRK (K-Rock), where it was renamed The Sunday Show. In 1997 he returned to WNEW-FM 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 pm. The latter-day Mixed Bag typically focused on a single theme each week, with Pete drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of music for songs to illustrate that week's theme.

That knowledge and passion for music was also reflected in his career as an author. He wrote or co-wrote six books: Radio in the Television Age (a textbook), The Rock Music Source Book, All You Need Is Love and 99 Other Life Lessons from Classic Rock Songs, The Story of Rock & Roll, Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends, and Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock.

The positive response to his books led Pete to develop multimedia programs that utilized his personal recollections and interview segments to tell the story of Woodstock and Simon & Garfunkel at schools, libraries, and coffee houses.

Fornatale also had a presence on television. He co-hosted the 1991 HBO telecast of Paul Simon Live in Central Park and regularly served as expert guest commentator on PBS specials.

For many years Pete Fornatale was on the board of World Hunger Year (now known as WhyHunger), the organization co-founded by Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres in 1976, and served as co-host of many annual Hungerthon radio fundraisers.

Next to music, Pete's biggest passion might have been baseball. When asked the question, "What wacky thing would you if you had the time (or guts)?" he replied, "See a game at every Major League ballpark in the American and National League (The 'guts' part is that I don't like to fly)."

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, who also worked at WFUV during his time at Fordham.

We'll all miss Pete and the singular voice he brought to FUV. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or on the Pete Fornatale Fans page on Facebook.

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