Pioneering progressive rock DJ Pete Fornatale dies at 66

Pete Fornatale, who got his start at the Fordham University’s WFUV-FM as an undergrad in 1964 and went on to become an influential progressive-rock disc jockey in New York City, died April 26 following a stroke. He was 66.

“This is a devastating loss, not just for his family, friends, and colleagues at WFUV, but for radio listeners everywhere,” Chuck Singleton, interim g.m., said in a statement. “Pete was a beloved air personality for four decades and a master communicator. His influence as a pioneer of progressive FM radio is almost incalculable.”

“It’s a very sad day for radio,” songwriter Paul Simon told the Associated Press. “New York has lost one of its most acclaimed and wonderful radio personalities. . . . He really knew his era and his music.”

Fornatale began his professional career in 1969 at WNEW-FM, where he established his weekly eclectic Mixed Bag show in 1982. He helped launch careers of numerous singer-songwriters including Suzanne Vega, John Gorka and Christine Lavin, and through the years also interviewed stars such as Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Carly Simon and James Taylor. He also worked at WXRK (K-Rock). He brought Mixed Bag to WFUV in 2001.

Fornatale wrote or co-authored six books including a textbook (Radio in the Television Age), Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, and Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. He and his son Peter, a book editor, had just finished a book marking the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones, 50 Licks, to be published later this year or early next.

He also appeared on television, co-hosting the 1991 Paul Simon Live in Central Park on HBO, and as a guest commentator on multiple PBS music specials.

Fornatale is survived by sons Mark and Steven as well as Peter.

The family requested memorial donations to WhyHunger (WhyHunger.org), an organization he had supported since it was co-founded by his friend, activist Bill Ayres, and the late Harry Chapin in 1975.

A private funeral Mass is planned. WFUV carried an on-air/online celebration of his life and career on May 5.

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