Sylvester Ahola in the brass section of Peter Van Steeden's band in 1931.
Rich Conaty discovered the timeless music of 'The Big Broadcast' in 1971 as a high school junior living in Queens, when he stumbled upon Mark Adler's show 'Genesis of a Record,' broadcast from Hofstra University. "I'd stay up late, fiddling with the dial, wondering what was out there. All of a sudden, I'm hearing this crazy music from the '20s," he remembers. And he liked what he heard. That summer, the enterprising Conaty got himself an internship at Hofstra's WRHU, thus beginning his radio career - and his love affair with classic pop and jazz.
When he began attending Fordham University the following year, Conaty wasted no time in joining the staff of WFUV and finagling his way into co-hosting a Sunday night program called 'In the Mood.' "It started out as a forum for student government, but as they ran out of things to say, they started spinning old records," he recalls. By January 1973, Conaty found himself sole host of the still-evolving show and renamed it 'The Big Broadcast.' He and the program have been on the air in New York ever since.
Throughout his radio career, Conaty, who now lives in Hudson, NY, has had several opportunities to meet some of the artists whose records he plays on the air. "Over the years, I got to see Bing and the Mills Brothers in person, interviewed the two surviving Boswell Sisters, got drunk with Cab Calloway, and spent an evening listening to Tin Pan Alley tales from "Star Dust" lyricist Mitchell Parish," he recounts. Yet he recognizes that such opportunities are dwindling fast. "Almost none [of these folks] are around today."
Their music remains alive, however, thanks in no small part to 'The Big Broadcast.'
Getting to Know...Rich Conaty
What would WFUV listeners be surprised to know about you? I'm painfully shy.
What would you have become if you didn't have a career in radio? Most of my other gigs have been broadcast related (ABC-TV Promotion, Associate Curator for Radio, Museum of Broadcasting). I was not a good student. I'd probably be in the spare room of my Mom's condo. Drunk.
Do you cook? I once made a good omelet.
What wacky thing would you if you had the time (or guts)? Learn how to swim. Or work a standard transmission. Maybe get married.