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"Here he is, for once without a microphone, as breezy,
informative and witty as you've heard him all these years…you're
going to love this book."
--Brian Bell, WGBH radio producer
For more than five decades, legendary Boston radio personality Ron Della Chiesa has delighted and educated countless listeners who share his passion for music. Whether he's broadcasting a soaring Pavarotti aria, a dazzling Dizzy Gillespie riff, or an exquisite Tony Bennett rendition of an American standard, Della Chiesa thoroughly enjoys every note of it and it shows. It's that deep commitment to the music-and his unbridled enthusiasm in communicating its splendor-that continues to inspire devotees to tune in when he's behind the microphone.
Now Ron Della Chiesa chronicles his serendipitous journey in
RADIO MY WAY (Pearson; Publication Date: November
15, 2011), a candid look back on a brilliant career and the moments
that have defined it. In addition, the popular radio host and
renowned voice of the Boston Symphony delivers forty-plus lively
profiles of musical geniuses that stopped by his studio to
chat. In each one, Della Chiesa reveals what made these icons
great, along with suggested recordings of their music and
surprising peeks at what didn't make it on air. The
result is an unforgettable look at the pantheon of musicians and
personalities who have enriched the lives of generations of music
Ron Della Chiesa's love affair with radio began early when, as a young boy, he raced home from school to listen to the Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and others from radio's Golden Age. "Our radio was the centerpiece, the beating heart of the living room, in fact, of the whole house," he recalls, and it planted "the seeds of an obsession" for broadcasting. Encouraged by his artistic father and educator mother who bought him his first record album at age 5, Della Chiesa attended his first opera at age eight and his first Boston Symphony concert at 13; each made an indelible impression. Soon he was listening to live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Toscanini, and the Bell Telephone Hour, while dreaming of one day being a voice on the radio. Who knew that one day he'd be in the broadcast booth as the voice of the Boston Symphony or would host a wildly popular daily show that would run for eighteen years and bring him face to face with America's greatest performers?
Della Chiesa's first real gig after college was at Boston's WBOS where he hosted ethnic music shows like The Irish Hour, Music of the Near East, and The Italian Melody Hour. From WBOS he jumped to WBCN, the all-classical Boston Concert Network, where he was thrilled to indulge his love of opera and interview stars like Luciano Pavarotti, Eileen Farrell, and a young Placido Domingo. His most embarrassing moment on the air? Once, during the LP record era (those ancient, hat-sized pieces of vinyl), Ron arrived at the studio after a "lively" night on the town. Head throbbing and barely functioning on 4 hours of sleep, he put an hour-long symphony recording on and headed downstairs for breakfast in the coffee shop. Some time later, he made his way back to the studio where he was stunned to hear Beethoven's Fifth, which had never progressed past the first eight beats: Ba Ba Ba Baaaahhhhh…Ba Ba Ba Baaaahhhhh… Ba Ba Ba Baaaahhhhh…. Yet despite the inevitable bloopers and rare-but-horrifying moments of dead air, Della Chiesa felt "an enormous sense of being in the right place at the right time, with the right people, doing the right thing" with his life.
But in the turbulent late '60s, WBCN morphed into an underground progressive rock station and went from playing Prokofiev to the Rolling Stones in a matter of weeks. Suddenly the man weaned on the American Songbook, Broadway, jazz and opera was working at a station playing Vanilla Fudge. He quickly moved to Boston's WGBH where he developed a groundbreaking program called MusicAmerica. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do what he'd been dreaming of since childhood-celebrate the best of twentieth century American music.
With MusicAmerica Ron created a daily variety entertainment show that had, at its core, the Great American Songbook. In it he showcased genres like Broadway, Jazz, film and Swing. Mixing local artists with touring out-of-town talent, he spliced together generous tracks of artists' classic recordings with frank discussions about their lives, their musical philosophies, and their creative processes. Everyone from iconic stars like Rosemary Clooney and Mel Torme to up-and-coming talent like Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis and Michael Feinstein dropped by to talk openly about their trials and triumphs. It had never been done before and listeners loved it. He poured his heart and soul into MusicAmerica and for eighteen years brought a legion of listeners along for the ride.
RADIO MY WAY shares the highs and lows of a remarkable career, including the author's personal struggles during which the music served as therapy, carrying him note for note through the dark times. But Della Chiesa delivers it all with his signature good humor, sharing lessons learned as a husband, father and son. The profiles collected here feature nearly four dozen standout guests who graced his life. Among them are: Robert Merrill, arguably America's greatest baritone; Ben Carter the coolest jazz musician he every met; self-taught drummer Buddy Rich; Lionel Hampton, one of the great jazz showmen as well as a great ambassador of jazz and good will; charismatic Bobby Short, who had the longest engagement of any performer in the history of show business; and the incomparable Tony Bennett, perhaps the greatest friend the American Songbook has ever known. Brimming with fascinating detail, RADIO MY WAY is a veritable Who's Who of performing artists, as well as one man's tribute to their extraordinary contributions to society.