On a Christmas Eve day 20 years ago, Rob Pratte of News Radio KDKA 1020 in Pittsburgh was doing airtime as a fill-in for the regular host. Rob was interviewing his guest Ernie Vallozzi of Vallozzi's Restaurant when the talk turned to the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner -- the Feast of the Seven Fishes -- and other Italian customs of the holiday.
Almost immediately, the phone banks began to light up. Call after call came in as the callers discussed their dinner preparations for that evening and their memories of Christmas Eve and Christmas Days past. Thus was born one of the most innovative radio talk shows in the United States regarding our Italian heritage and traditions of the holidays.
Rob and his guests have maintained the same format that made the show a holiday classic. However, he has expanded the airtime over the years to three hours. Rob's co-hosts for the past 8 to 10 years have included Joe Piccirilli of Pittsburgh Brewing, Anthony Celeste of Anthony Jrs. Restaurant, Joe and Frank Dentici of Kuhn's grocery chain, Ernie Ricci of Ricci's Sausage and of course Ernie Vallozzi. The show has had some very famous visitors over the years including Joe Pesci (yes, the real Joe Pesci), along with comedian Pat Cooper, Mr. DiSalvo of DiSalvo Station Restaurant, Elsie Hillman and Frank De Leo, the former manager and friend of Michael Jackson.
Last Christmas Eve the show left the studio and was broadcast from Kuhn's Market on McKnight Road in the North Hills. Pittsburgh's Bishop David Zubik stopped by for almost an hour to discuss the Holy Season and his own family traditions as a young boy in his hometown of Ambridge, PA.
One of the memorable shows included a phone hookup with Joe and Frank Dentici's aunt in Sicily. She did not speak a work of English and Joe had to translate everything from English to Italian and back into English. It was a joy to hear her speak in the Sicilian dialect about the dinner that they had prepared for that evening and their plans to visit with family and friends and culminate the evening with Midnight Mass.
Another annual visitor to the show via phone hook-up is Rosemarie Celeste DiCesare calling in from Pacentro (Abruzzo, L'Aquila). Rosemarie, co-host Anthony Celeste's sister, married and moved to Italy several years ago. She is fluent in English and Italian and she loves to compare the difference between the Italian customs in the United States and Italy during the Christmas holidays. Rosemarie usually stays on the air for at least an hour and answers questions from the callers. Quite often Pacentrani from the Pittsburgh area will ask her about a family or friends still in Pacentro and Rosemarie is, as always, very accommodating.
In the past few years, food has been showing up in the broadcast area and the group suddenly becomes silent except for the smacking of lips when an Italian delicacy is sampled. The goodies not only include sweets, but some of the fish dishes as well.
So, as we approach the holy days of Christmas, let us remember our families, friends of our youth and the joy of Christmas that we shared. Let us also share these memories with Rob Pratte and his paisani as we say Buon Natale a tutti!
News Radio KDKA can be found at 1020 AM and the Seven Fishes can also be heard on the web at kdkaradio.com starting at 9 a.m. on December 24. Listeners can also go to the website and send an instant message to Rob Pratte via the instant messaging system located on the homepage.