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Italian-American radio in the Delaware Valley marks 10th anniversary

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On Aug. 1, 2011, Philadelphia radio station WHAT abruptly ceased broadcasting. As the only station that still had an Italian-themed radio program, it meant the end of 81 years of Italian radio programs on the standard AM/FM radio bands.

Nick Alessandrini and Melissa Cannavo-Marino. | FLAVIA LORETO PHOTO

It seemed that this genre of radio programming was gone forever from the Delaware Valley, until November of 2013. Then, thanks to a handful of enthusiastic Delaware business folks and others who are proud of their heritage, Melissa Cannavo-Marino was asked to produce and host a weekly Italian American radio program Sundays at 8 a.m. on WILM 1450 AM.

With a mix of Italian American tunes and songs from Italy – from Louis Prima to Gianni Morandi, and local artists like Lou “Cazz” Casapulla – the program also featured a weekly Italian radio newsmagazine, hosted by Cannavo-Marino’s tech support person and on-air colleague Nick Alessandrini. The program also presented a monthly on-air Italian lesson presented by Gabriella Finizio. With the show also streaming on the Internet and podcast, the programs have become a Sunday morning staple.

The program’s popularity grew, and in February of 2015 it was featured on WHYY-TV’s program “First.” In April of 2015, the success of the program drew the attention of Beasley Media’s Philadelphia office. The station reached out to Cannavo-Marino and asked her to produce a similar program for their 610 ESPN Sunday morning lineup.

She felt a second program would benefit from additional support to ensure the program’s success. She spoke to avid listener Nick Rapagnani, who serves as president of L’Associazione Abruzzese Delco (ARA Delco). Rapagnani had met Cannavo-Marino when he attended the 2014 Gloucester County Italian Heritage celebration, and liked the idea of adding another Italian- American radio program to the region. Together with Rapagnani’s personal support and the overall support of ARA Delco, Cannavo-Marino debuted “Mattinata Musicale” on ESPN 610 on May 3, 2015.

The radio show proved to be one the most popular programs, this time on 610 ESPN’s Sunday morning lineup. However, in August of 2020, 610 ESPN was leased out to iHeartMedia, and the format change forced programs on the station to seek other venues. “Mattinata Musicale” was picked up by Cruisin’ 92.1 WVLT-FM and began airing on Sunday, September 5, 2020, at 6 pm. Now renamed “Viaggio Musicale,” it soon became one of WVLT’s favorite weekend programs.

In March of 2021, Beasley Philadelphia again contacted Cannavo-Marino and Rapagnani again, asking if they might be interested in bringing “Viaggio Musicale” to WWDB, Philadelphia’s multi-cultural station. That third program, also called “Viaggio Musicale,” began airing in April of 2021, bringing to three the number of weekly Italian-American radio programs in the region.

Thanks to the work of Cannavo-Marino, the three radio stations’ personnel, the many sponsors and advertisers over the years and ARA Delco, the Italian-American community in the Delaware Valley has several radio programs to suit their tastes. Today these programs are a point of pride for all involved in their production and they are enjoyed by all the listeners tuning in. The “Golden Era” of daily Italian language radio programs may be gone, but each Sunday they briefly come alive again, and it all started in Wilmington on WILM 10 years ago this month.

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