By Mary Stewart Robins
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Inside Carrboro’s community radio station, WCOM, disc jockey Rocco Nittoli’s smooth and professional voice enlivens the small station and the sleepy Saturday mornings of Carrboro listeners and online fans across the country.
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, Nittoli mixes a variety of popular music spanning the past 70 years on his radio show, “Music Hall.”
However, Oct. 9 marked a special occasion. Dedicated listeners and fans joined Nittoli in celebrating his 300th consecutive Saturday morning radio show with WCOM.
“It’s been quite a ride and so much fun,” Nittoli told listeners at the start of his show.
To mark the occasion, Nittoli played all No. 1 and top ten Billboard hits from the 1930s to today, a type of program he used when he first started with WCOM.
WCOM, Carrboro’s only low-power FM radio station, was founded in 2004. Because the station is a non-profit, community radio station, it provides an alternative for local listeners who are looking for a different type of program, Nittoli said.
Today, WCOM has 50 live voices who DJ a variety of shows, including several Spanish programs. The station is funded by local donations and underwriters, who sponsor segments of programming.
Nittoli was one of the first three live voices to air on WCOM in January 2005. During its first few months, the station aired regulated programming among segments by DJ’s Bob Burtman, Fred Wasser and Nittoli.
Nittoli began his career in the radio industry in college and worked in a total of 10 commercial radio stations in New Jersey. He also served in the military from 1966 to 1968, broadcasting music for U.S. Army hospitals.
Nittoli returned to radio in January 2005, after a 37 year hiatus. During that time, he taught and administrated in public high schools in Beaufort County, N.C., with his wife, Harriet Nittoli.
Currently, he travels back and forth between the home he built in Bath, N.C., and his apartment in Carrboro.
Nittoli said radio and music have always been passions and hobbies of his. “Radio kind of gets in your blood,” he said.
Having a foundation in commercial radio, Nittoli said volunteer radio is less pressured.
“We’re not in the business for the money,” he said. “We’re in it to enhance the community and provide a voice.”
Nittoli’s motto, “It’s all about the music,” shines through his knowledge of almost every popular music artist and band since the 1940s.
His extensive collection of approximately 1,600 CDs, 500 cassettes and 500 albums features many famous artists whom he saw live, such as Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Lucille Ball.
Bill Hendrickson, WCOM host of “Time Out” and fan of Nittoli’s show, commented on the huge stack of CD’s Nittoli brings to the station every Saturday. He said Nittoli plays all of the standards, mixed with some less-known artists as well. “He’s got a lot of classic songs from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and a lot of today’s music as well,” Hendrickson said.
In community radio, it is especially important to play the right music to attract listeners, Nittoli said.
“If I play one bad song, God knows how many listeners I’ve lost,” Nittoli said. “Good music always works and good radio always works. Being positive on the air will always attract listeners.”
Nittoli’s wife Harriet is a Romance languages professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. She said her husband has a natural ability to mix songs fluidly to create an upbeat mood.
“He has a talent that is hard to find,” Harriet Nittoli said. “He can program music back to back so that it works. He has a very smooth transition.”
Because WCOM streams live radio shows online, Rocco Nittoli often gets calls during “Music Hall” from listeners around the country. He said he has also received calls from people listening in Canada, Argentina and Europe who enjoy his music selection.
Since the community station is located in downtown Carrboro, at 208 E. Main St., listeners and other WCOM hosts can stop by to comment on Nittoli’s music selection and make announcements on the air, he said.
Audrey Layden, co-host of WCOM’s “Carrboro Book Beat,” “Claudio’s Speakeasy” and “West End Report,” visited Nittoli’s anniversary show to congratulate him and to plug her upcoming show. She said Nittoli has an “extraordinary knowledge of everything that’s been on the air.”
Nittoli also contributes to the station beyond his Saturday morning show, Layden said. “He is a great supporter of community radio and he contributes to a lot of the behind-the-scenes things.”
Nittoli plans to continue to host his Saturday morning show for as long as possible. However, he will be missing his first ever Saturday on Oct. 23 to enjoy some well deserved vacation time.
Music Hall: http://wcomfm.org/index.php/our-programs/userprofile/Music%20Hall