(June 26, 1936 - March 28, 2009)
Host of The Hour of the Duck on WFMU, 1962-1990
Radio personality. Storyteller. Bon vivant. Zen sage. Family man. Actor. Athlete. Historian. Philosopher. Humorist. Friend. Chef. Musician. Teacher. Epicure. Diplomat. Mediator. Mentor.|
Lou was Fred Astaire -- he was multi-talented, did everything with singular style and natural grace, and made it all look easy.
I'd been at the station a couple of years & thought I knew what I was doing when I moved into the time slot on Wednesday afternoons immediately preceding Lou's show. I'd met Lou many times & had played in the legendary Little Wally Band, but he'd been a distant figure. This was when we became acquainted.|
I'd wrap up my show, maybe banter a bit with Lou on mic, cue up his scratchy overture, & get out of his way. But I always lingered for his opening monologue. Then I got the nerve to sit in the studio during his program, observing, chatting with Lou during sets of music. How cool was that? It was like riding in a car with William Carlos Williams as the doctor pointed out red wheelbarrows.
Lou was The Supreme Master of the short radio monologue. From the most unpromising material he would craft a funny story with a beginning, middle, ending, & often a lesson in civic ethics. He also was a great guy. I hadn't known that Lou had a broad, deep knowledge of American literature, every bit the equal of a wise professor. I craved his approval.
For years, WFMU had a hard, squeaky office chair in the studio -- it was a tradition. One could use the squeak as aural punctuation, & the hard chair kept one awake & reasonably alert. The station acquired a few bulky, conference room-type chairs, with arm rests, soft & comfortable. They weren't intended for studio use. Occasionally, a DJ would squeeze a big chair through the narrow studio door, behind the control board, which took some effort. One day a big soft chair happened to be in the studio when I got there, & I left it in place. When Lou arrived for his show, he took a look at me tilted back & relaxing in the spacious seat, eyes closed while my show ticked toward the end on a long jazz cut. Lou literally kicked the chair, bouncing me about a foot in the air. "Get out of that chair," he commanded. "Poets don't sit in the soft chair. They sit in the hard chair!" On the spot, he made me wrestle the big, soft chair out of the studio & replace it with the hard, squeaky one. This saved him the trouble of doing it, because he always used the hard, squeaky chair for his show. It was the only time Lou was cross with me, & the offense was never brought up again. But it was an instruction I never forgot.
One afternoon he smiled & said, "You're sounding like yourself, Rix." Which meant I wasn't sounding like Jean, Vin, Lou, Irwin, or Jack Nicholson in "The King of Marvin Gardens." I could've shouted for joy.
At a radio station with so many multifaceted personalities, Lou was (and still is) the jewel in the crown. He provided his audience with a taste of our New Jersey landscape, utilizing his considerable talent of creating unique, and yet familiar characters, including the memorable Nunzio Belladonna and Little Wally ("of the Little Wally Ac-cord-een School, down there on Stuyvesant Avenue in Irvington, New Jersey").|
Lou's show was a healing balm during a turbulent time, providing home-cooked radio goodness to all and sundry, while inspiring other deejays to rise above the median level of then-prevalent "jukebox" radio.
With Lou's encouragement, my now-spouse Bill and I participated in some of the earliest Little Wally bands -- fun and liberating experiences, as well as cherished memories.
Lou played an important part in cementing my determination that every effort be made to preserve this amazing station for future generations.
And for me, Rossini's "William Tell Overture" will always sound incomplete without Lou's signature sign-off: "Quack!"
Lou was one of the most talented and imaginative people
to ever sit in front of a mic. His programming was always entertaining
and his show was one of the few that I would actually make sure I would
be near a radio cause he was that good. Damn. I wished at the time he
was leaving FMU that I had had more contact with him (I was still a
newcomer then), he was such a sweet and warm person, and funny as hell,
and it can't be said enough -- he was an incredible radio talent. My
hat comes off for the "Duck." |
-- Fabio Roberti
Lou was gracious, funny and caring. He was so very intelligent and yet he never used that power for egotistical maliciousness. I was quite honored to give up a radio show slot so he could celebrate his last hurrah on WFMU before moving to Vermont. |
Rest in peace, Lou. You were a real beacon for us fellow free-form radio people and a straight-up gentleman indeed. Long live The Duck! God bless the Duck!
Some of my earliest fmu memories were of Lou's show--he had great comic timing, improvising skills, and invented great characters, like the guy (whose name eludes me) who constantly referred to "my beau-tee-ful bird-like wife Carmen..." while doing the goofiest, most rambling movie reviews ever. Wish I'd met him.|
The Last Quack! Ouch, this hurts a lot. I remember with awesome
pleasure the many zany shows I heard and the on-air/off-air interactions Lou
and I had when we were both on WFMU with The Li'l Wally Band and other
insane situations. Truly a scholar and a gentleman, I'll never forget the
schizophrenic interactions his numerous characters with various accents used
to have with one another in the course of one show, my stomach used to hurt
so much from laughing I couldn't breathe. He left for Vermont and I left for
Montreal where I once ran into him at the Jazz Festival where I used to work
and he was in the audience. We were both so surprised and happy to see each
other after all these years. |
I spoke with him in December when he first went in the hospital and he was the same old Lou with his humor and his
concern for others despite the crab that was eating him from within. What
inspiration you have been and will continue to be for me. RIP Ducky, you
deserve it fo' sho'!
My favorite time to be an FMUer has always been the marathon and my
favorite marathon times, during my early years at the
station, took place in the magnanimous glow of The Duck in all his
glorious ringleadership of the Little Wally Polka Band, which animated the
boozy catharsis of the marathon finale. All year, Lou led by example
on the air, and on those amazing Sunday nights, he led us all, literally,
and it was such a pleasure.|
-- Doug Schulkind
Sorry for the cliche, but they don't make them like Lou anymore. He was a real radio character of a kind that may never exist again. My most vivid memories of him are from times I followed his show when I was doing fill-ins. He'd always close the show with a PSA, and he'd invent a persona on the spot to read the announcement--fake name, fake accent. They'd always be flawless and really funny.|
-- Dave Mandl
I didn't know Lou as well as a lot of you but always thought he was a great guy. One of the nicest and most genuine people I've ever met. I never got the impression he was anything more than what he appeared to be. His shows were epic and his radio personna was as colorful as he was in person. |
-- Jim Coleman
In the autumn of 1977, a few months before I ever set foot inside WFMU, I had the good fortune to meet the Duck through a mutual friend. It goes without saying that my interest in radio was a topic of discussion. Over thirty rewarding years later, I'd be remiss in not acknowledging that the insightful advice and the moral support I received that day came from both a true gentleman and a radio professional. Thanks, Lou. |
-- Billy Kelly
By the time I arrived at WFMU in 1980, Lou D'Antonio was a radio legend. As a newcomer, I looked up to him as a source of experience and information on radio and music in general, but especially jazz. He was always easy to talk to. Lou would often host the kick-off show for the first night of the annual Marathon. He always made those shows memorable with his quick wit and hijinks. One day when I was working in the WFMU office sorting records, Lou and Jim Price were talking about the perils of getting older and going gray. Jim asked if one goes gray later "down there." Lou, momentarily forgetting that I was in the office with them, jokingly peeked in his shorts and said, "Let me see..." Just as he did that, I looked up at them, and they realized I was there, and we all LAUGHED so hard. It was one of many you-had-to-be-there moments I had at 'FMU. |
Lou was truly a wonderful friend who had a gift of communicating and caring and gave freely to his listeners and to all who knew and loved him. He will always be remembered as a WFMU pioneer and personality and is sadly missed.
I first met Lou when I was introduced to the insanity that was WFMU, at Froeberg Hall (Upsala College), during a marathon (1975?). I hoped to quietly fit in, and met station manager Chuck Russo, who asked if I could help with mailings. I had been an avid FMU listener in 1968-'69, and was infatuated with "The Hour of the Duck," because Lou reminded me of WOR radio monologist Jean Shepherd. Lou was a star (small "s") at this small station. He never acted hot-shit, so when I joined the staff I felt more comfortable than I'd expected. Chuck introduced me personally to Lou one day, and I expected a fanfare because he was so special. But he introduced himself as "Lou," and it was easy to talk with him, go to his house, hang around his show, and become his friend. |
As Marathon goals grew, so did the staff, but as WFMU's stature increased, Lou was a constant presence. The grand finale of every marathon was "The Little Wally Polka and Doo-Dah Band," which Lou "conducted" and MC'ed.
Eventually Lou retired from teaching (and from WFMU) and moved with his family to Vermont, where he hosted a jazz program at a small station in Montpelier. When he was being treated at a New York hospital last January, I called and we had a great chat. He asked about my health issues, discussed therapies, and invited me to Vermont. He was looking towards the future.
He was my pal, a mentor, an avatar, a true mensch. I'll miss him terribly, but he will rest in peace.
So many current listeners didn't have the chance to experience original alternative FM radio of the 60's and early 70's. It was an underground community, with a proud few sharing music and a style of broadcasting the rest of the world didn't care about, hanging out with DJ's who were friends we heard, and felt we knew. They were as important as the songs they played.|
Lou was the highest form of radio personality -- a superb raconteur. He picked up the torch from Jean Shepherd as Shep was giving up on radio, and kept the flame going for another generation. We watched sadly as FM became big business and originality and wit didn't sell anymore. Our salvation was that there was no better storyteller ANYWHERE on the radio than Lou! The Hour of the Duck was a one-to-one experience with a friend who talked to you about interesting things. He drew us in. He snuck OPERA onto the alternative airwaves without it being a big deal, without a peep from the staff, without anybody reaching to change channels. Lou's secret was to avoid weepy arias - instead he chose dynamic Operatic overtures and choruses that had the musical power of Led Zeppelin II. His voice and talking would hold back the orchestra, and then he would finish, step aside, and let the music knock us down.
Lou started when FMU didn't exactly know what to do and how to get it done, and he left behind a strong, vibrant station. He knew that new friends with other "voices" would rise to the task, and indeed they have come to take the mic waiting for listeners to hang out with them on the air.
Lou was original FMU. With the station almost from inception, yet never making a big deal about it. He would listen closely to a new DJ's show, but there would never be a critique, suggestion or discussion of what you were doing. He wanted you to discover your radio personality on your own. When you found your style and voice, there'd be no compliment from Lou. Then one day, out of the blue there would a phone call from some exotic character with an absurdly comic voice telling you an amazing story. You knew it was Lou, but it would be uncool to ask, and uncool for him to admit it. It was a secret you both shared -- Lou LIKED what you were doing.
Lou D'Antonio -- WFMU's UN-Superstar!
Though I didn't know Lou closely, through our interactions it was always obvious to me that he had a tremendous generosity of spirit, did not sweat the small stuff, and in general struck me as the embodiment of the positive potential of WFMU. He was, in a way, the station's "grandaddy" -- a perennial figure who had a huge hand in shaping the station's identity.|
-- William Berger
The Duck. Lou was one of my first freeform heroes. I loved his relaxed style on the radio, his clever banter and serious musical tastes. He was so freeform that he played classical music. I remember one time he played something -- Tommy Dorsey, I think -- that Led Zeppelin had apparently lifted note for note. Led Zep was notorious for stealing other people's music without giving credit, but Lou didn't talk about it -- he just played the original. In the early 1980s he was older than most of us, so this radio thing wasn't a phase. He had no need to prove he was hip. He loved the music and played it. One more memory: Little Wally. That was -- for the Hoof & Mouthers -- an early WFMU DJ band who played at the Marathon finale, marching around blowing kazoos and playing polkas. Not sure who played the accordion but I associate Little Wally with Lou. I'm sure there were others -- the station has always been a wonderful mix of interesting people -- but Lou stood out. A freeform hero if there was one.|
-- Steve Krinsky
I am Lou's first nephew, and he has been an inspiration to me in so many areas of life. He's been an uncle, a mentor, and a friend. My book, Travels With Aspen, included the following vignette:|
The Duck was hatched one night on the air when Scelsa walked into the control room. My uncle took note, "Well, look what just waddled in here!" Scelsa responded in a fusillade of barbaric invectives, rounded off by "Waddled? Waddled? Did you ever see the way you walk? You walk like a duck!"
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