Everyone wants to be Italian! That pretty much sums up the raison d’etre of one of the Northwest’s most lively and fun radio talk shows.
The Northwest Italian Radio Show is broadcast live for two hours every Monday afternoon on KKNW Radio (1150 AM) in Seattle and simulcast on KLAY (1180 AM) in Tacoma. Each week, the show’s creator and host David Madrid, along with co-host Tony La Stella, recreate the ambience of the traditional Sunday afternoon family get-together.
Tune in, and you’ll hear a little bit of everything. There are jokes, games and some great Italian music. There’s talk about favorite foods and stories about most unforgettable meals. Friends drop by, family news is shared, and local events and festivals are promoted.
As Madrid explained, “In my mind, the greatest thing about the Italian-American community is its commitment to the family and the neighborhood. We wanted to capture that spirit and create that culture on our show. ” La Stella added, “We want it to be just like the old days, where we’d spend hours around the dinner table on Sunday afternoons, shooting the breeze.”
Part of the fun of the Northwest Italian Radio Show is listening to the banter between Madrid and La Stella, which can go from silly to thoughtful to zany to nostalgic, all in the space of a few minutes. Guests are not immune from getting pulled into the lighthearted ribbing.
Tony La Stella (seated, left) and David Madrid take their radio show on the road to several local Italian festivals
Now in its third year, the Northwest Italian Radio Show has more than 55,000 listeners in the Northwest, and plans are to double that figure by the end of the year. Another 30,000 people in the U.S. and in six countries listen to the show on the Internet. Although it attracts its share of Italian-Americans, its primary audience is what Madrid calls “Italian wanna-be’s, the same audience that watched season after season of The Soprano’s.”
Madrid, whose family has ties to Calabria, drives the show’s tempo with his quirky humor and provocative repartee. (He’s the “Howard Stern of Italian radio,” quips La Stella.) Although he developed the show’s format and got it on the air, Madrid had no prior radio experience. “I come from a sales and marketing background, primarily real estate,” he said. “But I knew there were no Italian-American radio talk shows quite like this anywhere else in the country. I thought it could be a success.”
Madrid approached a local food company, Pacific Food Importers, to see if they were interested in lending support. They loved the idea. “PFI, along with San Gennaro Foods, are still our core sponsors,” said Madrid. “We’ve also established a great relationship with the Quinault Beach Resort in Ocean Shores, and their sponsorship has taken us to the next level.”
A little more than a year after the show’s debut, Madrid recruited La Stella to join him on the air. Even though Madrid was a radio novice, La Stella was not. Born in New York with family roots also going back to Calabria, La Stella knows his way around a sound booth. He has performed around the world, often with his band, and is celebrated for his virtuoso vocals and instrumental renditions of musical hits from the last 75 years.
With more than 100 recordings under his belt, La Stella still plays some 200 shows a year. Over the years, he’s sung with such greats as Luciano Pavarotti, Tony Bennett and Julie Andrews, and with members of Heart, Yes, Queen and the Beach Boys, among others.
“I performed with Tony Bennett twice in the 1990s,” La Stella said. “I’ll never forget the advice he shared with me. He said: ‘Kid, if you want to be great, hire musicians who are better than you.’ I took his advice to heart. My band, The Goomba’s, includes some of the country’s top musicians.”
Each week, the Northwest Italian Radio Show airs regular features that keep the show’s content fresh and lively. There’s Italian History by David, Italian Phrases of the Day, Song of the Week, and the audience-favorite: Can You Guess This Italian? The co-hosts stay up-to-date on celebrity tours and are able to attract some top talent to join them on the program. Guests have included Deana Martin, daughter of Dean Martin; Louis Prima Jr.; and Tony Orlando. Italian blues artist Zucchero, who is touring the U.S. this spring, will be live on the program in mid-March.
When asked who their dream guest would be, both Madrid and La Stella quickly came up with the same answer: Lady Gaga. “She’s really into her Italian roots,” said La Stella. “She’s coming to Seattle this summer and we’ve reached out to get her on the show.” Another performer the hosts would like to snag is Tony Bennett himself but “that would be like getting god on the show,” La Stella joked.
The duo have approached iHeart Radio to help expand the program to stations up and down the west coast, including Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Reno and Las Vegas. “We have some sponsors interested and we are continuing our discussions with them,” said La Stella.
In the meantime, the Northwest Italian Radio Show focuses on entertaining Northwest Italian-Americans. “As American-born, we are different than Italians born in Italy,” said Madrid. “We have a different culture and a different way of looking at the world. Our goal is to celebrate our Italian-American heritage and to encourage our listeners to get to know us better.”