3 decades of Italian programming with Franco Liseo

Liseo, Hardigg ’90 Share WESU Connection Spanning 3 Decades

Francaccio (Franco Liseo) co-hosts a show of Italian music on WESU 88.1 FM with Lucilla Caminito, who Skypes in from Italy. (Photos of Francaccio by Cynthia Rockwell)

For two hours every Saturday—and any early morning or late night shift available—Middletown resident Franco Liseo fills the airwaves of WESU 88.1 FM, with Italian music. His specialty is the sounds from the ’60s and ’70s; “Love songs,” he says. “When I left Italy, I left with the music”—and he’s been doing this for 30 years.

The Saturday show is special; he broadcasts with a co-host, the daughter of a childhood friend, Lucilla Caminito, who Skypes in from Melilli. These shows feature contemporary music that Caminito chooses and sends to Liseo—whose DJ name is “Francaccio”—via the internet, YouTube or on a CD. “She’s prepared for this music; it’s more rap sounds now, the new generation,” he says.

Between songs, the two talk on air in rapid-fire Italian, smiling always and laughing frequently—never with a script—until it’s time for Francaccio to announce, “WESU Middletown,” and push the buttons for another song for their listeners throughout Connecticut and in his native Italy. Then he relaxes, continuing a conversation in Italian with Lucilla and in English with any visitor to the Broad Street location above Red and Black Café.

“Right here,” he says, opening his arms wide to encompass the whole studio. “I am home; the radio is me; I’m in paradise.”

His is the story of a child who always wanted to be on the air, who mimicked announcers from the only two radio stations in Italy back then, who would carry around a stick of wood, pretending it was a microphone, ready to perform. “I was always the loud one,” he admits. When he came to the United States, he looked for a station he could join and found WESU.

Nick Hardigg ’90 was active as an undergraduate in WESU-FM, when it was broadcast from the basement of Clark Hall. He served as its president during his junior and senior year. He recalls when Franco first appeared in 1988:

In the studio on a Saturday in January, Liseo comments on the changes over the decades, noting that the odd hours—early mornings, for instance—work well for him. A 2 a.m. slot will reach his listeners in Sicily just as they are getting ready to start their day. The Saturday afternoon show with Caminito reaches the folks in his country after dinner, perhaps as they are getting ready to go out. Caminito joined his show four years ago, and it worked. At first, says Liseo, she was less relaxed; now the two have an easy on-air rapport.“One day these two grown men came in—Franco Liseo and Sebby—whose English wasn’t very clear, and they asked if they could get their licenses and create an Italian music program. We didn’t have many community members broadcasting then, and those who did seemed to have a history with Wesleyan. Should we let these two new guys—rank amateurs—have a program? They were persistent. We talked about it, and—though I’m embarrassed about it now—I think we found them a bit intimidating: older guys, from Middletown, with a far different background than we had. But our board gave them a chance. Franco had such a great smile and friendly way about him—I liked him immediately. So these guys got their broadcast licenses and took all the broadcast slots nobody wanted—early morning slots, late-night slots . . . everything. And their listenership just boomed. I don’t know how we gauged listenership, but I believe it was one of the most popular shows in Connecticut, certainly for WESU. And now it’s been running 30 years.”

“On our program, we have no bad news,” says Caminito. “That’s everywhere else. But we give a show that is two hours of love.”

Prior to becoming an NPR affiliate in 2006-07, news was, however, part of the service Liseo provided his listeners, especially in the pre-internet days. With a phone call to his sister in Mellili, he’d have direct access to Italy’s updates as she read highlights from the Italian newspapers.

Hardigg remembers his own newscasting—when WESU news director Len Besthoff ’88 asked Hardigg to try it out. “I’d get up early, head to the basement of Clark Hall, gather the national news from the UPI wire printer in a giant pile on the floor, and cut it with razor blades into stories that fit into clear sheets. I’d rewrite the stories slightly—we called our work ‘rip and read news’—and put it on the air live at 8 a.m. for five minutes. It was exciting to be on the air and I was a news junkie for four years—eventually becoming news director and then president. WESU was my community—we were a board, we felt we were a part of something, we learned by doing. It was really quite empowering.”

Liseo notes that other changes occurred over the years. “It was so dirty in the beginning,” he says. “I’d clean while the music was playing. Now, it’s more professional.”

Hardigg concurs: “Keeping the station orderly and professional was a challenge. We created mandatory work-service hours—you couldn’t get your time slot for a show without committing to those hours of volunteer work duties. That was a game-changer, and it created a sense of shared responsibility for WESU.”

Additionally, Liseo notes music is easier to access now than when he began. He points to his small carrying case that has a few CDs. His iPhone is connected to the computer cords, its music playing across the wires. “It used to be all tapes I’d bring in,” he says.

Hardigg says he reconnected with WESU-FM when he returned for his 25th Reunion. He met some students and also learned that Liseo was still there and connected with him on Facebook.

When asked what his relationship with Liseo and community radio has meant, Hardigg replied via e-mail:

“After I graduated, Franco asked me if he could take me out to dinner, as a gesture of thanks for giving his show a chance. I felt really honored. He picked me up and said that before dinner he wanted to explain part of Middletown to me. He brought me to one of the Italian clubs in town and started introducing me to people, which sounded to me like ‘something-something-something Presidente du WESU Middletown something-something-something.’ And everyone seemed so happy to see Franco and to meet me, and they said thank you, or ‘grazie,’ and shook my hand.

“Then Franco explained: “You look around here; you see a lot of people and some very old people. We come here every day, and we watch football, have a beer. We live to come here, and if this place closed, I bet you many of the people in here would be dead in a week!” He joked, but he was serious, too. “This is our community! And you are welcome to come here. You just tell them you are my friend.”

“Next he drove me to a restaurant in Hartford and helped me order from the menu. I can still remember the dish—‘zuppa de pesce’—lots of seafood, and a big lobster tail. ‘These people here, they know me; they know my show; they said they cannot charge us,’ he told me. Then the owner came out. ‘Franco’s show means so much to all of us,’ he said. ‘It’s a big part of our community. Thank you for supporting it.’

“That night it dawned on me how little I had understood, or even tried to understand, Middletown,” says Hardigg. “He took time to show me his community, and how people appreciated a program I’d had a small role in supporting. That stuck with me, changing my career path. I feel I owe him—the professor who had no degree.”

“I’m no celebrity, but in the Italian community, everybody knows me,” says Liseo. “I’m happy. I have my own show. I’m my own boss. I come anyway, even if I’m sick. I have to be here on Saturday. People sometimes say, ‘Why do you do this; you don’t get paid!’ I say, ‘You don’t understand: Do you see those people at the front desk of the hospital? They don’t get paid. It’s a volunteer job.’ This is my volunteering for the Italian community. They enjoy that I do this. I enjoy to do radio.”

Liseo adds, “I’ve got a lot of Americans who listen; they love the music.”

Benjamin Michael, the general manager of WESU-FM since 2005, says, “Franco’s show is unique. His spirit for radio is unparalleled, and his legacy is a pretty amazing example of engagement at WESU. The dynamics between Nick and Franco are pretty cool too! So many WESU alumni speak about the value of working alongside community volunteers at WESU.”

link to full article in The Wesleyan Connection

Three days left – $5K matching gift to end WESU drive with your help!

(a rare glimpse in the WESU transmitter site showing four generations of WESU transmitters, dating back to the 1960s, on the left is our brand-new unboxed Gates 5 KW FM unit, fresh off the loading dock!)

With just a few frigid days remaining in 2017, WESU is looking forward to warming things up in 2018. So far, we’ve raised 2/3rd of our pledge drive goal directly though community support. Our brand new FM transmitter was delivered yesterday and Wesleyan’s Office of Academic Affairs has generously offered a matching donation of $5,000 to help us close out this drive!

With your help, this energizing gift brings the end of our current pledge drive well into focus.  All donations received by January 1 will be matched dollar for dollar, up to a total of $5,000, enabling WESU to raise $10,000!!

Your donation, today, will help us take full advantage of this matching gift and enable WESU to make a sizable down payment on our new state-of-the-art solid-state digital FM transmitter and help cover our operating costs for the season.

My sincere gratitude to those of you who have helped to get us this far. Thanks in advance to those of you who will help us close out this drive and begin 2018 on strong footing!

Please donate today!  www.wesufm.org/pledge

Donate Today! Support Community Radio at WESU

The wind is harsh, the leaves have turned, and everyone is dreaming of cozying up by the closest fire and tuning into WESU, it must be time for the the annual WESU Fall Pledge Drive.

As a community radio station, WESU offers a unique mix of talk and free form music programming that listeners are hard pressed to find elsewhere. The station depends on the community support to keep it this way. The service WESU provides is made possible by over 150 student and community volunteer broadcasters, two very part-time employees, and one full-time General Manager. The station’s lean budget is funded through financial support from Wesleyan University as well as listener and community support.

Due to a failing 30 year old FM transmitter, WESU has had intermittent broadcast problems this fall. “Our old faithful transmitter has made it clear that it is ready to retire” says WESU General Manager, Ben Michael. “We’ve been putting too much money and time into keeping the old transmitter up and running and it’s time to move on.”  says Michael. “After negotiating with several vendors for the best possible deal, a transmitter purchase is imminent.” This purchase will pose a significant  financial burden to the listener supported community radio station, that also relies on listener support to fund smaller items like reliable chairs.

During this season of giving, WESU needs to hear from new donors and is asking past supporters to consider increasing their contribution to help offset the cost of a new transmitter.  With that said, to sweeten the deal,  the station is excited to offer new limited edition long and short sleeve t­-shirt designs as thank you gifts for donors. In addition, all donors get a free WESU bumper sticker!

The WESU Annual Fall pledge drive is slowly building momentum but there is a long way to go! To reach the goal of paying this season’s bills and making a large down payment on a new transmitter, WESU is depending on listeners to donate as soon as possible to help make the goal a reality before the end of this calendar year.

If you value WESU’s offerings of  independent media that encourages listeners and broadcasters to dig deep, ask critical questions, and appreciate diversity, support The Annual Fall Pledge Drive, today!

Secure donations can be made  online at www.wesufm.org/pledge or by sending a check or money order directly to WESU Radio, 45 Broad Street, 2nd Fl, Middletown, CT 06457 ℅ pledge drive.

Remembering, Honoring, & Celebrating the life of Viso Ngozi Ãz-Ibo

This Sunday at 2pm at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, there will be a memorial service to Remember, Honor, and Celebrate the life of Viso Ngozi Ãz-Ibo, Poet, family man, and host of Classik Ãz which he broadcast late-night on Saturdays on WESU for nearly a decade.  You are invited to remember Viso Ngozi Ãz-Ibo and find meaning in his early exit from our lives. We will resurrect his voice through some of the most significant and powerful recordings he left behind from his WESU radio show and poetry performances. Calling all poets, especially those who knew Viso, please bring a poem or two to share. There will be opportunity for family, friends and acquaintances to share how much Viso meant to all of us and express ourselves in his honor through the spoken word he so dearly loved.  For those who are not able to physically join us, the gathering will be live streaming on Facebook! more at www.wesufm.org or https://www.facebook.com/events/1934977020074566/

WESU Fall Record Fair 10-08-17

WESU Fall Community Record Fair  2017 – Sunday, October 8th – 11am – 4pm
Fayerweather-Beckham Hall Wesleyan
55 Wyllys Ave Middletown CT 06457

Free!! and open to the public.  (early birds $5 from 10-11am)

Dozens of vendors, Tens of thousands of new & used records CDs, cassettes, memorabilia & more! WESU gear for sale!

WESU DJs, spinning vinyl sets, all day long and WESU Merchandise for sale!

Find us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/976558379150594

Support Community Radio! www.wesufm.org
for vending info contact – generalmanager@wesufm.org 860-685-7707



WESU supports Jack n’ Jill Benefit for New Horizons Domestic Violence Services

The City of Middletown, AT&T, J&J Productions, WESU Radio and The Mezzo Grille are happy to invite you to the 3rd Annual Jack n’ Jill Music Festival and Fund Raiser for New Horizons, on Sunday September 17th, 2017, beginning at noon, hosted on the beautiful back patio of The Mezzo Grille in Downtown Middletown, CT. 

Jack n’ Jill is an all-day and into-the-night celebration of music, generosity and fun, benefiting New Horizons Domestic Violence Services.  Included in this year’s Jack n Jill Roster are Mexican Folk Guitar Vituoso, Dave Giardina and Friend; New England’s Premiere Traditional Blues Band, Easy Baby, featuring Peruvian torch singer, Kelly RAgo; singer/songwriter, guitarist, fiddle-player extraordinaire, Rani Arbo and friend, and many more.

For a complete listing of performing artists and speakers visit www.facebook.com/jackandjillmusicfestival, or just come to the Festival.  There’ll be raffle prizes, a silent auction, music trivia and lots of surprises.  Don’t miss The 3rd Annual Jack n’ Jill Music Festival and Fund Raiser for New Horizons.  For more info go to www.jacknjillmusicfestival.com, or www.newhorizonsdv.com/donate Or call 860-344-8297.

4/9 WESU Spring Community Record Fair Postponed

With a Road Race in Middletown this Sunday, that will constrict and block access to much of Wesleyan Campus and the surrounding area, WESU 88.1FM has decided to cancel the Annual WESU Spring Community Record Fair, scheduled to occur this Sunday from 10am-4pm.   The Road Race, which brings thousands to the streets of Middletown, weaves its way through the Wesleyan University campus and surrounding neighborhoods down to Main Street. “I’ve been working to develop an access plan for patrons to get to our venue but in the last 24 hrs I have learned that the only viable plan will create undue burden for vendors and patrons.” laments Ben Michael, WESU General Manager. “This is an important event for our community and our fundraising efforts. We feel awful about this decision but we feel it is prudent to reschedule and are working on a date in the near future.” Michael says.

The popular annual event features dozens of vendors from across the North East who sell Records, CDs, cassettes, and music memorabilia and is enjoyed by students and a wide range of record crate digging patrons from across the region. For ten years WESU has been organizing these events in the fall and spring. The Funds raised roughly 10% of the station’s annual fundraising needs.  “The WESU Community Record Fairs have developed a great reputation among patrons and vendors alike. It pains us to cancel this weekend’s event, but ultimately we feel it is in the best interest of our community to do so.” Michael claims. Due to the race route, both roads (High St and Washington Terrace) that access the fair venue on Wyllys Ave will be closed for much of the duration of our event and the closest parking options for patrons would be several blocks away, making the event inaccessible for anyone with a physical disability or mobility issues.  Beyond that, patrons would have to navigate the race route, barriers, and police escorts to cross intersections to get to our event. Stay tuned for information about a new date for the Record Fair in the coming week.