The Bronx gave birth to the harmonized, vocal-based music that became known as doo-wop. Fifty years later, from a radio studio just up the road in New Rochelle, Dennis Nardone is making sure the genre is not forgotten.
Nardone goes on the air each Sunday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on WVOX 1460AM and takes listeners on a trip back to the 1950s and early 60s with his Remember Then Doo-wop Oldies Show.
Bronx artists such as Joe Spano, The Excellents, the Regents, and Angel Rissoff, are all regulars on the program, and Nardone estimates the show draws more listeners from the Bronx than its home county in Westchester.
“Our slogan is to ‘keep the music alive,’” Nardone said. “It’s like an unwritten rule that if somebody hears my show for the first time, the first thing they say is ‘thank you for keeping the music alive.’”
Nardone, a retired corrections officer, entered radio in 1998 as the host of a news and community affairs talk show on WVOX, which he still does. Shortly thereafter, New York City powerhouse station WCBS-FM began to change its format, moving away from popular pre-1960 music and more into hits from the 1970s and 80s.
Despite the fact that he never considered himself a connoisseur of the music, Nardone found himself getting more and more requests to play doo-wop hits as bumper music.
“I would play it in and out of commercials, and then before I knew it I was I the only one,” he said.
By 2002 he was hosting his all-doo-wop show. Currently 59 years old, Nardone missed out on the music’s heyday. His only exposure was from his older sister’s record collection.
“I’m actually more of a Beatles and Stones guy,” Nardone said. “A friend of mine ran live oldies shows in Westchester, a while back, and he had all these oldies groups. I didn’t know one from the other.”
However, Nardone got an education, largely thanks to Bronxites who were part of the scene that originally birthed doo-wop decades ago.
“People like Dion, The Regents, The Earls, The Belmonts,” he said, rattling off Bronx groups that have been on his show. “I’m a big guy for promoting local music.”
Angel Rissoff, who grew up in the Parkchester area, now lives in Riverdale and is a frequent guest on Nardone’s show.
“He keeps it alive. He’s a champion of it, I would say,” said Rissoff, who remembers when harmonized singing groups ruled. “I was singing on the corner in 1960 when I was about 12 years old. It wasn’t called doo-wop, just singing. It was rhythm and blues, it was rock and roll.”
Rissoff’s song “Boogie Down Bronx” recounts the over 50 clubs that showcased vocal-driven music throughout the borough in the 1950s and 60s.
“During the summers in Poe Park, you’d get 2,000 people to hear groups from all over the borough,” he said. “It was like the battle of the Bronx.”
The people who grew up in that scene make up the core group that tunes in every Sunday to hear Nardone play tracks like “Duke of Earl,” “The Wanderer,” and “Deserie.”
“This is clearly where his heart is, his heart is with the doo-wop singers and musicians,” said WVOX president Bill O’Shaughnessy. “And it seems that a lot of them live in the Bronx.”