30th Anniversary - Nightsounds Host Takes an "Independent" Approach
t all began with a friend of a friend. Dave Leonatti had been thinking about checking into the possibility of hosting a program on what was then WSSR Radio. He mentioned the idea to friend who happened to know someone who was connected to this relatively young public radio station.
That “connection” paid off. Somewhat unexpectedly, Dave was invited to put together a demo tape for Brad Swanson who was program director at the time. Brad liked what he heard. And so it began, with little more than a strong desire to share his passion for all types of music with others, Dave Leonnatti was booked to the host a new program called Sunday Night Sounds. For the foreseeable future he would have a standing appointment with a loyal listening audience who every weekend tuned in to hear this eclectic local public radio program.
The show, which offered a mix of jazz, new age, and electronic music, enjoyed widespread popularity during the late 1980s. It catered to the varied musical tastes of a diverse audience until 1993 when Dave decided it was time to step away from the show to spend more time with his growing, young family.
Although Dave remained involved with the station during special events and fundraisers, he didn’t return to host another program until the late 90s when Nightsounds returned to the WUIS airwaves. However, this show was completely different from the original. “Mark Mathewson and Jennifer Ramm came on board and took over Bluegrass Breakdown, but Bill Rintz had left and there was a void in the folk programming. So I started hosting the folk music show. But I didn’t do the show the way that Bill did it in terms of playing real traditional folk. I worked in more modern folk and acoustic music into the format.”
Dave sought to showcase singer-songwriter music and folk-rock from independent folk artists. Today’s Nightsounds is more multi-directional. “It’s sort of like old radio that I grew up with. You could listen to top 40 radio years ago and everything was based on the song itself. It didn’t’ matter if it was Motown, rock and roll, or soul. I base it on the quality of the songwriting and the playing.” Although the program features many well-known artists, Dave actively seeks out lesser-known musicians as well. “We try to play independent artists, but we don’t play them just because they are independent. We base it on the quality of the compositions and recording.”
Dave actively researches numerous artists and reaches out to musicians around the world through email and the Internet. He is continuously previewing songs that he might feature on the program, and he finds there is no shortage of excellent selections to choose from.
“What always astounds me is how much good talent there is out there. I play artists on my show who really deserve much more widespread recognition. If it weren’t for public radio there would be no classical music, no jazz music, and probably no acoustic and folk because record labels want somebody big. They don’t tend to spend money on smaller talented artists. These are gifted musicians who deserve a chance to have people hear their music.”
Dave takes great pride in learning about the artists and delivering a quality program each week. He recognizes that he is one of only a few links these musicians have with their audiences. “There’s a committed portion of the population that wants this type of music and will support it.”
A multitalented musician himself, Dave plays the bass, guitar, drums and has performed in bluegrass, rock and roll, and country music bands since high school. In recent years, he has played with the bluegrass group the Elastic Waistband in Illinois. “We have some really stellar musicians. Our flatpicking guitarist is probably one of the best in the state.”
As for a favorite musical genre, Dave couldn’t begin to single out just one. “I enjoy all types of music. I grew up with top 40 and rock and roll, got into jazz when I worked in St. Louis and listened to Public Radio Station KWMU. In college, I was into fusion music, which merges rock and jazz. It’s all good in different ways. I love classical music, and I love what I play on my program. It all has something to offer.” He is also enthusiastic about developing Nightsounds Live, a series of acoustic and singer-songwriter performances that has been started with the Sangamon Auditorium Studio Theatre.
An architect by profession, Dave, his wife Valerie, and their two daughters live in Chatham. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his family, bike riding, and doing home do-it-yourself projects. In addition to hosting the radio show, Dave is a freelance music critic for the State Journal-Register.