“Don’t Forget You Have Relatives Here”: Transnational Intimacy and Acoustic Communities of WOV-AM’s La Grande Famiglia

From 1948 to 1961 the Italian-language radio station WOV-AM in New York City produced the program La Grande Famiglia for syndication in several U.S. cities. Devised as a marketing campaign for an Italian American food company, the program’s Rome-based representative drove to Italian Americans’ hometowns to record and broadcast mundane family news, chastisements and pleas, and heartfelt expressions of love and longing. In the course of a decade, it was reported that half a million families in the United States had participated in this transnational communication enterprise. My talk examines the social context and cultural content of five recorded messages in my family’s collection to reveal how transnational intimacy was maintained sonically across the geographic divide that separated loved ones. Private and public lives heard on the corporate-sponsored program converged in a shared sonority, a multiplicity of reverberating voices that revealed, bolstered, and endorsed a diasporic understanding of migrant families’ lives.

Joseph Sciorra is director of Academic and Cultural Programs at John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, a Queens College research institute. Receiving his Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, Sciorra has conducted ethnographic research on vernacular expressivity and published on religious practices, material culture, and popular music. He served as editor of the social science and cultural studies journal Italian American Review (2009-2016) and Italian Folk: Vernacular Culture in Italian-American Lives (Fordham University Press, 2011), coeditor of Neapolitan Postcards: The Canzone Napoletana as Transnational Subject (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) and Embroidered Stories: Interpreting Women’s Domestic Needlework from the Italian Diaspora (University Press of Mississippi, 2014), and the author of Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City (University of Tennessee Press, 2015), which won the Italian American Studies Association 2016 book award. He recently coedited, with Laura E. Ruberto, a two-volume anthology titled New Italian Migrations to the United States (University of Illinois Press, 2017).