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Mario Casetta; Host of KPFK Radio Music Shows

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mario Casetta, a personable radio host on KPFK-FM who shared his love of international music with audiences for 27 years, has died. He was 75.

Casetta died Sunday night in a Culver City convalescent home of a heart attack, a KPFK spokesperson said Tuesday.

“I will be doing the radio show until I drop dead and they pull me out by the heels,” Casetta told The Times last year. He had remained on the air until about a month ago, when he first suffered a heart attack.

Like other KPFK on-air hosts, Casetta was never paid for the programs he first proposed in 1969. On Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon, he presented “Mario’s Many Worlds of Music.” On Wednesdays, he was host of “Independent Music,” also an eclectic mix of folk and ethnic sounds from around the world but limited to material distributed by independent record labels.

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“For me, doing the show is to feel the joy that you experience when you share something good with someone,” he said. “I say, ‘Come here, listen to this music.’ That’s what turns me on.”

Until he suffered a stroke in 1980, Casetta had supported himself as a salaried fund-raiser for KPFK. Arthritis forced him last year to end his teaching of folk dance at the Colburn School of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles.

A Los Angeles native, Casetta traveled during his childhood with his parents, who ran a classical Italian ballet company that performed in vaudeville.

His first experience on radio was during World War II with the Armed Forces Radio Service. Based on Saipan Island in the Pacific, he did a bit of everything--technical work, writing, conducting interviews and spinning records.

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He soon discovered the varied music available on the island and set out to record traditional songs of Saipan’s Pacific Islanders, Okinawans and Koreans, and even Japanese prisoners of war incarcerated there.

A graphic artist after the war, Casetta continued to record native music during a lifetime of traveling through the United States, Europe and Asia.

He disliked contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. But he thoroughly enjoyed everything else and collected and played recordings of Australian aboriginal music, zydeco, flamenco, Irish folk, New Orleans jazz, country blues and many other forms.

“I say, ‘Open your ears, open your heart and listen,’ ” Casetta said of his on-air approach. “ ‘You might not think you’ll like yoich singing from Lapland, but listen--you might.’ To just expose yourself to one kind of music is like eating oatmeal for every meal.”

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Casetta is survived by three children, Jack, Prima and Carla.


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