As we kick off our “Italian in Connecticut” week-long celebration, we wanted to introduce you to one Italian American who is near and dear to our hearts. He started this television station, the very first TV station in Connecticut, and everyone called him “Uncle Aldo.”
He was the chain smoking, fast driving, big hearted man who brought the magic of television to Connecticut. Aldo DeDominicis came here from Italy in 1920 when he was just 16 in search of a better life, and despite his third grade education, what a life he made.
Aldo sold pasta to Italian markets around New Haven. Then he started buying radio time during Italian shows on WELI radio, and he sold that too.
“He would go out and sell the advertisements, along with the olive oil, and the pasta, and so on. That was his package,” Aldo’s nephew, Enzo said.
When WELI did away with its Italian programming, Aldo started his own station. WNHC radio was born in Hartford, but Uncle Aldo’s broadcast dream didn’t stop there.
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His nephews, Dante and Enzo, had a front row seat.
“He had a vision,” Dante said. “He felt that TV was the upcoming thing.”
“Travelers had a three million dollar budget to start this radio with pictures,” Enzo said. “And these big shots at Travelers figured nobody is going to watch to sit down and watch radio on a TV screen.”
Aldo did it.
He convinced the DuMont television network to give him the equipment to start a station, for almost nothing, on the promise they would sell a bunch of TV sets here. On June 15, 1948, WNHC TV, channel six went on the air in new haven.
It was the first, and only TV station in Connecticut.
Every network fought every night, to get its shows on Aldo’s air.
“He would get phone calls, from ABC saying, ‘Aldo would you carry our program tonight?” Or CBS, ‘No no, I have the fight going tonight. I promised that I would carry the fight,'” Enzo said.
Along with being a shrewd businessman, Uncle Aldo had his quirks. He had so many speeding tickets, they took his license away for a while. He would stick his cigarette to his upper lip, and it would flap when he talked. And he watched his beloved TV station upside down.
“He used to watch TV laying down, looking upside down,” Dante said.
Why? “I don’t know, he liked that,” Dante said.
Aldo sold his beloved station in 1956 for the unheard-of sum of $5.4 million. He died in 1989, but he’s still at work. The Aldo DeDominicis foundation has donated more than $2 million, focusing on poverty, the arts, and education.
“He wanted to be a Yale professor, but he couldn’t spell,” Enzo said.
“The first $35,000 dollars goes to 35 soup kitchens in the area. Each soup kitchen gets $1,000,” Dante said.
His nephews say even though he didn’t like being on television, this proud Italian would be happy we are celebrating the mark he left on this american state he loved so much.