Six years ago, as he broke bread at a “Paesano Dinner” with other like-minded Italian American men, Lou Beccaria struck up a conversation with Vince Melograna.
Melograna, 74, is an advertising executive for West Chester’s WCHE 1520-AM with a long background in sales and marketing, but it was his turn to be sold something: an idea.
There’s too much negativity in mainstream media, Beccaria, also 74, explained, always stories of murder, death, and other tragedies. What about a show that focused solely on, as Beccaria put it, “good news?”
The idea stuck, and the result was “Good News Chester County,” a grassroots, homegrown radio show produced around Melograna’s kitchen table, often to the faint soundtrack of his cats meowing to be released from the closet where they’re corralled away from guests.
“This is a celebration of the human spirit," Beccaria said this month during a recording session. “There are people out there, humanitarians, who through only their own creativity are doing great things."
The show airs once a month on WCHE, a small-town station that reaches an audience of about 40,000-50,000 listeners, according to Melograna, who honed his on-air skills by calling commentary for West Chester University’s football and basketball teams.
The rules are simple, the format even more so: All of the guests on the show, from Chester County commissioners to local senior center directors, have the span of three, 8-minute segments to outline their program or organization dedicated to bettering the community around them.
Six years and nearly 70 episodes later, the show’s two hosts have fallen into a reliable and efficient routine. And, to hear Beccaria tell it, there is no shortage of topics to cover.
“There are so many people to meet, stories to tell, and contacts to make,” he said. “People are out in the community doing great things, but they don’t always think to come out and speak about it like this."
Beccaria has an advantage when it comes to scouting talent: He’s the president and CEO of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit that helps bankroll public-health and community-based programs in the Chester County borough.
He admits that he meets a good portion of his interviewees through his day job, including Valerie Melroy, the chief executive of Voice and Vision and one of the show’s most recent guests.
Melroy’s organization, based in Warminster, Bucks County, connects families of special-needs children and young adults with resources and programs, essentially a clearinghouse for aid. Her turn on the radio show was spent discussing the logistics of the program, as well as plugging the group’s 360-page guide to those resources.
Beccaria and Melograna are as quick with their wit as they are with questions, playfully jabbing each other as they walk their interview subjects through the questions.
“I’m going to steal Lou’s thunder,” Melograna said after asking how Melory came up with the “Voice and Vision” name of her organization, "because he’s gonna say ‘Yeah, you have issues with both of them.’ ”
The humor helps put everyone at ease, including the men behind the microphones. They see the show as something close to a vocation, a chance to contribute something to the world around them.
“Take this episode, for example,” Melograna said, gesturing to Beccaria and Melroy sitting beside him. “If three, four, or even five people listen to it and find the help they didn’t know was an option for them, that’s good news. That’s three, four, or five that would’ve been struggling otherwise.”
Even after six years of recording, Beccaria and Melograna are taken aback by questions about the program’s future, of whether they’ve considered how the “Good News” will continue to be spread.
Both promise to keep doing it as long as they’re healthy. Beyond that, they don’t give thought to much beyond their next episode’s lineup.
As Beccaria says at the end of every episode, “play nice and be kind to each other.”