by Sylvia Diodati
Italian-Canadians share the airwaves at Z103.5
Working in radio is more than just a job—it’s a way of life, agree on Pina Sama, DJ Drew and DJ Danny D of Toronto’s Z103.5. The on-air personalities share more than just their Italian roots; they have a passion for their work, and it resonates with listeners. “I think the most important thing for me is being able to be part of people’s lives,” says Sama, co-host of the morning show. “Listeners often tell me that I lift their spirits. They feel like they’re hanging out with a friend when they’re listening to me. That’s the biggest compliment I could ever receive!”
Sama began her journey working at The Evanov Radio Group office in 2000. Although she’d originally set her sights on a career in television, her goals shifted when boss Paul Evanov took a risk and put her on the air. The path took her to Mix 99.9 and CHUM FM, but she eventually landed back at the station where it all began. “It was destiny,” says Sama. “It doesn’t feel like work. I get to hang in a studio, play music and talk on the radio. It’s a dream!”
The Toronto native, whose parents are from Gagliato, Catanzaro in Calabria, is proud of her culture and celebrates it through cuisine. She loves preparing pasta and pizza, and has a fondness for making her late nonna’s pasta e ceci recipe on their shared onomastico (name day). “Every year, I think of her when I make it.”
Sama’s gusto for cooking rivals co-worker Drew Suriano’s affinity for coffee. Known to audiences as DJ Drew, the music and programming assistant keeps an espresso machine at work, which is especially useful in early mornings when he spins The Morning Mix. “I grew up listening to Energy 108 and Hot 103.5. At the time, these stations were so different and cutting-edge,” Suriano reflects. “Little did I know I would end up working at Z103.5 and be a part of its legacy.” The Mississauga native apprenticed with a DJ company at age 12 and studied radio at Humber College. The two years spent waking up at 4 a.m. to volunteer at the Evanov Radio Group before class paid off when he was hired as an intern, and eventually full-time, over a decade ago. “The hours can be tough, the industry competitive, but most of us in radio can’t picture ourselves outside of the business.” When it comes to his roots, Suriano indulges in the flavours of his heritage. “It’s all about the food,” he laughs, whether it’s enjoying a traditional dish from his mother’s town of Mignano Monte Lungo in Caserta, Campania, or from his father’s city, Vibo Valentia, Calabria. The sentiment is shared by DJ Danny D, assistant music director and on-air personality, who mixes the Wayback Lunch and Drive at 5 Streetmix.
“I love Italian culture. There are just too many things to list that I’m passionate about,” says the Scarborough native, who celebrated his 20th anniversary with Z103.5 this year. “If I had to pick my favourites, they would be Juve, the food and, of course, the beautiful Italian ladies.” Known as “The People’s DJ,” Danny D has received Juno nominations, multiple awards and a nationwide following. “I love making people happy and having a positive influence on society,” he says of his work, noting that he didn’t formally study in his field. “I learned production on my own using various software and started producing commercials for clubs.” He soon got noticed for his music mixing skills, getting his break at Paparazzi Nightclub when Z103.5 hosted live-to-air broadcasts two decades ago. “Fast forward, and here we are today. My dream came true, and I’m proud to be a part of the Z103.5 family.”
The ciocaro, whose parents are from Chiaiamari, Frosinone in Lazio, believes many Italian-Canadian listeners connect with the station’s format. “Our music has a European touch mixed in with Top 40 hits. Plus, since I’m the biggest Juventus fan, everyone needs to tune in to hearmy updates! ”All three DJs say they value the audience that has been tuning in all these years. “We just try to focus on putting the best product out there,” says Suriano. “We’re proud of the station we have on air!”