Danny Fontana, who bridged the worlds of broadcasting and finance in Charlotte for three decades, died suddenly at home Friday night at age 65.
Fontana had just returned with his wife, Mary, after an evening out. She found him dead in his study, according to family members.
“He was one of the funniest guys ever,” said his niece, Angel Fontana Martin, who remembered times when Fontana and her dad would sit at the kitchen table telling tales about their childhood in Endicott, N.Y.
“We would all laugh until we cried. He loved to laugh, and he loved to make others laugh, too. He would walk into a room and light it up.”
Fontana was a bold risk-taker whose ventures sometimes wound up in bankruptcy court.
In 1985, his chain of 19 shoe stores went belly up. He had guaranteed the loans personally.
“That little venture cost me four years of my life and $400,000,” he later told the Observer. “I learned a lot – I got the most expensive MBA in history.”
He turned his interest in the stock market into a job as a broker and earned the money to pay back his debt. It was the beginning of the bull market and a ride to riches.
In 1991, he started doing economic commentary on WBT (1110 AM). In 1995, the station gave him an afternoon show that lasted until 1999. In 2000, he joined host Al Gardner on WBT’s “Charlotte Morning News” and had the ear of Charlotte’s mover-and-shaker crowd.
After the broadcast, he would head to his day job, running Wachovia Securities’ uptown brokerage office.
Fontana developed a strong spiritual side after a year of adversity that began in April 1999 when his granddaughter was born blind and with muscular dystrophy, his stepdaughter began an ultimately successful battle with cancer, and his wife developed a medical problem that looked like cancer of the esophagus.
Fontana ran into the Rev. David Chadwick, senior pastor at Forest Hill Church.
“He said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” Fontana later recalled in an interview. “I wasn’t religious at the time, and I said, ‘Do whatever you guys do.’”
Chadwick called Mary Fontana, and while he was praying for her on the phone, they were interrupted by the click of call-waiting. It was her doctor, and he had news: biopsy negative, everything was going to be fine.
“When she told me about that, I felt something happened to me,” Fontana told the Observer in 2002. “I went to Chadwick a few days later and told him I felt like something happened to me, and I don't know what it is but I want to follow up on it. He put his arm around me and said, ‘Come right this way, my boy.’”
Finance and broadcasting
Fontana was dropped from the WBT morning show in 2002 with six months left on his contract. WBT offered to mail his remaining paychecks to his home, but Fontana liked to go the station and pick them up.
Fontana left Wachovia Securities in 2004 and founded Triune Capital Advisors LLC, which became IJL Financial in 2011. Fontana stayed on as an investor with IJL but founded Pilot Portfolio Management as his own company.
In 2005, Fontana returned to radio by buying WDYT-AM through his CRN Communications Ltd. and turned it into a talk radio station based in street-front studios on College Street uptown. But when the economy soured during the recession, the station lost money and closed in 2009.
“It was a noble effort in a difficult economic time,” Fontana told the Observer. “I wish I’d never done it. I lost a lot of money. It was ill-timed.”
Fontana continued with his media presence through a daily business program on the cable Inspiration Network and as contributor to Fox Business Channel.
Fontana is survived by his wife, Mary, three children and five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.