Radio is a friend to carry with you everywhere: it keeps us company, informs us, entertains us. For the Italian-American community, for a long time it also has been a fantastic way to keep alive their link with Italy.
The guest of our interview today is Tony Pasquale, who has been for many years a friendly presence via radio for many Italian Americans, especially those who are not that young anymore. And we, too, who are not Italian Americans, happily consider him a friend.
Tony, you broadcast from ICN Radio, which is the most successful Italian radio station in America. Where are you, and which States you reach? What is the history of ICN radio?
ICN Radio (Italian Communication Network) is the Italian radio in New York, but also in the United States, which now can be accessed from anywhere in the world via streaming by logging on to the website www.icnradio.com. It was born about 33 years ago in Middle Village in Queens, NY, founded by Sal Palmieri, who was and still is a very active person in the Italian community, particularly through the radio.
ICN Radio programs are only in Italian and are today only transmitted through the Internet: you can listen them through a radio device – that we sell - able to capture the signal directly from the internet via WI-FI. In addition to these devices the contents can be even followed from your smartphone, tablet, pc, from any device that has a data connection, now even in the car via bluetooth. It was a choice made six months ago, to become an internet radio, because we are convinced that this is the future.
Before becoming a web radio, ICN could be heard in New York, New Jersey, part of Connecticut and even arrived in some parts of northern Pennsylvania, but it was a rather limited range compared to the request from the listeners, which was very high. Just before the transformation in web radio, we used to have an average audience of around 200,000 loyal listeners a day.
Do you have different kind of programs?
The show schedule of ICN Radio is made up for approximately 30/40% by RAI programs, including news, live football matches but also some news or information programs. Then we have private producers, like me, each of which manages its own program during a set time, and each program is based on what the producer wants to do: of course always under the control and supervision of the management and the rules of ICN Radio. The current director is Massimo Jaus, who is also the Deputy Director of America Oggi; the Deputy Director of the radio is Massimo Bongrazio, and then there's us, the producers. ICN Radio is physically within the editorial office of America Oggi.
Please tell us about your program, which reaches many listeners every day
My program is now in its tenth year. It was born as "Pomeriggio con te" (Afternoon with you), which at the time was aired three days per week for 1 hour and 30 minutes on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Back then it was mainly a competition of Italian music of all times, with particular attention to the sixties/seventies, followed with more passion by our listeners because they have an average age between fifty and seventy. Then, about five years ago I changed my program giving it a slight different vision: now it is 30% music, 30% information and 40% interviews of several characters. The show is aired in the same days as before and is called "Ciao Tony, international talk show".
What's your story? And how you would describe your relationship with the radio?
I was born in the province of Salerno, in Monte San Giacomo in the Valley of Diana. We "emigrated" - even if I do not like to use this term - in September 1968: after seven days at sea on the Michelangelo from Naples, we arrived in New York and then went to live in a very nice town called Hoboken, NJ, the famous city of Frank Sinatra, probably the city which has the most beautiful view of Manhattan. I was 13 years old, the homesickness for Italy was very strong at the time, as the desire to hear people speaking Italian at the radio, but it was not as simple as it can be today.
At that time there was a radio device adapted just for the reception of Radio ICN, because they used to broadcast on different frequencies, unlike those of the other common networks: I can still remember when my parents bought the first of these radios, this petite box branded "ICN Radio". Later the system has evolved, with the creation of a receiver which could be inserted into any other radio device, thus allowing the reception of ICN Radio, together with the other radio frequencies.
The radio has been of great utility for Italian Americans and their desire to remain attached to their traditions. Has this role changed, now that new technologies make the world a smaller place?
Well, especially before RAI came to America, the relationship between the Italian Americans and ICN Radio was not just a matter of listening to the radio, but a real strong bond with the community. For example, when we had some technical problems which hindered the airing, people went crazy, and indeed they still do today ... it was and still is just a factor of belonging. The radio makes you feel in Italy, listen to that information that speaks of your country ... ICN Radio has become a real friend to the community, and they have grown together. The music, for example, has contributed much to this: with the memories that came back to mind listening to a song, to its words ... and then there was a very strong relationship that has remained, despite the fact that community has expanded over the years and moved everywhere, whereas before we were all together, geographically closer. It was like having a little piece of Italy in New York.
In 1968, when we arrived, if you wanted to watch a soccer game you would go to the cinema, where it was transmitted via satellite, with a rather noisy signal: but there was no alternative. Little by little, the information has found other ways: when "America Oggi" was founded, it had a great success. Then came RAI, and from there everything changed, because television clearly has a very strong impact on the audience; but despite this, the radio has been and remains always something different, a direct relationship, almost sentimental: the radio gives you a voice, it is a true friend, at home. Although perhaps more successful with regard to the purposes of information, the television is a more cold and formal media.
You've been in Italy on behalf of ICN Radio, to participate in the great rite of the Sanremo Festival. Here in Italy the formula of Sanremo seems a bit old: at least I don't like it, and many thinks that it should be changed. Even because now the "Italian Song" is just a small part of a whole week of television. On the other hand, we know that for the Italian Americans Sanremo is still very important ... please explain us why
Because for us Sanremo is not just music. The first time I went in and saw the Ariston Theatre in Sanremo, in a sense ... it was like I was rediscovering myself. For a person who lives outside Italy it is the best: when you cannot have something, you want it even more. Imagine driving around New York, being able to listen to the Sanremo Festival in the car or wherever you are, live! It is an extraordinary emotion: this is why abroad Sanremo is probably followed more than in Italy, certainly with more affection.
We've been broadcasting the Festival for about fifteen years now, live and in full. Considering that there are those among us Italian Americans who almost never come back to Italy, giving them the opportunity to hear the Sanremo Festival live means to give them a really big thrill.
So, while perhaps for us is a defect, the fact that there are not only songs but also other contents, for you is a value?
It's not exactly a value, it's that we simply see it in a different way. In Italy if you do not want to see Sanremo you can just change the channel; in America, the alternative is rather listen to an American channel. But it's not only this, it would be simplistic to say that the "cause" is the lack of alternatives ... Italians abroad always care in a particular way about Italy, for better or for worse.
You are telling me that, to you, the Sanremo Festival is an institution ...
Absolutely, and we are much more angry than you, when you see something wrong that we don't like! We are much more critical because we are more linked to the origins. This year, it is clear that something has not gone well, given the audience data: and we are the first to be sadden. The Sanremo Festival for us is a composition of our Italian, a mix of style and culture and tradition, especially as it was in the past. Of course, everything is modernized and changed, but I think one must always give way to tradition, if he wants to improve the present. In my opinion, today the Festival is too affected by the influence of modernity, giving less space to the music of the past. A song that takes part to the Festival nowadays is forgotten after a few days, while in the past the songs have had an eternal success.
Maybe we could say that the difficulties of the Sanremo Festival, in the perception of the Italian Americans, is a metaphor for the difficult times of our country?
Yes, in general I think so. But also, and perhaps mainly for this reason, we must give more attention to these events that reflect our culture. The intervention of Maurizio Crozza, in my opinion, was wonderful: it managed to put aside political satire and spoke exclusively of the beautiful Italy, the great Italy, of what Italy is: even in evil, even in ugliness, the point of reference is the greatness of this nation. Everything he said is true and tangible and here I think we should focus, on a positive image: a window like Sanremo should be used in this way, given its importance.
You have a great experience in talking to the Italian Americans, listening to their thoughts, communicate with many of them. What are the most interesting contents for the community? How do you engage in communicating and establishing a dialogue?
The community wants to be informed. You know what the most important thing is right now? It's our language, which we are struggling very much to maintain among our young generations. We have a very good RAI coverage, we also receive something from other tv, we have the radio 24 hours a day seven days a week, we have the daily newspaper. But we have to defend and transmit our beautiful language.
What about the internet? Internet has in it all the things you mentioned ...
Yes, but the problem with the internet is that for people of a certain age is less immediate and simple: I am talking about people who are used to read the printed newspaper, to turn on the radio and listen to news live, to watch television: these are the methods of communication for these people, and it will remain the same. They listen to ICN Radio through the internet, but almost all do that through the radio device that connects to wi-fi. They just turn it on and turn it off, and now the signal is much better than the past.
In your opinion, why there isn't a television channel about Italy, made in the US? The only television program made in Italy and dedicated to Italians abroad is "Community": the rest are content produced for the Italian television schedule and then broadcasted abroad. So there is a channel that broadcasts to Italians abroad things that are produced for the Italians in Italy, plus just one transmission that now, thankfully, they have resumed. But is there room for a television channel about Italy made in the United States?
Yes, of course. There have been several private channels that have tried to make transmissions for Italians abroad on other platforms, not combined with Rai. But it did not work: our sponsors are not as many: it is difficult to find supporters for such initiatives, someone who strongly believes in and care about this topic to create a real Italian American television identity. In RAI, before with "Sportello Italia" by Francesca Alderisi and now with "Community" by Benedetta Rinaldi, they talked and now talk about different topics of great interest for the Italians abroad. It would be a great thing to have a dedicated channel, but I think that there isn't one because there are not enough supporters. A TV channel has a huge cost, so the motivation should be strong. For now, we do our best with the radio.
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