Radio Italia

Having been set up in a kitchen in the centre of Milan, the radio station transmits exclusively Italian music and is the country’s leading commercial broadcaster. And it’s on the rise on social media too

Mario Volanti

Mario Volanti

Can you be innovative while staying true to yourself? It may seem like a contradiction in terms, but the answer is yes. Staying true to what you know, without letting yourself be influenced by passing trends, is the best way to build up a reputation for your brand. In our country, even people who don’t listen to the radio know what Radio Italia is. Indeed, the station is far from feeling its age and is in fact in rude health: according to the latest data from Eurisko, it attracts an average of 4,527,000 listeners per day.

Founded in the early 1980s, in the time of free radio stations and broadcasting experimentation, Radio Italia is still recognisable as the creation of Mario Volanti, a musician and DJ that decided to go against the current when English and American music was the fashion. He invented his own format: Italian music only. «I started in a kitchen in Via San Gregorio in Milan», recalls Volanti, who is still the voice – and the face– of his radio station. «We began broadcasting on 26 February 1982 and the first song we played was by Pino Daniele». The idea of a radio station playing Italian music only was received warmly, and in the space of a just a few years the station began to grow: it began transmitting on a national scale in 1987 and by 1990 was already the most widely listened-to commercial broadcaster in Italy.

But Volanti had realised the importance of the overseas market in developing his radio station: the millions of Italians living abroad wanted a voice that reminded them of their home country. And so it was that in 1996 the station began transmitting in Europe and then North and South America. While the formula hasn’t changed, Volanti’s strategy has always been to be one step ahead of the others. For example, determined to develop the brand outside of the world of radio, he founded Video Italia, the first satellite television channel showing Italian music only, with a similar format to Radio Italia: «We started off with a massive range of different songs, before adding in programmes presented by our presenters», explains Volanti.

The founding father of Radio Italia was also the first to focus strongly on the internet back in 1997, when those in Italy that were connected to the web had to make do with a rehistoric 56K modem. «We’ve always been open to new technology and new opportunities», Volanti stresses. «The internet was something new and, as we’d done in the past with the ISDN system, we got to grips with the new technology straight away. It’s the same thing with satellite television –we were the first to use the new digital technology to broadcast Italian music, with the objective of introducing our artists to the world». 

Volanti has gone from DJ past to entrepreneur present. And looking back over 33 years of hard work, he picks out an event in 2012 as his highlight: «One of the biggest satisfactions I’ve had over the years is to make an event like RadioItaliaLive – The Concert possible. Originally thought up as a way of celebrating the radio station’s 30th anniversary, the concert in Milan’s Piazza Duomo was such a runaway success that it has become the biggest free live music event in Italy. So much so that we’ve received the Best Event Award for the last four years running».

Looking to the future, Volanti aims to further improve the standard of the station’s radio output, harnessing the ubiquity of social media to bring Radio Italia closer to users, but without losing sight of its core identity: «Our secret is consistency, without a doubt. We’ve never changed our format or style. We’ve been Radio Italia – Italian music only – for 33 years and we hope to be able to keep being it for many years to come».