It might be about to celebrate its centenary, but radio is one of the most ageless of communication media. Despite pessimistic predictions, it is one of the few means of communication (apart from the internet) to see its popularity rating rise progressively—up 15% in the last 10 years alone—and shows no signs of decline. Indeed, it still has plenty to say, particularly on issues like agriculture, the environment and food, where information is often approximate and hard to access. This is why Slow Food has decided to venture into radio, exploring culture, food, traditions, gastronomy and music and offering content for everyone. The Slow Food web radio station will begin broadcasting during the tenth Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.
But this is not Slow Food’s first brush with the medium of radio. Back in the early 1970s, the founders of Slow Food created Radio Bra Onde Rosse, a pirate radio station that became a historical and political reference point in the Italian cultural landscape.
To explain the connection and bring together past and present, we had a chat with Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and one of the founders of the Bra-based station, and Luca Morino, Slow Food Radio’s future editorial director and presenter.
How did Radio Bra Onde Rosse start?
PS: This was back in the years of a full state monopoly on broadcasting. Radio Bra Onde Rosse developed out of the Leonardo Cocito cultural club and the magazine In campo rosso and was the idea of some young militants in the extraparliamentary left. At the time, starting a free radio station or collaborating with one was one of the few available ways of communicating and freely expressing your opinions.
Things have changed so much now. What are the main differences between a pirate radio station and web radio?
LM: The free radio stations from the 1970s were mostly broadcasting at a local level. There was a desire for something new compared to the programs from Mother Rai, and there was a need for free expression. Now there’s no longer a monopoly, and, through radio, we can reach not just the local community, but the whole world, and so deal with themes of much greater significance. The potential audience is much larger: In recent years the use and the users of web radio and digital platforms have shown a huge upswing and the increase is sure to maintain itself over time.
What was the programming like back then?
PS: The broadcast began at 8 in the morning with a reading of the newspapers and ended at 8 pm with a music show. The schedule included recordings from assemblies, municipal councils or union meetings, as well as avant-garde music programming. There was a space dedicated to the interview of the day, generally with an intellectual, musician, journalist or writer. Everyone will ask when the food and wine came, but this was more than 10 years before the start of Slow Food and, apart from a small feature with cooking tips, there was no focused attention on food or, more generally, the themes of the future association.
LM: The radio will be international and from the beginning the programming will be in at least two languages, Italian and English. Through the programming, we would like to give a voice to those who normally do not have access to this means of communication, in the field of food and wine, in agriculture, fishing and farming… Without forgetting music. The musical programming will seek to offer all the national and international music normally snubbed by the “official” radio stations. The aim will definitely be to take food as a starting point for talking about music and vice versa. We’ll show that it’s not a very difficult thing to do!
Who were the supporters in the past?
PS: We had lots of supporters, particularly among the intellectuals on the left, during the good times and particularly during the bad times too. When the radio was shut down for the second time, with their support we organized three months of concerts and conferences with well-known Italian figures like Dario Fo, Antonello Venditti, Giorgio Gaber, Gianni Vattimo, Alberto Asor Rosa, Nanni Balestrini, Gianni Sassi, Alberto Capatti and many others. The evenings had an unprecedented success.
Who will collaborate with the new web radio?
LM: We want to become part of a network of similar organizations with similar aims, not just welcoming contributions, but also providing content and participating in the programming of other radio stations. We will work to create important partnerships, with everyone from the BBC to RTSI to community radio stations. We will definitely be collaborating with Putumayo Records, a famous label specializing in international music.
What would Radio Bra Onde Rosse be today?
PS: If it had continued to broadcast, it would have become an important radio station on the contemporary scene, and almost certainly it would have been joined by a television program. Probably Slow Food wouldn’t have started, because all of our energies would have been concentrated on that project, which required a huge amount of time.
Does it make sense to start a new radio at the moment?
PS: The world of communication has changed completely. If at the time of Radio Bra Onde Rosse there was no information, now we are so bombarded by communication media that it has become hard to choose. Creating a radio station today makes sense if it plans to carve out a very specific space in which to become a trustworthy means of communication, covering exactly the role of Slow Food but within the radio sphere.
LM: Effectively the strength of Slow Food is its trustworthiness: What Slow Food recommends is good, clean and fair, and the same has to be true for the web radio, to ensure that it is not just an interesting experiment, but also a reference point to be listened to everywhere.