Exclusive Interview with Angelo Colciago De Robertis
Angelo Colciago De Robertis, born in Milan in 1961 is a legend of Italian Radio Networks. He began as a host and disk jockey and eventually became the director of the most prominent national frequency in the boot shaped land: Radio 105. This station, that currently has 4,5 million listeners per day, is so representative of Italy’s technological history, that some of its studio equipment has been on display since 2007 at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.
Decades of expertise have moulded Angelo Colciago De Robertis into the most visionary captain, sailing a communication vessel that had to adjust to the transforming ocean of the digital era. His skills have remodelled also Radio Monte Carlo and Virgin Radio, that needed a make-over to navigate the sea of technology and have all been acquired by the Mediaset network. The result has always been beyond expectations.
In this Exclusive Interview the Radio Guru shares the most epic moments of his career:
How does Radio 105 distinguish itself from other Italian radios?
Radio 105 is a radio based on entertainment content. In comparison to our competitors we bank less upon music, but try to engage our audience with humour and information: pure journalism is intertwined with topics that distract and are enjoyable. We cover all subject matters, from sports to current affairs and politics, but never in a boring way.
This radio began in the studio apartment of Alberto & Edoardo Hazan back in 1976, just like the Silicon Valley start-ups nowadays begin in garages, could we say it possesses some American entrepreneurial spirit?
The difference between today’s start-ups and the way Radio 105 began is that this Italian radio did not have an initial intention of becoming a business, it was something that was born out of passion. It was an alternative way of getting together. Rather than meeting up in a bar and playing pool or going to the movies, those who were fond of music would have this way of sharing their common interests. There was no entrepreneurial intent to begin with, but eventually it did head in that direction. Edoardo was the one who came up with the idea and Alberto took care of the business model. Start-ups nowadays kick-off with the idea of becoming companies at a national and global level. I arrived onboard when this radio was already five years old, and just like the rest of the team I was listening to foreign music and radio stations, especially from the U.S. and U.K. and to be able to bring it to other Italian listeners was overwhelming. This is how Radio 105 first came to life and there were no fixed roles, the speaker and d.j. represented hats worn by the same person. The radio was in command. There was an empty room, a table, a mixer, a record player, and a wire that was connected to the antenna that would diffuse the message in the ether. Along the way we divided the various departments that would handle the various tasks, from music programming to advertising, and it eventually became the company that today has four hundred employees. Radio 105 undoubtedly was the first to become an actual network, as a matter of fact it was called Rete 105 (Net 105) at one point and went from airing locally to regionally and nationally.
…and internationally, Radio 105 temporarily had an office in New York and currently has a branch in Miami…
Our publisher has always been an anglophile and wanted to give an international appeal to the radio. In fact, he was the one to bring disco music to the attention of our listeners in the late seventies, when the rest of the Italian radios were focused on local songwriters and rockstars. So he was very passionate about creating a bridge with America and open some branch offices there. However the New York office had to close after 9/11, and up until that moment it definitely was a strategic location in the U.S. because it truly represents a hub where things happen. Miami is fashionable in a different way, related to the party scene and to dance or house music. Gianni Riso was the one who had ventured all the way across the pond, but the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center blocked all sponsors in pursuing a continuation in the Big Apple.
How was your experience at Radio 105 from host to artistic director?
I began as a d.j. and speaker, when music was the most important thing, and you had to convey to listeners the knowledge about a specific piece and all the conversation would revolve around this goal. The mission was to move people through music. Plus, I had a good voice and I was told that I could be engaging, especially in the way I laughed (the publisher was fond of my chuckle!) Now the game has changed and music is no longer the protagonist, but a supporter of the speaker’s communication skills, it simply enhances what message is being shared during the storytelling. Since I did not consider this to be my forte I switched from being a player to being a coach, becoming the artistic director. This role was very easy for me, because since the moment I entered the world of radio I would observe the talents around me to figure what would work for listeners. I was always supportive with my colleagues and acquired a variety of skills, from programming the schedule (when it was still done by hand), to cataloguing the records (way before the arrival of the softwares that would do take care of this). Today when I work with hosts I try to understand how I can bring out the best in them: I try to leave them as free as possible and guide their talent to achieve a successful performance. This is a distinguishing mark in Radio 105, since other radios do not admit such liberty and an editorial line rules and must be followed by the book. I have thus built a stage for an audience that is open to this kind of show and the feedback is instantaneous with all the mediums provided by the internet and social media.
With the advent of the world wide web and its platforms, some could have thought that radio would have died as a medium, but on the contrary it thrives…
Radio is probably the medium that has had the greatest ability in riding the internet wave, this is probably because they both arrive directly to their targets without filters. Once a microphone is on you deliver a message and, during this digital era, the listener can immediately respond via the internet. It’s an ongoing constructive dialogue. Currently speakers also can show themselves visually online, which was not the case in the early forms of radio. In a way it is positive, but on the other hand it loses the magic given to the imagination, when listeners could picture in their minds the appearance of their favorite radio hosts. The intimate and personal relationship with radio is similar to the one with literature, in the way you can fantasize about the characters that animate the storytelling. With the digital revolution now everything is accessible at anytime and listeners can tune in for a specific program on their own schedule, and this has brought great benefits to radio.
In these regards, radio companies have tapped into the popularity of smartphones and begun developing applications that allow their listeners to tune in anywhere, which ones would you recommend?
When I select the streaming device it is usually related to music or I like the Apps of each specific radio station. Sometimes there are so many choices that it becomes disorientating. I’m very fond of Spotify and the way it catalogues music. I see the way my children (who are 20 and 18) experience music, mixing genres. It is so easily accessible on the internet and they do not have to go through the procedure I used, archiving everything by decades, bands and so on. I still recall when the iPod was launched in Italy and I received this tiny brick in my office that was so full of potential. I was so impressed.
What about the investigative-crime-journalism podcasts such as Serial that are gaining listeners’ attention?
The content is what determines the success of the podcast and it is important to see the trends in this field. Italy surely monitors what is successful in other countries to see whether it could appeal to our audience too. This helps to build a brand and articulate it in a variety of ways.
Talking about branding, the Radio 105 trademark is undoubtedly the show “Lo Zoo di 105” (The Zoo of 105), what are the traits that made it so successful?
This is an Italian version of The Howard Stern Show, Marco Mazzoli who created this program had always been fond of its American inspirer. The language adopted by the “Zoo of 105” is the one used by young people on a day to day basis when they hang out. He legitimized this kind of speech on air. Furthermore he contextualized it in a very well scripted show, with skits, phone jokes, almost as if it were a radio sit-com. He anticipated the democratization of the internet in terms of communication and perhaps brought it to an extreme. Some considered some content too vulgar, but there was always a moral lesson out of these provocations.
This year Radio 105 turned 42, in your opinion which speakers and shows have made history?
There are several. The first one is Claudio Cecchetto, who began as a disk jockey before founding Radio Deejay and becoming a great talent scout. P3 (Piero Cozzi) invented a way of engaging audiences with an up-tempo laid back style and with Cecchetto he had a snappy chit chatter. The two introduced hit parades, on air competitions and games. Worthy of mention is undoubtedly Loredana Rancati, who was the first female d.j. and filled the role of director before me, she was the one who established jingles for every show and host. More hosts who have been crucial in the landscape of Italian radio are Gianni Riso (who brought the morning show in our country) Federico L’Olandese Volante a.k.a. The Flying Dutchman (who came from established radios) along with Leonardo Leopardo, Marco Galli and Marco Mazzoli with the Zoo.
What is in Radio 105’s pipeline?
Currently all radio networks are seeking a multimedia product that can be used simultaneously online, on air and on television. We are all impressed by the numbers raised by these YouTubers, bloggers and influencers. We have brought them to Radio 105 or placed our hosts on these social media platforms, but the product that combines all these mediums is still to be found. This is the challenge. That is where the future is heading. For instance Mediaset Television got involved with Radio 105 about a year ago and is contributing to making this goal a reality.