An Egyptian Pyramid in MILANO

Written by Enrico Grigoletti
Photo by Alberto Sinigaglia

Week 39

It was November 10th, 1952 at precisely 21.00pm when the Primo Programma went live on air; an experiment of sorts, which in the years following became the Italian news. The Venetian regatta and Stalin’s funeral were the first reports to be broadcast nationally by RAI studios in Milan. Milan, not Rome.
Contrary to what you might think, RAI Studios located in Corso Sempione acted as a bridge between Italy and the rest of world for years after the war, transmitting the first newscast and producing variety shows and small television productions, which have cemented themselves in Italy’s popular culture.
Today, Corso Sempione 27 is exactly that: a mausoleum dedicated to popular culture, a brutal architectural entity that, for many Milanese, represents an important moment in history. The transmission tower, which tentatively emerges from the new city skyline, tries hard to remind them that they have a prestigious past to be proud of.
Unfortunately political revolutions like Mani Pulite, which literally means ‘Clean Hands,’ and refers to a nationwide judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 90’s, make us forget the value of this street. It lost more than double its employees – from 1,800 to 700 today, and shifted its axis from the proud Lombard city to Rome.
“Between the 50’s and 60’s in Milan, albeit under Roman leadership, 80% of all RAI productions were produced,” says Alfredo Costa, the 38 year old working in RAI as a technician and then subsequently as director of production. “Then everything started to move to Rome, often due to absurd reasons. Like when they closed Studio Three saying it was at risk of collapsing, when in reality there were only a few flakes of fallen plaster.”
Leaving the talk to others, about how Mother RAI represents a crossroads of political and religious power, Milan’s studios still exert a significant cultural charm, from its interior stairs designed by Gio Ponti, to the chapel on the second floor, where up to a few years ago, a chaplain regularly carried out all the proper religious functions for every holy day.
In many ways, the Corso Sempione Studios behave like mature Milanese women mindful of their glorious past, and persistent on looking young. Despite that fact that almost all studios have been digitized integrating modern technology, these same studios continue to dwell on their nostalgic context, one that is occasionally decadent, and always attentive to the splendour of the past. It’s a mentality that also seems to be reflected in program scheduling, where well-established programs alternate between new broadcasts or research formats. We asked Carlo Pastore, host of Babylon, to lend his thoughts on the matter:

RAI often resembles an Egyptian pyramid, where if you have the desire to look deeper, you may find someone raving alongside the corpse of the Pharaoh (it just so happens that’s us at Babylon). The first time I put my feet in the studios of Corso Sempione in Milan, previously used to a smarter and smaller structure, I was impressed by the size and complexity of the place, which crazily enough, often seemed like a kind of metaphorical mirror of Italy and its institutions. Working there pretty much every day, I started to feel overwhelmed by the weight of public service and how lucky I was to be able to represent it. RAI Milan is a centre of production composed of crazy technicians and exceptional human beings (and a handful of assholes, which is logical). I learned a lot from people who were more mature than myself, who have worked with virtually everyone in the world of media, entertainment and culture.”
I have the advantage of using studios designed and implemented when Italy was the world leader for research and technical/acoustic experimentation, and it so happens that the production centre of Milan was the central point of everything. Unfortunately, over the past twenty years, RAI lost this innovative spirit, and there are still plenty of problems to resolve. Rather than be moral or launch accusatory instrumentals (not in the musical sense, but political), the first way to resolve problems is to excel at your vocation. For the Pyramids, for the Pharaoh, for the ravers, and especially for those who listen and dance.

An “Egyptian pyramid” with all its cards on the table to become a museum of modern communication culture, considering that it’s the most visited public building in Milan during FAI’s (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) open-museum days. FAI usually referred to in English as the Italian National Trust aims to restore and open to the public numerous fine examples of Italy’s artistic and cultural heritage.
Indeed its spaces tell and offer a glimpse of history, not only in respect to communications, but also politics and Italian society. Considering the soft power that television has had on social life between the 50’s till the end of the 90’s, you will understand the extensive political and influential business that has occurred within number 27 Corso Sempione, and that the building itself has helped immortalize in a snapshot. Obviously analog.

Every Saturday and Sunday at 9PM Carlo Pastore hosts Babylon, a radio show about Goodmusic® on Radio 2 Rai.