I never thought I’d describe a male voice as having a ‘velvet’ sound, but if you’ve ever listened to Tony Tardio on the radio then you’ll know what I’m talking about. (A friend of my mother’s describes his voice as Hot Chocolate, and I’d add that it’s an Italian hot chocolate. If you’ve ever had a hot chocolate in Italy, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) Having a voice for radio isn’t a gift that all are blessed with and I think Tony has the best male voice that I’ve ever listened to, the sort of voice that makes you want to listen to radio all day actually.
I first had contact with Tony in 2010, shortly after I won Italy’s first cooking reality TV show. Obviously the Aussie girl beating the Italians in Italy made news in Australia and Tony contacted me for an interview. I was lucky then to meet him when I travelled to Australia in 2011 for the Melbourne Food and Wine show. I had another interview with Tony in the studios of Rete Italia, and since then we have kept in contact, mostly during the occasional interview about what’s happening in Italy when Tony broadcasts for Rete Italia. During my recent trip to Melbourne, I caught up again with Tony. You know, if you talk to any Italian in Australia, they will always have some wonderful story to tell, whether it be of their own migration or whether they are talking about their parents or grandparents migration and subsequent struggle for survival in a new country. All of us (and I include myself in this group) talk proudly of what our parents or grandparents achieved by leaving everything they knew to travel to Australia. They took at least a month to travel to an unknown country so far away, that I’m sure it seemed they were travelling around the world twice. Tony Tardio is no different, and it was over a relaxed coffee in the building that houses The Age and 3AW, that I started to learn a little about Tony Tardio’s family. I asked Tony to share it, and I hope you enjoy the read!
Tony’s family comes from San Marco, a town in Lamis, Foggia, and the catholic church town records dating back to the 1700’s show his family were there then. The records also show that Tony’s great great great great great grandfather Domenico Tardio married a lady called Pulcheria Munno in 1770, the same year Captain Cook first saw Australia. Pulcra in Latin means beautiful and Domenico obviously thought that of his wife as they had quite a few children. Tony feels that no television or electricity, coupled with not having much to do in San Marco in Lamis also contributed to Pulcheria & Domenico having many children!
The story here gets a little confusing, so please concentrate on this important part. One of their children was named Matteo. Matteo had a son called Michele who called one of his sons Matteo who called one of his sons Michele who called one of his sons Luigi who called one of his sons Paolo…… PAOLO was Tony Tardio’s father, and he was born on the 2nd February 1917. He was conscripted by the King of Italy to fight in the 2nd World war. It is interesting to know that every man conscripted had to be at least taller than the king. As King Vittorio Emanuele the third was exactly 5 feet, it didn’t leave many men escaping being conscripted. Paolo was 5 feet 8!
In January 1941 in the famous battle of Bardia in Libya, Tony’s father was taken prisoner along with thousands of other Italian soldiers. This actually saved his life. He was taken to a prison camp just outside of Pretoria in South Africa called Zonder Water. He was there for 5 years until 1946 when the war ended and he went back to Italy. Back in Italy, Paolo met Tony’s mother, Grazia Vigilante as she was walking home from church and they soon married. They had their firstborn son Luigi and then in 1949 Paolo left Italy for Australia. Like many married couples back then, they were separated for 6 years with Grazia and Luigi not arriving in Australia until 1955. Tony says that upon his mother’s arrival, “My dad got to work and my brother Joe was born in 1956.” After having two boys his mother then wanted a girl…… Tony was born!
In 1962, when Tony was 3, his father bought a banana plantation in Crossmaglen, which is near Coffs Harbour in Northern NSW. Then in 1967 he bought another one at Moonee Beach about 10 miles up the road. During this time Tony’s mother had welcomed not one daughter, but two; Emanuela and Antonietta. Thus, Tony was destined to be the attention seeking middle child, and stuck in a farm house ‘half way up the mountain surrounded by banana plants’ he needed an escape. Tony’s ‘escape’ came in the form of cricket and the radio, and he would listen late at night to the cricket from England when Australia played there with a transistor radio under his pillow. He was in awe that he could hear something so far away, and thus was born his love of radio. Tony recalls those days as “pretty rough and ready”. They went to school barefoot, walking through bush to catch the bus on the side of the road. After years of no shoes a new principal arrived at the school and ordered every student wear shoes.
When Tony was 15 he and his family came back to Melbourne and settled in the “wilds” of Lalor. If at school in Coffs Harbour it was spot the wog, (the wog being Tony) … at Lalor High School it was spot the Aussie!
After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1981, Tony got a job at radio station 8HA in Alice Springs in 1982, and says that that was the year that made him. “I was 22 years old and a bit too full of myself. I landed in Alice Springs after my first ever flight in an aeroplane in 38°C heat wearing a suit”. He was thrown in at the deep end on his first day it was straight ON AIR doing the evening show from 8pm to 1am. Tony says he feels for the ‘poor people’ of Alice Springs who had to listen to him back then. There wasn’t any television and Tony Tardio was their only source of entertainment.
Toward the end of 1982 he got a job in the newsroom at radio 3MP in Frankston. While there he covered general elections, state elections and countless murders and court cases. He was in the court room when the girl who streaked naked at the 1982 grand final appeared!
In 1986 he was sent to cover the Commonwealth Games in Scotland. He had four free days at the end of those games so he flew to Italy, and it was at the end of a hot August day with the sun going down that Tony saw San Marco in Lamis for the first time. There to meet him was his Nonna Antonietta and many relatives. Any of us who have returned to Italy to visit the towns that our grandparents left before settling in Australia can definitely relate to the welcome Tony must have had! Tony says that until then he had always felt 100% Australian, but that those 4 days made him want to be less Australian and more Italian.
In 1996 he switched radio stations and began working at 3aw where he has been ever since. Tony says that he doesn’t forget very much and that he has an encyclopaedic memory of pretty much anything that has happened in Melbourne in the last 45 years.
In 2008 Tony also started doing the Italian program on Rete Italia. Tony credits his father for this. “I would go and see him on Friday night’s and have a couple of cigarettes with him, and he would tell me all about what they were doing and saying on Rete Italia. I thought he would get a bit of a kick out of me being on there and he did”.
Tony’s aim was to make his father laugh. When his father died at 94 after 86 years of smoking, Tony put a little transistor radio in his casket tuned to 1593 on the AM band, and says that he imagines his father still listening to him.
Tony has three children and his dream is to spend the summer in Italy and then return for the Australian summer. I’d have to agree with Tony there…… Wouldn’t we all?
Do you have relatives that listen religiously to Rete Italia? Please share your stories in the comments.