A pilgrimage to Marconi’s shrine

In 2009, what drew broadcaster Ben Starr to Rome and the Vatican was not the Pope or the Sistine Chapel, but the original Vatican Radio station that Marconi built for Pius XI in the grounds of the Vatican. Starr who Teaches Media and Radio Broadcasting at TAFE – Sydney Institute, says, “It was a visit that changed my life and opened my eyes to Marconi the technician and the importance technicians play in radio broadcasting throughout the world.”

Starr has just returned from a second visit, but this time he filmed a television documentary entitled “Marconi The Father of Radio”. He spent 6 days filming in Italy with Marconi’s only remaining daughter, Princess Elettra Marconi, now 82, pictured with Ben Starr and the original Marconi Microphone commissioned by Vatican Radio in 1931.

In that year Marconi, a devout catholic, personally introduced the first radio broadcast of a Pope, Pius XI, announcing at the microphone, “With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man’s disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father.”

“It was in the original Vatican Radio station that it occurred to me,” says Starr, “that in Australia, the Marconi School of Wireless and the Broadcast Operators Certificate of Proficiency were a thing of the past.

“The  importance of industry relevant education and training in Broadcast Technology needed to be put in place to educate a new generation of radio broadcast technicians,” says Starr.

On his return to Australia in 2009, Starr started discussions with his colleagues at TAFE and working with Commercial Radio Australia developed the Broadcast Technology Course, a new course that would fill the industry skills gap and qualify generations of technicians that do not have an industry relevant qualification.

The first class of Broadcast Technology students will graduate from TAFE in 2012.

Marconi was so revered by the church and Italy, despite his fascist sympathies, that his tomb rests in the nave of Santa Croce in Florence the largest Franciscan church in the world. Even though his body is actually buried in his birthplace at Sasso Marconi, near Bologna, his tomb is nonetheless surrounded by those of several Popes and some of the nations most illustrious names including Galileo, Michelangelo, Rossini and Machiavelli.

The TV documentary will focus on Marconi and how a dream became a reality. 

Below: Princess Elettra and Ben Starr inside the original Vatican radio transmitter. This is where Marconi and Pope Pius XI in 1931 inaugurated Vatican Radio.

Below: Starr and the Princess standing on the hill where Marconi transmitted has first radio signal.