Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Morning-show DJ Joe Aiello gives his voice to causes and charities all over the city

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Joe Aiello was almost known as Joe Capone.

Back when the 46-year-old Winnipegger got into the radio business in the late 1980s, ethnic names such as Aiello weren't the norm. He had to fight to keep his Italian surname.

"It was from a lesson I learned from my grandfather about respecting your name. At that point in broadcasting, everything was so Anglo, like Joe Jones or Joe Johnson or Joe Smith. I don't look like any of those.

"I said, 'Look, I've got to have an Italian name.' "

Eventually, he was told, 'OK, Aiello is too soft sounding; how about Capone?'

"I still have some friends that bug me about that," Aiello says, laughing.

In the end, he was allowed to use his own name, but more often than not these days, he's known simply as Joe, one half of Tom and Joe, 92 CITI FM's popular morning-show team who have worked together for more than 18 years.

Aiello got into the radio business through sheer determination, hard work and stubbornness, qualities he says he learned from his family.

Aiello's great-grandfather was the first in the family to plant roots in Winnipeg, emigrating here from Amato in the Calabria region of Italy more than 100 years ago.

The family travelled back and forth between the old land and the new land. Aiello's dad came to the city as a 13-year-old and stayed, eventually buying a house on Beverley Street when he was 19, before moving to Clifton Street when Joe was five.

The West End of Aiello's youth was a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds with a large presence of Italian-, Portuguese- and Filipino-Canadians.

The area is still home to a diverse demographic, including Aiello's father, who lives in the same house, because "you can't move a garden," Aiello says.

"I used to joke that Italian kids could never become professional hockey players because any time we would have a hockey stick, our dads would cut the blades off and use them to mark the tomato plants," he says.

Aiello studied to be a teacher at the University of Winnipeg, but his heart was always in radio.

"I remember as a kid, basically using a wooden spoon or some other facility to pretend talking into. It was something I was fixated on, just listening to voices on radio," he says.

Aiello volunteered at the U of W's campus station, CKUW, and his lack of formal broadcast training didn't hold him back much. He camped out in the lobby of 58 CKY every second day for two months, demanding to be interviewed. Finally, it worked.

"I guess they figured, this kid is really whacked or he really wants to work here, so they ended up hiring me part-time. Six months later, I ended up with my first full-time job, producing Ron Able's morning show," says a smiling Aiello, a humble man with a self-deprecating wit.

He got a big break when he landed a spot as the announcer for WFWA All Pro Wrestling on CKY television. That led to an audition with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in Stamford, Conn.

He was hired by WWE owner Vince McMahon and was all set to move to the United States, but before his visa arrived, he was offered his own radio show.

Dream come true. He took the Winnipeg gig on 97.5 FM.

"I went from being a jack-of-all-trades guy to turning down an offer in the States because all I ever wanted was my own radio show," he said.

The Joe Show started in 1992 and lasted two years, until he got the call from Tom McGouran, leading to the famed duo of Tom and Joe.

He donates hours and hours of his time to worthy causes in the city. Sons of Italy, a philanthropic group for men of Italian heritage, estimates Aiello gives his time to about 250 charitable events a year.

And Aiello doesn't just spread the word: He MCs events, collects prizes, hosts golf tournaments and wine nights and operates an endowment fund for palliative care at the St. Boniface Hospital, where his wife and mother worked.

"I'm just lucky enough I have a voice and get a chance to do what I love doing. I figured about 15, 20 years ago, when my mother first got sick, or when my wife got sick for the first time, that to get the word out to a lot of people quick, maybe I could make a difference. I operate by the motto 'We can make a difference' because we can, and really, it's as simple as that."

He was recently honoured with the Professional of the Year Award from the Canadian Italian Business Professional Association.

Last year, following the death of his wife of 18 years, Alanna, he and co-workers at CITI FM held a radio-thon for CancerCare Manitoba and raised $175,000.

"It was obviously a bittersweet highlight, but one nonetheless. It was amazing to see the province come together," he says.

It's that kind of spirit and generosity that makes him love the city and has kept him here despite opportunities and job offers that would have taken him away.

Remember, you can't move a garden.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 j16

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