Goals achieved

A legendary radio sports program celebrates its 40th anniversary.

By
November 6, 2011 18:06
Editor and presenter Danny Dvorin

DJ Danny Dvorin 311. (photo credit: Tony Fine)

Against the odds, Shirim Veshe’arim – Songs and Goals – is alive and kicking. Forty years after Gideon Hod brought the concept of a program dedicated to Saturday soccer matches to Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, the show is still broadcast weekly on the country’s airwaves, and remains in a league of its own.

It has outlived the age of the transistor radio, with which it was so identified, and its name, signature tune and the explosive boom sound signaling a “g-oo- o-a-l” are instantly recognizable to the vast majority of Israelis.

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Its history involves a series of ups and downs that mirrors many of the clubs whose fates and fortunes it has followed, but one thing is for certain: Shirim Veshe’arim is more than a radio program, it is an essential part of Israeli culture. In fact, it is such a part of Israeli life that the iconic Hagashash Hahiver comedy team devoted sketches to it and catchphrases such as itut mehamigrash (a signal from the field) have entered the Hebrew lexicon.

The secret of its success is based on two factors, according to Danny Dvorin, who has been involved in the program from its earliest days and today is its editor and main presenter on Saturday nights.

When it started broadcasts in 1971, it was a sensation, he recalls in a phone interview. It was the first time all the results of national league games were broadcast from all the fields as they happened and fans didn’t have to wait until the Saturday night news round-up to hear the results of the afternoon matches.

“In 1971, that was a major innovation,” says Dvorin. “The second reason for its ongoing appeal is the element of nostalgia. Every Israeli knows it.”

Indeed, it was common in the 1970s and ’80s to see men walking down the streets holding transistor radios next to their ears, waiting for that distinctive signal of a goal.

Dvorin, famed for his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, has been behind a microphone during many momentous broadcasts, but one in particular was not memorable for its results but for the very fact that it took place at all.

In the early 1980s, the program was not allowed to broadcast the last four rounds of games so as not to influence them. Dvorin stresses that there was no fear of foul play – it was felt, however, that if players knew what was happening elsewhere it could affect their game.

“For us, it was like broadcasting without being able to produce the punch line,” he says. “Then, Israel Football Association chairman Haim Haberfeld declared it was nonsense and insisted we be able to broadcast the final matches. That was a very emotional moment.”

Dvorin believes Shirim Veshe’arim has kept its fans even after television overtook radio, mainly because TV viewers can follow only one game whereas the radio program is geared to monitoring all the matches.

In its current spot on a Saturday night, it has hundreds of thousands of listeners, many of them listening in their cars as they travel back from a day out or a Shabbat away from home.

The Internet has widened its reach considerably. Among the program’s devoted followers, according to Dvorin, is a former Israel national team player who now lives in New York and listens on a regular basis via the Reshet Bet site.

In general, the broadcasters receive a great deal of positive feedback, as well as comments that make Dvorin feel old: “People tell my wife, ‘We grew up on your husband.’”

He has never lost his enthusiasm for the game and reels off names and dates with obvious pride. Recalling covering the 1966 World Cup, for instance, he rattles off the names of the English players like Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Jackie Charlton and Gordon Banks. That match went down in history for Hurst’s hat-trick, leading England to a 4-2 victory over West Germany at London’s Wembley Stadium.

’"We don’t have the tradition that Europe has,” Dvorin admits. He dreams of Israel having modern stadiums like the one in Ghent, Belgium, which is “a treat. It’s so inviting. That makes all the difference.”

The program’s style is a mix of the more restrained British approach and the emotional Italian style, Dvorin says. “I don’t go nuts. I try to give the listener what I would want to hear and know.”

Zohair Bahlul, whose big break into the Israeli media came when the former teacher from Acre broadcast Shirim Veshe’arim from the city in the 1970s, has his own way of presenting the sport. It is so special that he starred in a skit by Hagashash Hahiver.

“I do have a different style,” he once told me in an interview. “I describe goals in the South American way: Every goal starts now and finishes three minutes later. I have to cope with an audience which is looking for innovations and not prepared to take rubbish, especially now that everyone is hooked up to the outside world. They’re looking for excitement and greater professionalism from the broadcaster.”

Dvorin downplays the compliments he gets, but is understandably proud of the fact that blind listeners tell him he allows them “to see the game.” One of Dvorin’s quirks is that he refuses to know ahead of the listeners who has scored a goal.

“The producer tells me where a goal has been scored and I say: ‘Over to Beersheba or Bloomfield [Tel Aviv],’ but I don’t want to know which team or player scored. I also want to hear it from the broadcaster in the field.”

Dvorin is not only famous in his own right, he is the son a local legend.

Football player and coach Aryeh (Lonia) Dvorin, who served as the president of the Israel Association of Football Coaches until his death in 2000, created the first local Beitar Football Club, in Tel Aviv, in 1934, and in 1940 played a role in the Eretz Israel National Team’s dramatic 5-1 win over Lebanon in a friendly match.

The Palestine Post [as The Jerusalem Post was still known] was the only paper that insisted on calling him ‘Dvorin.’ All the others called him Lonia,” says the broadcaster, who also has no objections to being on first-name terms with fans, players and listeners.

A huge number of big names have been associated with the program, including the late Shosh Atari on the music side; presenters Bahlul, Meir Einstein and Elihu Ben-On; and commentators Avi Ratzon, Jojo Abutbul and Hanan Kristal, who often bases his well respected political commentaries on football analogies.

As with the sport itself, Shirim Veshe’arim has its die-hard fans.

“It’s ‘spectaculari,’” says a Jerusalemite listener, using one of the words that became identified with the program. “When I was growing up, a Shabbat without football was Yom Kippur. And you don’t have to like the sport to feel something for Shirim Veshe’arim.”

With praise like that, no wonder it still continues to score high in the radio ratings charts.

Email Liat at [email protected]


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