In Israel, broadcasting outlets not only report the news, but also make news, and it’s not just in the area of public broadcasting, which on Monday will take on a new identity. Commercial stations are also having survival problems.
Over the past couple of weeks, broadcasters on Israel Radio (Kol Israel which literally translates as The Voice of Israel) have signed off lamenting the demise of 81 years of radio in this country.
Actually, the first radio broadcast was in April 1932 at the Levant Fair. The British Mandate authorities granted a special license to Mendel Abramovich, and the historic broadcast also featured Tel Aviv’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff. After that there were intermittent broadcasts for three years from what became known as Radio Tel Aviv.
In March 1936, the British Mandate authorities inaugurated the Palestine Broadcasting Service, modeled to some extent on the BBC. Broadcasts were in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The Jewish population, sparse thought it was, wanted to call the station Kol Eretz Israel, to which the Arab population vehemently objected. The compromise was to call it Kol Yerushalayim – the Voice of Jerusalem. Broadcasts emanated from the Palace Hotel, which is now the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, and which for several years housed the Industry and Labor Ministry.
In 1939, the station headquarters moved to what is now Heleni Hamalka Street.
From then till the War of Independence, the various underground movements initiated short wave broadcasts from clandestine stations.
In 1948, Kol Yerushalayim was renamed Kol Israel, and became a government department under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office. Historically it shows that David Ben-Gurion and Benjamin Netanyahu, despite their political differences, have more in common than long tenure as heads of governments. Each preferred state-controlled media to public broadcasting.
In March 1950, Israel Radio reached out to Diaspora Jewry and introduced Kol Zion Lagolah, a partnership effort that started with the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, and eventually included the Foreign Ministry.
In September of that year, Israel Radio stopped being a monopoly, and had to contend with a new station – Army Radio or Galei Zahal as it is called in Hebrew. Transmission of programs specially geared to soldiers and previously aired on Israel Radio, became integral to Army Radio.
In 1951, there were indications that Israel Radio was on the verge of broadening its scope and a roof body known as the Israel Broadcasting Service was established. The next year saw the creation of Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, and in the final analysis there were eight broadcasting outlets including Reshet Moreshet devoted to Jewish Heritage; Kol Hamusica which presents classical music and dramas; Reshet Dalet, an Arabic station that was started in 1958; Reshet Gimmel, a pop music, in time all-Israeli pop, station that became part of the network in 1976; and Radio REKA, a station established in 1991 for the benefit of Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. Long before the advent of REKA, there were foreign language broadcasts in more than 15 languages on Israel Radio International.
Broadcasts from other parts of the region were picked up here and there, and Israelis with television sets were able in some cases to pick up television broadcasts from Egypt whose television transmissions began in 1960.
Ben-Gurion was greatly opposed to television. Nonetheless, in March 1963, the Knesset gave the green light to Educational Television with the aim of eventually having general television.
In June 1965, the Knesset passed the Broadcasting Authority Law, thereby enabling Israel Radio and Educational Television to function independently. The law in itself did not prevent attempts at political interference and influence.
On May 2, 1968, Israel Television, later known as Channel 1, was launched. Jordan began its television service in the same year, and its broadcasts could be picked up in most parts of Israel. Israel’s first regular television broadcast focused on the Independence Day Parade, which sadly is no longer a feature of the national holiday.
For several years, there were fights with the Orthodox community which objected to Friday night and Saturday radio and television broadcasts.
In 1973, peace activist Abie Nathan began broadcasting offshore from his Voice of peace “studio” on a boat that he called the Peace Ship. Never pinpointing exactly where he was, he would announce that he was broadcasting from somewhere in the Mediterranean, till 1993.
By the mid-1980s, Israelis wanted more than one regular TV station, and in September 1985, the first reading of a bill to set up a second channel was approved by the Knesset. Channel 2 began broadcasting in November 1993, and Channel 10 became an additional commercial rival to public broadcasting in January 2002.
After several false starts not to mention a little sabotage, Channel 1, when it was still known as ITV, began broadcasting an English news service in October 1990. The IBA English News introduced by then-IBA director-general Yosef Barel was constantly under threat, and permanently went off the air last week.
Under the new arrangement, there will be no English news broadcasts on local television, but there will be a daily one-hour program in English from 8 to 9 a.m. on Radio REKA.
Israel Radio staff gave the impression last week that after 81 years, it was curtains for Israel Radio. It should be remembered that it wasn’t always called Israel Radio, and that as of Monday, under the umbrella of the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation, there will still be many familiar voices among the broadcasters.