(photo credit: Maya Spitzer)
Inhaling deeply, Adam Mallerman announces into the microphone, "Hi, you're listening to Rusty Mike Radio." His chest puffs out, and his voice is enlivened by a peculiar electricity. Mallerman appears suddenly larger, possessed by a charismatic persona. His eyes gleam with intensity as he interviews Mark Gardener, head of the Communal Security Trust in Britain, on the state of anti-Semitism there. In response to Gardener's assessment of Britain's bleak situation and even bleaker weather, Mallerman quips, "I made aliya for the weather."
After the interview, his arm resting on the microphone, Mallerman concedes, "This is very cool, I must say."
On and off the air, he is filled with boundless optimism. Mallerman is a new oleh and the managing director of the Internet-broadcast Rusty Mike Radio, which just completed its second week on the air.
The Internet-radio station, which broadcasts from the offices of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel in Jerusalem, is aimed at the adult contemporary audience of the quarter million Anglos in Israel.
"I really believe I've got something here," Mallerman contends. By the end of the first week, 15,000 visitors had visited the Rusty Mike Web site. Eighty percent were from Israel, and 20% from abroad.
The site has about 100 listeners at any given moment, and 500 listeners during the station's main programming. It includes Mallerman's 8 a.m. to 12 noon "Adam in the Morning" daily program, and the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. "The Afternoon Show" hosted by Richard Freedman, a popular morning host and head of music at Radio Kol Rega based in Afula. The two were childhood friends in Birmingham, UK, who reconnected over this project.
"Adam in the Morning" has an informative, topical emphasis, with eclectic music and guests pertinent to daily life in Israel, modeled on the BBC local radio formatting. In addition to newsy political guests, Mallerman hosts local guests of interest, such as Healthy Kosher Eating author Hannah Rubin.
In keeping with Israel's 20% religiously observant demographic, Mallerman plays about 20% Jewish music, mixed with current hits, classic rock and country, "trying to appeal to the unique flavor of the country," he says. His show also features a Torah lesson every Thursday delivered by Rabbi Yisroel Cohen.
"I'm trying to cast Rusty Mike's net as wide as I can by staying neutral and mainstream in programming," Mallerman says.
The station also features four evening shows .
"This is the hardest I've ever worked. It's a huge amount of fun - about 85% fun and 15% sheer terror," Mallerman says, finally calm after a "morning of insanity" due to technical difficulties.
The station, initially fronted by several investors including Mallerman, hopes to rely on advertising for revenue. "It's very hard to sell ads without a proven audience; but based on the data from our first week, we already have serious advertising coming in."
MALLERMAN'S STORY has been delineated by a series of fortunate finds and leaps of faith, revolving around his love of Judaism, youth work and broadcasting.
"I came from a completely non-religious family, but as a teenager I became a strong Zionist. I read about anything and everything I'm interested in, and soon I became frum," he says.
In his adolescence, Mallerman recalls, "I was Mr. youth work. You know the old story of the Pied Piper [of Hamelin]. Kids were always attracted to me. I used to do kids' birthday parties, run kids' classes, anything with kids."
At 16 he volunteered at Radio Lollipop, a children's hospital radio station in Birmingham. "I had a dream ever since to do radio," he remembers. "I was pulled in two directions: to work with kids and to do radio. I ended up doing 26 years of youth work."
Mallerman earned a degree in youth and community education from Westhill College in Birmingham, and worked as youth director of the Jewish community of Birmingham.
While on vacation in the United States, Mallerman was looking for a place to spend Shabbat in Orange County, California, and ended up staying 12 years.
He had stumbled upon the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine, a Conservative bedroom and business community, where he met his spiritual guide, Rabbi Joel Landau. Landau gave Mallerman a job as Beth Jacob's youth director and served as his Judaic teacher and inspiration.
"Although I was frum, I had never learned Torah. [Landau] let me grow without pushing me into hashkafa [one's personal Jewish philosophy]. He truly helped me find my way as a Jew."
After gaining a strong foundation of Jewish knowledge, Mallerman came to Israel, where he studied at Yeshivat Darkei Noam - Shappell's in Beit Hakerem. He moved back to southern California, where he worked in Los Angeles for 10 years for West Coast National Conference of Synagogue Youth and taught at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy.
"In my heart I always wanted to make aliya," he says, but he was compelled to stay in Los Angeles to work as the director of Bnei Akiva.
Mallerman then moved back to the UK, where he became the North London regional director of the Tribe Jewish youth program and was youth director for Barnet, Southgate and Mill Hill Synagogues. Meanwhile, he rediscovered how much he loved radio as the host of the popular radio show J-JAM, the UK's only Jewish music radio program.
Perturbed by Jewish life under fire in Britain, Mallerman insists, "I couldn't live like that any longer. There is strong anti-Semitism. For all the problems here, they are my problems," he asserts. "I am a passionate, old-fashioned, unrepentant Zionist, an old halutznik at heart."
After four attempts at making aliya, Mallerman finally took the plunge "when I wasn't even planning it." In Israel for the bar mitzva of a family friend last Purim, Mallerman was set up on a date with his now fiancÃ©e, Tammy, a kindergarten teacher and native Londoner who made aliya 15 years ago. Mallerman moved here in September.
Mallerman could not forget his love of broadcasting. "I had this idea of English-language radio, but there was nowhere appropriate, so I put the idea away. When I moved here, I realized there is a lack of Anglo media coverage. Anglos really need to feel in touch with the country."
In light of the current economic downturn, Mallerman decided to make another daring leap, this time to launch Rusty Mike Radio.
"I hope that eventually we will have 1,000 listeners at any given time and that we can set up multiple streams airing simultaneously. Most importantly, I hope this site becomes a staple of Anglo-Israeli life, a day-to-day connection to Israel for our listeners."