Nearly two years ago Israeli radio began its usual 6 a.m. newscast with a familiar voice making this announcement: “Good morning, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation is this moment officially launched.” The new broadcast entity, named “Kan” had overnight replaced the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, the official body which had run local radio and TV for decades.
The transition from the perpetually ailing and bloated Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to the new corporation had been rocky, even traumatic. But, reassuringly, there on Morning One was the voice of the iconic Israel Radio anchor, Aryeh Golan. “Our rejoicing, of course, is tinged with sadness for the hundreds of our colleagues from the IBA who were left by the wayside,” he added, referring to the layoffs accompanying its closure. Golan had been one of the most outspoken opponents to the closure of the IBA, even after being taken on board by the new Corporation. “It was a real tragedy that so many people lost their jobs. I always think of those left behind,” he says today.
Many Israelis grew up with only public radio and television run by the former IBA until private stations began appearing in 1993. On radio it had been Golan’s strong, smooth voice that woke the nation at six every morning. Now broadcasting from the Kan studios in Modi’in, Golan is still carrying out his morning stint four days a week, his Walter Cronkite-level reliable delivery, punctuated by the occasional wry aside.
Golan’s career as a radio broadcaster began in the IDF when he was assigned to Army Radio, where he broadcast a popular music program. He then joined Israel Radio, where he has been the early morning news and current affairs anchor since 1995. Prior to that he served for three years as the station’s Washington correspondent, where he developed a friendship with the famous American TV journalist, the late Tim Russert, the moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Tim was very helpful, he taught me a lot, to ask everything you like, but keep your tone polite and calm,” recalls the ever courteous Golan.
In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious Sokolov Prize for Journalism in the broadcasting category. And in 2016 the Tzavta club in Tel Aviv honored Golan by celebrating his then 50 years as a radio broadcaster. Among those attending was President Reuven Rivlin who, perhaps jokingly, said Golan would somehow always get him to say something that he’d never intended to say.
The cavernous building housing Kan (familiarly known in Hebrew as the “Taagid”) is in a zone on the outskirts of Modi’in, which looks more like a building site than a studio lot. It was only meant to be a temporary location until quarters are built in Jerusalem. But for now, the only person actually broadcasting from Jerusalem is the hourly newsreader.
During Golan’s broadcast he’s multi-tasking like crazy in the studio. As he conducts one interview, he’s preparing notes for the next, getting the lead for an upcoming report, hearing instructions from the producer through his earphones. “I call this being in the cockpit,” Golan explains. “This comes with experience; one thing I try not to do is to look up things on the Internet, even though the computer screen is right in front of me. I want to concentrate on the interview.”
The radio programs on Kan’s Reshet Bet (second channel) from 7 a.m. to noon are simultaneously televised on Kan 11, the corporation’s TV channel. There’s no attempt at making these telecasts actual TV. Aside from the “crawl” at the bottom of the screen, and the weather posted in the corner, it’s simply “televised radio.” There are no visuals, the anchors don’t even wear make-up. Golan admits he’s not keen on these telecasts, even though they have increased the programs’ ratings. (According to the latest survey, Golan’s early morning program has the highest radio ratings in the country.) “I go along with this. People recognize me on the street, but, in my opinion, the worst thing you can say about TV is that it’s televised radio. There’s magic in radio when you can only hear.”
After wrapping up that morning’s show, Golan sat down to be the interviewee for a change. First, though, he stored his headphone set in his locker. “After 40 years at the radio station I realized that it wasn’t particularly hygienic to share earphones, so I decided I’d keep my own for myself,” he admits, then produces a credible impression of (former prime minister) Arik Sharon describing seeing Aryeh Golan reporting in the field sitting on a tank while wearing his earphones.
After 52 years as a broadcaster, Golan doesn’t ridicule my old-fashioned cassette recorder, and admits he still writes by hand. And no, we’re not related. (“Golan” is no one’s original name.)
Born Leon Skurnik 71 years ago in Poland, he came with his family to Israel during the “Gomulka aliyah,” an underreported wave of immigration from Poland in the late 1950s.
“What I remember is being so happy when we arrived in Israel, coming from a grey, cold, miserable Poland, with the ruins of World War II still in evidence; we used to play in the ruins,” he recalls. “We got here and suddenly everyone was Jewish, the bus driver, the policeman, everyone is your brother. It was really a warm feeling, also the weather. Today I hate the heat, but then as a child I loved it. It was a wonderful, exhilarating feeling.” As a youngster growing up in Herzliya he became a champion sprinter.
Golan says he learned Hebrew very quickly, though it was very different for his parents who were Holocaust survivors, and couldn’t find work. His mother had survived the Warsaw Ghetto and a German labor camp. His father, who’d lost his first wife and a four-year-old daughter in the Holocaust, jumped from a train destined for Treblinka, and survived the war in the forest, thinking he was the world’s last surviving Jew.
Like many children of Holocaust survivors, Golan says he’s carried scars from their experiences. “One of which was a total lack of belief in God,” he comments. “When the Germans arrived in town, the Jews went to the synagogue to pray to God to save them. God didn’t save them; they were herded out and shot, or burned alive. That’s what I inherited from my father: don’t believe in God because he doesn’t exist, and if he exists he doesn’t help anyone.”
Golan is still fluent in Polish, and is occasionally interviewed by Polish Radio, which, he remarks with a wink, never pays.
Golan is married to Aliza, the retired principal of the Ort-Ramot high school in Jerusalem. He has three daughters: Shirli is a journalist, Ruta, a social worker, and Yael is studying to become a rabbi at the Hartman Institute.
What does the veteran broadcast journalist see as the future of radio? “For years they’ve forecasted the death of radio, the death of TV, the death of newspapers. But they’re all still here,” he says. “Radio is part of the Internet now. People generally listen in the mornings as they’re getting up or driving; in the evening, TV is still a very strong part of the culture. Radio will always be there; in addition to news and programs, there’s music.”
(Kan’s daily hour-long English-language broadcast can be heard on the Reka FM station at 8 p.m. and online at https://www.kan.org.il/radio/program.aspx/?progid=1158)
Golan always seems so calm, cool and collected during broadcasts, even during the occasional tempestuous exchange or the crisis du jour. “It’s a matter of years of experience, though every now and then I do get a bit riled up,” he confesses. “Sometimes interviews get testy; when you ask hard questions and the interviewee doesn’t want to answer, tries to dodge, you still try to get an answer. I’m a bad chess player, but sometimes it’s a kind of game of chess, planning several steps ahead if it’s a really important interview.”
The night before that particular morning’s broadcast, a day before the ruling Likud party primary, there had been bitter mutual recriminations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was staging a comeback to the political arena. Golan adroitly conducted an on-air interview with a very angry Sa’ar.
“They’d both said very hard-hitting things against each other. That’s the sort of thing we journalists love, this war between politicians. Sa’ar doesn’t want to say he wants to bring Bibi down. So my job is to extract a couple of headlines from the whole business. There was a government minister who was scheduled to be interviewed, and we cancelled him to make a spot for Sa’ar. The minister is very angry, but that’s the name of the game.”
Israel is now in campaign season towards the April 9 general election. Golan says he always tries to keep his own opinions to himself (though now that the broadcast is televised one can see his occasional mischievous smile). Playing the neutral interviewer is particularly critical in the lead-up to the elections. Until then, he has suspended his 7 a.m. opening brief commentary, which he calls his private “column.”
But what he can’t hide is his irrepressible enthusiasm for the political world. “I love this stuff. It’s got everything: spirited confrontations, power struggles, open warfare, ego fights, huge losses, huge wins, endless drama.”
Golan says that over the years he’s actually learned a great deal from politicians, especially from the older ones. “Menachem Begin, for example, so much patience, and in the end, he finally won. Look at Shimon Peres. These were the ‘adults’ when I was a young political correspondent; they never gave up. They had personal crises, like everyone, but there is always hope, don’t give up, and keep going. That has given me strength, honestly.”
Asked how he would describe Israel’s current politics compared to 20-25 years ago, Golan acknowledges that he cannot stop thinking about Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995.
“It changed the history of the State of Israel. We’d been on the path to finally reaching some sort of solution to the endless conflict with the Palestinians,” he says. “Maybe it wouldn’t have worked, but you understood people were trying hard to find a resolution.
With Rabin there was hope, but what we have today, and it’s certainly equally the fault of the Palestinians, the leadership isn’t even trying. Everyone ‘wants peace’ but they don’t believe it’s possible to achieve. If you don’t believe, you don’t do anything. So most Israelis say if that’s the situation, if there’s no hope of peace, we won’t give anything up. What’s the point if there’s no chance? So here we’re stuck.”
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