Grabbing the Rusty Mike
A new English language radio station just wrapped up a successful first two weeks on the air.
Inhaling deeply, Adam Mallerman announces into the microphone, "Hi, you're listening to Rusty Mike Radio." His chest puffs out; 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 anti-Semitism in the UK.
In response to Gardener's assessment of Britain's bleak situation and even bleaker weather, Mallerman muses, "I made aliya for the weather," flashing a grin.
After the interview, his arm at rest on the microphone, Mallerman concedes abashedly, "This is very cool, I must say."
On and off the air he is filled with a boundless optimism, always compelling others to smile. Mallerman is a new oleh, and now the managing director of the new internet-broadcast Rusty Mike Radio (www.rustymikeradio.com), which just wrapped up its second week on the air.
The station broadcasts from the offices of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) in Jerusalem and is aimed at the audience of the quarter million adult Anglos in Israel - largely ignored by the mainstream media - and offers its listeners local relevant content and interviews.
"I really believe I've got something here," Mallerman contends, again a smile escaping from his lips. By the end of the first week, 15,000 visitors had visited the Rusty Mike Web site. Eighty percent of the hits were from Israel.
Currently, the site has about 100 listeners at any given moment, and about 500 listeners during the station's main programming, which includes Mallerman's 8 to 12 "Adam in the Morning" daily program, and the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. "Afternoon Show," hosted by Richard Freedman - a popular morning presenter and head of music at the Afula-based Radio Kol Rega. Freedman and Mallerman were childhood friends in Birmingham, England, who reconnected over this project.
"Adam in the Morning" has an informative, topical emphasis, with eclectic music and guests pertinent to day-to-day life in Israel, modeled on the BBC local radio formatting. In addition to newsy political guests such as Gardner, Mallerman hosts local guests of interest, such as Healthy Kosher Eating author Hannah Rubin, who spoke on Sunday about organics, the differences in food presentation in Israel as compared to the US and UK, the alarming use of pesticides in Israel, and locally grown produce.
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 weekly 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 of his intent to attract all of Israel's Anglo population.
Freedman's show, which broadcasts from his studio in Afula, is a music-focused program. Singer-songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan and the 80s British rock band Electric Light Orchestra were recent guests on the show.
The station also features four evening shows, totalling five hours of content a week.
"This is the hardest I've ever worked. It's a huge amount of fun; about 85% fun, and about 15% sheer terror," Mallerman says bemusedly, finally calm after a "morning of insanity" due to technical difficulties.
The station, initially fronted by a number of investors including Mallerman himself, hopes to rely on advertising for revenue. According to Mallerman, "it's very hard to sell ads without a proven audience, but based on our data from the first week, we already have serious advertising coming in.
"We've already had amazing feedback. People have told me they heard other people in their shuls buzzing about it. We've received a lot of very positive emails, too."
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.
His journey began in Birmingham, where - he recalls - "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," pointing to his kippa.
In his adolescence, Mallerman recalls, "I was Mr. Youth work. You know the old story of the Pied Piper [of Hamelin]. Everyone used to call me the Pied Piper. Kids were always attracted to me. I used to do kids' birthday parties, run kids' classes, anything with kids."
At 16 he started volunteering at Radio Lollipop, a children's hospital radio station in Birmingham. Since that experience with broadcasting, he has dreamed of doing radio.
Mallerman went on to earn 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 Orange County, California, Mallerman was looking for a place to spend Shabbat, and "ended up staying about 12 years," he says dreamily.
He had stumbled upon Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine, a conservative suburb south of Los Angeles, 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 [any one personal Jewish philosophy]. He truly helped me find my way as a Jew. He lives in Israel now, and soon he'll be the mesader kedushin at my wedding," Mallerman says, beaming.
After coming to Israel, where he studied at yeshiva, Mallerman then moved back to southern California, where he worked in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years for West Coast National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) and taught at the same time at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy.
Mallerman was not settled though, because "in my heart I always wanted to make aliya," but he stayed in Los Angeles to work as the director of Bnei Akiva there. Mallerman then became the North London Regional Director of the Tribe Jewish youth program and was youth director for Barnet, Southgate and Mill Hill Synagogues. Meanwhile, "I rediscovered how much I loved radio," as the presenter for the popular radio show, J-JAM, the UK's only Jewish music radio program.
But, he insists, "I couldn't live like that any longer. There is strong anti-Semitism. The shouted abuse..." his voice trails off. "For all the problems [in Israel], they are my problems," he asserts, shaking a clenched fist. "I am a passionate, old-fashioned, unrepentant Zionist, an old halutznik (pioneer) at heart."
After four unsuccessful attempts at making aliya, Mallerman finally took the plunge. Last Purim, Mallerman was in Israel for the bar mitzva of a family friend and was set up on a date with his now fiancÃ©e, Tammy, a kindergarten teacher and native Londoner who made aliya 15 years ago. Knowing then that she was the one, "I got on the plane and I did it. I know I can make a life here."
Mallerman could not forget his love of broadcasting, reignited by his time working at J-JAM. "I had this idea of English-language radio, but there was nowhere already established 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.
"I hope that eventually we will have a thousand listeners at any given time, and that we can set up multiple streams airing simultaneously." He pauses, then a spark ignites in his expression; "most importantly, I hope that this site becomes a staple of Anglo-Israeli life, a day-to-day connection for our listeners to Israel."