Community on the air

JLM.FM broadcasts a wave of arts and cultural news.

Yaron Reis and Yoel Butbinik in the studio. (photo credit: COURTESY JLM.FM)
Yaron Reis and Yoel Butbinik in the studio.
(photo credit: COURTESY JLM.FM)
These days the media are largely full of doom and gloom. These are hard times, and the front page headlines and plenty of coverage on the inside pages of newspapers do not make for comfortable reading.
But there are some media professionals who are still doing their utmost to convey messages that are as positive and constructive as possible.
Community-oriented radio is certainly a good vehicle for achieving that, and JLM.FM radio (a.k.a. Radio Merkaz Ha’ir) has set out to follow a sunny and supportive route since its inception three years ago. As the Hebrew saying goes – albeit paraphrased – starting something new ain’t easy, and until recently JLM.FM was a homeless Internet-based media venture that did its broadcasting from all manner of venues around town, such as the Ben-Sira and Hamachsan pubs.
Three months ago the station finally found itself a roof to put over its headphones and is now based at the Batei Saidoff complex, between the IBA and Mahaneh Yehuda on Jaffa Road, within the Beita Home for Social Art in the City. Yaron Reis, who has been responsible for keeping the station on a smooth-running even keel for the past year, says he gets plenty of help from all sorts of willing souls.
“I manage a group of over 40 people, all of whom volunteer their services to the radio,” he says. “There are a lot of people in Jerusalem who are hungry for creativity.”
It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a powerful underground swell of artistic endeavor in the capital in various disciplines and in all sorts of directions. But while JLM.FM provides a platform for all kinds of artists – professional, budding or closet – the station is clearly about more than just sticking a microphone in front of any Tom, Dick, Avi or Sarit so they can share their musical ambition with a few thousand Internet radio listeners.
Last Wednesday’s Achlu Li Shatu Li program – which loosely translates as “they have eaten and drunk off me” – is a vibrant case in point. The 8 p.m. show is hosted by Shalom Bogoslavsky, who runs a highly incisive, tongue-in-cheek, no-nonsense blog that goes by the name Put Down the Scissors and Let’s Talk about This.
Bogoslavsky’s guest was US-born Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), who is a noted educator, author, lecturer and speaker. The two discussed various ICCI activities and how Jews and Arabs meet on a regular basis, including religious leaders, to share their views.
The 29-year-old Reis is keenly aware of the many cultural-religious groups that make up this multifaceted city.
“Jerusalem is so divided within itself,” says the radio station manager. “You have Rehavia and you have Nahlaot, you’ve got the eastern part of the city and there’s Musrara, and there’s Mea She’arim. When you walk down Jaffa Road, you’ve got probably the craziest cultural mix in the world. You meet people from Rehavia and Nahlaot and the haredim and Arabs. Everything seems to flow through this street.”
It is not by chance, it seems, that JLM.FM operates from that very same multi-ethnic, cross-cultural thoroughfare.
Reis and the rest of the gang have invested a lot of effort in putting out an interesting, relevant and varied lineup of shows four days a week – between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
on Fridays. To borrow an oft-quoted Abraham Lincoln tenet, the station’s credo is to broadcast content for the people by the people.
“We had a show called The Open Program, where anyone could come and do their thing with the microphone for an hour,” explains Reis. “There were some amazing things. There was a crazy Yiddish music show,” he adds Naturally, that also involved taking the odd risk.
“There were some really bad slip-ups that I don’t even want to remember,” Reis laughs, “but there were some priceless things. One woman came in and talked about her doctoral thesis, about the sociology of music, and she claimed that Jerusalem had the widest range of ethnic music in the world. In this city there is this crazy interface between almost everything going.”
As far as Reis is concerned, living in Jerusalem means being part of a great big cultural melting pot that generates a powerful creative dynamic.
“This isn’t YouTube or the Internet,” he notes. “This is about living – in parallel, as neighbors – and with all sorts of musical influences. Jerusalem art is always original. You live in a tough reality, and that seems to bring out amazing creative ideas and energies.”
Having all these artistic feelers unfurled every which way is exciting but, Reis stresses, there also needs to be some kind of cohesion, some guiding hand to help bring all the ideas to concrete fruition.
“We feel that this city lacks a sort of nodal point, where all this art and creativity can meet. Yes, you have all these amazing energies and cultural-social intent, as I said, along Jaffa Road and elsewhere in Jerusalem, but you need to be able to present your ideas in a coherent manner. It’s like the local newspapers of the 1990s or what [late 1990s TV series] Florentin did for [south Tel Aviv neighborhood] Florentin. As soon as you create a media image, you can start to work with it, and it becomes conceptualized,” he says.
Reis came to the radio with some pretty weighty experience himself, which equipped him to deal with the multifarious Jerusalem offerings and to take a firm grip on the station’s tiller.
“I did a degree in political science, and I come from a religious background,” he says. “All that, I think, led me to believe that you have to do things in an authentic way, that you have to be serious about the politicalsocial content you put into the radio station.”
That, for Reis, means keeping your ear to the ground and your finger on the pulse of the Jerusalem street.
“Jerusalem needs a broadcasting body that doesn’t send out stuff from above, that isn’t commercial but also is not amateur. We are constantly working on improving ourselves and becoming more professional,” he says.
That serious but quintessential human approach was manifested last Wednesday evening. Achlu Li Shatu Li was followed by a program that featured an intimate exchange between two young women about what feeling lonely meant to them. Their frank chat was also interspersed with some quality musical interludes.
The week before that, the radio hosted a Ha’azanot Seter (“wire tap”) session featuring vocalist Faye Shapiro and guitarist-banjo player Ido Bukelman. Until recently, the Ha’azanot Seter series ran at the Barbur gallery in Nahlaot, but the arts facility has been temporarily ousted from the premises to make way for a kindergarten. Right now, it is not certain if the eviction will be made permanent.
Luckily, for now, JLM.FM was able to come to the rescue.
“Endeavoring to reflect the authentic sounds of the city means you have to keep on changing tack and doing new things,” says Reis, regardless of religious or political leanings. “There is a sense that the old definitions of political Right or Left are no longer relevant to the way decisions are actually made. It is time that Jerusalemites had their own say about their own city.”
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