Hear O Israel...

Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) celebrates its 60th anniversary; with new blood arriving every year, Army Radio has changed with the times.

Galatz 311 (photo credit: Izhar Termo)
Galatz 311
(photo credit: Izhar Termo)
Lots of countries have army radio stations but only Israel could produce Galei Zahal, or, as Israel Radio veteran broadcaster Yoav Ginai called it last week, “ahoteinu hahayelet – our soldier sister.”
Galei Zahal, known by its acronym Galatz, has been celebrating its 60th anniversary this month. In many ways it was “my” station. I first visited its unimpressive, uncomfortable but somehow homey building in Jaffa in 1977. Orly Yaniv, my cousin and friend’s cousin and friend – definitely a special type of relationship – took me with typical generosity to see the station where she was serving.
I was much younger, a tourist and didn’t speak Hebrew, but nonetheless even I could figure out this was not your usual army service nor an ordinary radio station. On the one hand soldiers were subject to strictly enforced military discipline, on the other there was an anything-goes atmosphere about the place.
My strongest memory from that visit was watching a broadcaster talking down the microphone as if nothing was happening, while a colleague attacked his Achilles heel – or more accurately, tried to make him laugh by tickling the soles of his feet through the gap in his sandals.
A few years later, my family and I – by this time in uniform myself – took part in a program Orly was hosting on new immigrants, where I learned my first and most invaluable lessons in radio broadcasting: Speak into the microphone, don’t all talk at the same time and don’t fidget.
Galatz stayed with me during my university days. I woke up in the morning to Alex Ansky’s 707 show; my love of Hebrew songs grew with Arba Aharei Hatzohorayim, “Four in the Afternoon”; and many an evening in the dorms included an hour tuned into Al Hadvash Va’al Hakefak – the program that helped bring Mizrahi music into the mainstream despite the ongoing criticism of elitism at the station and its all-music offshoot, Galgalatz.
Toward the end of my MA studies in communications, I had the chance to intern at Galatz, where one of my lecturers did reserve duty. I helped edit the nighttime news updates. It was the mid-’80s and although Israel Radio had broadcasts, no other station had 24-hour news roundups. Actually, without competition, there was no news. The news expands – or is expanded – to fill up the broadcast slots. I remember translating an item about a lion that had escaped from a zoo in Indonesia or somewhere similarly distant from Jaffa for lack of anything significant going on closer to home.
Well, not quite. There was of course the First Lebanon War.
Sadly, it’s hard to find someone who served there who doesn’t have some kind of war memory attached to the station. One of the most boring but chilling jobs had to be checking the names of soldiers against the list of casualties before request shows like the seminal Kola shel Imma – “Mother’s Voice.” Someone had to make sure the presenter didn’t inadvertently call a home and ask a newly bereaved mother what message she would like to send her child over the airwaves.
During the 1991 Gulf War, Israel Radio and Galei Zahal operated a joint studio and while IDF Spokesman (and former Galatz commander) Nachman Shai became known as the “National Valium” for his calming effect, I always had this irrational feeling that no harm could befall the country while Rafi Reshef’s mellifluous voice was coming down the microphone.
That period, incidentally, was marked by one of the most Israeli phenomena possible: Hagal Hashaket – the Quiet Station – which broadcast absolutely nothing. Its function was to allow religious Jews to leave the radio on during Shabbat knowing that the station would start broadcasting only in an emergency.
Others at The Jerusalem Post have much stronger connections with Galei Zahal. Weekend magazine editor Neria Barr served there during the Yom Kippur War, when the station first started 24-hour broadcasts (without the benefit of added staff, as she notes). Barr, who attended last week’s birthday bash for former Galatzniks, was once put on trial for pronouncing the first name of the poet Natan Alterman without the stress on the second syllable. And while that sort of thing would not happen today, discipline is still strict.
Another of her outstanding memories was the time she was interviewing president Chaim Herzog when the sergeant-major – perhaps the only person who would dare to ignore the red light outside the studio – burst in to tell her that she should be on “stairs duty” – washing down the many stone steps in the elevator-less building. Apparently, recording the president was no excuse for being late on duty.
Post Internet site managing editor Moshe Raphaely also has stories from his service there – among them having to drive out to rescue an interviewee caught in riots close to the studio during the second intifada.
Raphaely has a one-of-a-kind, the-show-must-go-on memory. One year he was responsible for putting together the IDF Remembrance Day special broadcasts. At some stage he was interviewing the friend of a fallen soldier when he realized his bag – containing about 30 hours worth of material – had disappeared from on top of the garbage bin where he had rested it, next to the park bench where they were sitting.
The search for the missing material included hitching a ride with a garbage truck and ended up as down-in-the-dumps as you can get: picking through the waste at the local disposal site. In desperation, citing “a matter of national importance,” he mobilized the scavengers who were sifting the landfill’s contents and who immediately found a by-then compressed and juicy version of what he was looking for. Miraculously, most of the material he needed was still usable – although he stood trial for “damaging army property.”
The station itself has faced many threats – several chiefs of General Staff and defense ministers have called for it either to be disbanded or for its budget to be severely cut, but still it continues to march to its different beat.
Galatz indeed helped change the face of Israeli media first through the crazy genius of Dori Ben- Ze’ev (who was once literally caught with his pants down broadcasting from a toilet) and then in the 1980s when a particularly zany bunch, led by Erez Tal, created Ma Yesh? “What’s Up?” – a combination of nonsense sketches, larger-than-life characters and an assault on Hebrew which probably had NatAN Alterman spinning in his grave. It later launched Tal on a career which brought his zippy style to commercial television.
Today, I mainly listen to Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet – although many of its star journalists started off at Galei Zahal, including the morning line up of Aryeh Golan, Keren Neubach and Yaron Dekel.
With new blood arriving every year in the form of enthusiastic raw recruits, Army Radio has for the past six decades changed with the times. Stay tuned to see whether it makes it to 120.