Israeli Radio

Will Israel Radio manage to survive until 100?

Reel-to-reel recording equipment was once state of the art (photo credit: Courtesy)
Reel-to-reel recording equipment was once state of the art
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In one of those strange ironies that even publishers of fiction might reject, Israel Radio was about to celebrate its 80th birthday on the day prior to its scheduled demise.
In July 2014 the Knesset voted to dismantle the Israel Broadcasting Authority, of which Israel Radio, with several individual networks, is a vital component.
The initiative for closing down the IBA and replacing it with a more cost-efficient, trimmed-down public broadcasting service came from Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan – then communications minister, with the full backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who currently holds the Communications portfolio, among others.
Almost immediately after taking charge of the Communications Ministry, Erdan set about terminating the IBA, ignoring the signed agreement for reforms – the fruit of years of disputes and negotiations. The Finance Ministry, the Histadrut Federation of Labor and the Jerusalem Journalists’ Association reached a mutual accommodation which included mass dismissals or early retirement.
This was an extremely painful decision for the Journalists’ Association, but there was a common understanding that this was the only way to reduce the IBA’s considerable deficit, and to thereby please the Finance Ministry, which was fed up with siphoning funds towards the radio station.
THE ORIGINAL incarnation of Israel Radio, established on March 30, 1936, by the British Mandate authorities, known as The Palestine Broadcasting Service, was largely modeled on the BBC. The PBC transmitter was in Ramallah and its studio was in the Palace Hotel (now the Waldorf Astoria) in Jerusalem. The radio’s 70th anniversary celebrations were conducted in the ruins of the old Palace Hotel, in the presence of dignitaries, including then-president Moshe Katsav, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and then-Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski.
Veteran broadcasters Izi Mann and Yoav Ginai went to great lengths to recreate the ambiance of the British Mandate period of the 1930s, with women dressed in 1930s fashion, complete with veiled pillbox hats, while a string ensemble of musicians sported cream-colored tuxedo jackets and black bow ties.
Other musicians playing Arab music wore dark three-piece suits once favored by the Turks, and ruby fez hats. Several men wore black tailcoats and top hats, and other were costumed as senior representatives of the British government in full military plumage.
The budget for this year’s 80th anniversary, however, was limited.
The celebration is in the form of an exhibition at the ART Galley in David Elazar Street, Sarona, close to the sprawling Tel Aviv studios of the IBA. It is largely based on a book written by Mann, published in 2008 in celebration of the centenary of Guglielmo Marconi’s success in sending wireless messages across more than 2,700 kilometers to ships at sea. Mann started writing it in 2005, during the centenary year of Marconi’s patenting of his horizontal directional aerial, which enabled the development of long-distance commercial wireless.
The book, The Voice of Israel from Jerusalem 1948-2008: A Nation Behind the Microphone, contains many fascinating tales, as well as photographs and brief biographies of people whose names were once household words.
The tunes of yesteryear emanate from the gallery. Inside, the voice of David Ben-Gurion proclaims the establishment of the State of Israel. Headphones on the wall enable visitors to listen to historic broadcasts and news bulletins from another era. Visuals include old-fashioned radios, telephones, reelto- reel tape recorders, long-playing records in their colorful covers, typewriters and more.
MANN IS the unofficial historian of Israel Radio. Regular listeners to Reshet Bet can hear his daily Sound Track of the Nation, two-minute thumbnail biographies of personalities who played a cardinal role in Israel’s development – a project run in conjunction with Yad Ben-Zvi, a research institute located in the complex of what was the President’s Residence when Yitzhak Ben-Zvi was in office. He was a researcher and a teacher at the nearby Rehavia Gymnasia (where Israel’s current President Reuven Rivlin went to school).
Long-time listeners to Israel Radio are well aware of the versatility of its broadcasters. Mann started out in 1979 as a music editor, but from as early as the age of six he was drawn to history and to voices from the past. He knew the names of all the radio announcers, could identify their voices, and he knew how the radio worked.
“It was a given that I was going to work in radio,” he says in retrospect. He would have liked to have cut his broadcasting teeth on Army Radio, as did so many other well-known broadcasters who now work in either commercial or public broadcasting outlets, but his brother, Prof. Rafi Mann, today a professor of communications, was working at Army Radio at the time, and Izi wanted to avoid any potential charges of nepotism.
So after leaving the army, he went to work in television, where one of his assignments involved researching the archives of the radio.
In those days everything was broadcast live. Mann came to the attention of Yoel Rekem, head of the radio’s folk music department, who felt Mann was more interested in radio than in television, and suggested they work together.
Rekem had been discovered by pianist, conductor and music teacher Meir Harnik, who began working at the radio shortly before the War of Independence.
After the war, when the radio broadcast early-morning fitness exercises, Harnik came in to the studio to play the piano for gym teacher Michael Ben-Hanan. He also conducted the orchestra for broadcasts of Kol Zion Lagola (The Voice of Zion to the Diaspora). Gradually, Harnik was given other roles as moderator and editor of the radio’s early entertainment programs, and eventually rose to be head of the department.
In 1960, Harnik attended a community singing event in Jerusalem where Rekem – aged 24 – was playing the accordion.
Eventually he, too, became department head.
Mann’s love of history led him to initiate the “Soundtrack of the Nation” series.
He also began hosting the after-midnight Saturday night Jewish heritage program Melaveh Malka on Reshet Bet.
It continues to amuse him that he is the secular moderator of what is essentially a haredi program. In the first few months in which he worked together with various haredi rabbis, some of his relatives and friends thought that he was becoming religious. But it wasn’t like that at all. The regular moderator had failed to show up, and Michael Miro, then CEO of the radio, asked Mann to step in. There was no antagonism between Mann and the rabbis. He was genuinely curious and didn’t hesitate, even on air, to ask questions about things he didn’t understand. He always treated the rabbis with respect and was himself with them. They liked it and so did the listeners. Mann is still doing the religious broadcast, although Miro and his successor, Yossi Hadar, have moved on to reporting and anchoring news and current events. Hadar is also a musician and singer and has just released a CD. Miro also has a regular Saturday morning program in which he interviews people engaged in environmental issues.
MANN HAS a program on Reshet Alef, too, that he inherited from Yaron Enosh who broadcast it on Reshet Bet.
This program was launched in the aftermath of the Holocaust when people who had been living in Israel were searching for relatives among the survivors, and those who came to Israel were searching for their relatives here.
Over the years the program was taken off the air then revived several times. It also changed in content in that army veterans and alumni of various schools who were planning to hold reunions announced such events on the program and gave names of people they had not been able to contact. But that doesn’t mean that Holocaust survivors have stopped looking for relatives and friends. Nothing is more moving more than 70 years after the war for sibling survivors who each believed the other to be dead to be reunited through the program, says Mann. Enosh was similarly affected when he was running the program. How the siblings found each other was that one of them might have been looking for people from his home town, and his brother or sister or another relative happened to hear the broadcast.
Enosh, a Grecophile, has since focused on his great love and hosts a two-hour Friday afternoon program in which Greek music figures prominently, as do interviews with Greek entertainers or with Israelis of Greek origin, such as singer-guitarist Yehuda Poliker.
Mann, on the roster for early-morning reviews of newspaper headlines absolutely loves his work at Israel Radio.
“It’s not just a matter of making a living,” he says. He finds it fascinating to trace the origins of important statements.
He needs to know who said it, when it was said and when it was recorded.
Towards that end, he’s very glad that all the radio archives have been digitized.
“The reel-to-reel tapes were beginning to fall apart,” he says, and it became increasingly difficult to seal them together.
One of the reasons he enjoys listening to the old recordings, especially those made by brother and sister Moshe Hovav and Reuma Eldar, is because the two had such perfect Hebrew diction, and could properly pronounce the gutturals such as the letters ayin and het.
Also, the style of language was different.
“Newsreaders and anchors had much more respect for the language,” he says.
“They were careful with their enunciation and with their grammar.”
Eldar’s voice was very dramatic, and in the period leading up to the Six Day War there were complaints from listeners that instilled fear. As a result, management decided that she would no longer read the news. But Eldar was the best female newsreader in the country, and her colleagues wrote a letter of protest couched in the most polite and respectful terms. It was signed by Yoram Arbel, Miriam Alon, Aryeh Orgad, Yitzhak Eitan, Yael Ben Yehuda, Gad Barkai, Mordechai Barkan, Yitzhak Perry, Edna Pe’er and Sari Raz, some of whom later gravitated to television.
Although experts in Hebrew can detect broadcasters’ mistakes in language, the radio management makes every effort to ensure correct pronunciation and grammar.
RUTH ALMAGOR-Ramon, the Broadcasting Authority’s language expert, is a second-generation broadcaster. Her father and uncle, both polyglots, used to broadcast satirical sketches on the radio. In explaining the origin of certain words when she broadcasts, Ramon often refers to their subtle changes in meaning in other languages. She also worked on the research for the dictionary published by the Hebrew Language Academy.
Although Israel Radio now broadcasts in 14 languages, the first broadcasts were confined to English, Hebrew and Arabic, and the station was known in English as the Voice of Jerusalem – Kol Yerushalayim in Hebrew, and Radio Al-Quds in Arabic.
The first English broadcaster was London- born Ruth Belkin, whose diction was so perfect that when she applied for the job she was hired without an audition. Her voice announcing “This is Jerusalem calling” can be heard at the 80th anniversary exhibition, which closes on March 31.
Belkin fell in love with a British officer, divorced her husband and moved to England to marry the officer. Many years later, after his death, she returned to Israel as Ruth Connell Robertson and became a much respected copy editor at The Jerusalem Post.
The first Hebrew announcer was Jerusalem- born Hemda Feigenbaum-Zinder.
After the establishment of the State, the station changed its name to Kol Yisrael (the Voice of Israel).
In 1950 it began broadcasting to Diaspora Jewish communities, primarily in Eastern Europe, North Africa and North America. Russian language broadcasts, which began in 1958, were instrumental in strengthening Jewish identity in the Soviet Union, particularly after the Six Day War.
This year, in addition to the 80th anniversary, Israel Radio is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Radio REKA (which enjoyed very high ratings and still does), launched primarily on behalf of new immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia to help them in their absorption process.
Dorit Golender, who spent 42 years working for Israel Radio until 2010 – when then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman appointed her Israel’s ambassador to Russia – was one of the founders of REKA and headed its Russian Department.
She had broadcast to Russia for many years under the assumed name of Shlomit Lidor, but the Russians were well aware of her true identity.
The Amharic broadcasts were managed by Mehari Reuven and the initial presenters were Melkamu Yaakov and Teje Daniel.
Israel’s shortwave broadcasts in foreign languages ceased in March 2008, half a century after their initiation. The logic behind this was that shortwave was no longer needed in a digital age, and anyone who was interested in Israel could find what they were looking for on the Internet. However, that did not mean the end of a direct connection with the Diaspora.
Veteran broadcaster Elihu Ben-Onn hosts a weekly Israel Connection program in the wee hours between Sunday night and Monday morning in which he speaks to people from all over the world. Not all of them are Jewish, but all have some level of Hebrew. They include Israelis living abroad, diplomats who once served in Israel, students and youth-group emissaries.
Several Israel Radio broadcasters who have reached retirement age are so enamored with the radio that they can’t get it out of their system and continue to operate. The most senior is probably former sportscaster Gideon Hod, an octogenarian, who on Friday evenings hosts a classical music program. Dan Kaner, who is credited with being the best announcer after Moshe Hovav, has also reached retirement age. He occasionally presents the news and hosts golden-oldies musical program on Saturday afternoons. Israel Prize recipient Ya’akov Ahimeir, who has passed his mid-70s, presents world news on television on Saturday nights and hosts an early morning news and current-affairs program on Reshet Bet. Specials related to historic anniversaries are presented by Yitzhak Noi, 73.
Moshe Timor, yet another retiree, hosts a post-midnight Friday night program in which various personalities of the “third age” share memories of past eras. Shmuel Shai can be heard on Saturday mornings with cute anecdotes about bits and pieces culled from the international media. He’s also a voracious reader and talks about the books he’s read.
Even early-morning news and current affairs anchor Aryeh Golan has reached retirement age, but was told he can continue working for as long as the IBA remains in existence. He has been one of the fiercest of fighters to keep it going.
Over the years, Golan has had a variety of roles on radio, and was the broadcaster who on October 6, 1973 broke through the silence of the radio to announce the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.
Another well-known personality who continues to broadcast after reaching retirement age is multiple prize winner Carmela Menashe, Israel’s first female military reporter in the electronic media, although there was one previous female military reporter in the print media.
Tallie Lipkin-Shahak was given the distinction of the first-ever female military reporter in Israel when she worked for the long-defunct Davar.
ALTHOUGH NO longer at Israel Radio, actress and television hostess Rivka Michaeli spent most of her life there – from age 11 – starring initially in children’s programs, and later in famous skits on her own, with Yossi Banai and with other entertainment stars. She still broadcasts, but on another station, and at 77 shows no sign of retiring from the microphone, the stage or the screen.
What may astound many listeners is the speed with which both Israel Radio and Channel 1 find Hebrew speakers abroad who can comment on any current significant event that has taken place in their respective countries. This in addition to regular representatives abroad: Gideon Kutz in France and most of Europe, Daphna Vardi in the UK, Yossi Bar in Rome, Benny Avni in New York and Nitza Lowenstein in Sydney, Australia.
There is an intimacy about radio that one doesn’t get on television, says Mann, and one doesn’t have to give it the same kind of attention in that one can be listening while engaged in almost any task.
Will Israel Radio still be around at this time next year? Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, a former broadcaster for both Israel Radio and Channel 1 under its previous title of Israel Television, and later a former Chairman of the IBA, believes that it will. Just as the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which was supposed to take over from the IBA on April 1, was not ready to become operational, resulting in a six-month reprieve for the IBA, Shai has strong doubts that the situation will be any different in September, and the Knesset will again be asked for another six-month extension.
That’s the way things are with Israeli bureaucracy, and Mann may still have a hand in the 90th anniversary celebrations.