MY WORD: Radio days

Broadcaster Anat Dolev’s lasting legacy in which good conquers bad.

Anat Dolev (photo credit: IBA)
Anat Dolev
(photo credit: IBA)
"Here are three good things that happened today.”
How I miss that statement.
And how I miss the voice that said it.
And the person behind the voice.
Israel Radio broadcaster Anat Dolev died on Saturday at the tragically young age of 52. In recent years she was best known for her “soft news” show on Reshet Bet, Three with Anat Dolev, a powerful force of positive energy bouncing across the airwaves.
Even when she didn’t feel well – even when she was slowly dying, as we now know – Anat’s natural curiosity, enthusiasm and professionalism, combined with that gravelly voice, didn’t let on.
Listeners around the country felt as though they’d lost a good friend, someone who had spoken to them almost daily. Someone they had listened to.
Her colleagues were distraught.
Although many had seen her struggling into the studio, barely able to hold the microphone, few had realized how close the end was.
She was discovered lying on the sofa at home by Dan, her only child.
He’d come to check on her when she didn’t answer his calls. Listeners, who had heard Anat talk of her son, now 20 and serving in the air force, felt they’d gone through his teens with him. It was easy to cry for him as much as for her.
In a handwritten note, written two years before her death and read by her ex-husband at her funeral, Anat mourned:
I will never stampede the steps in Spain, Nor tour Ramblas in Barcelona, Or explore white Alaska up close. I won’t write that promised book; nor shall I read again; I will never again drum in high-heeled shoes, or at all; I will never again hug Dan, standing straight and strong...
PERMIT ME to call her by her first name. I was not only a faithful fan of Anat but also worked briefly with her in the 1990s when she did a stint at The Jerusalem Post’s Tel Aviv area supplement, then called City Lights.
If I remember correctly, the job was typical of Anat: With a journalistic background and natural confidence from her military service at Army Radio, she wanted an opportunity to use and improve her English, even if it meant working in a relatively humble position.
Already then, early in her career, it was clear that she would shine. Not only did she have a natural intelligence, wit and unquenchable thirst for knowledge, she was tremendously hardworking.
Friends and colleagues parting from her this week, on air and off, recalled that it was clear how thoroughly she did her research. She never interviewed an author before reading the whole book; whatever the topic, she did enough research to ask intelligent questions.
A former medical student who later switched to studying literature, Anat was at home in a vast range of topics and helped bring them alive for listeners, never patronizing, often surprising, always getting to the main point.
Colleague Nativ Robinson, putting together a program in her memory, found that even as a young presenter of Ad Pop, a top-of-the-charts-type TV program, Anat had relished introducing viewers to the first Hebrew compact disc, with a built-in sense of history, occasion and joy.
On her radio show, medicine, technology, cinema, animals, parenting – including a slot aimed at fathers – literature, and a spot on the Torah portion of the week, all had a regular place.
When she worked for the Post, I used to occasionally meet her in the Tel Aviv office. More often than not we would end up talking about our pets and animal welfare in general in an age when there was little awareness and even less patience for the topic.
We didn’t talk for years, although occasionally I’d check with her about an item that she had broadcast. The subjects ranged from the changing role of the town square in urban planning to the story behind an object on display at a museum.
The last time we spoke, a few months ago, it was, typically, about an item she did on the importance of neutering cats.
She was so passionate about felines that colleagues this week recalled how she fed strays at the radio station and kept her office window open to allow them to find shelter indoors.
Friends assured me that they’re still looking after “Anat’s cats.”
All her colleagues are coping with this loss at the same time the very future of the Israel Broadcasting Authority – both the television and radio she loved so much – are under a huge question mark that worried Anat, too.
ANAT SUFFERED from MSA (multiple system atrophy). Google it, not because I want to scare you, but because just as awareness of ALS was boosted globally last year with the “ice-bucket challenge,” MSA, another awful degenerative disease, deserves more attention – and greater research budgets.
Anat never mentioned her illness in her programs, although she devoted regular spots to medical news.
The closest she got to it was a casual mention recently that she “needed a miracle.”
Looking back, there were other clues, I suppose. The increasingly frequent absences, when a colleague would present the show instead of Anat – ably, valiantly, but never the same.
One sign most listeners discovered only after her death: the disappearance about six months ago of her signature opening: “Three good things that happened today.”
There came a point when it was just too hard for her to be that perky.
Nonetheless, colleagues said that the moment she got behind the open microphone and began to speak to her listeners, she came alive.
Broadcasting the program was a drug that the doctor couldn’t prescribe but that helped keep her going, until she could go on no more.
At a meeting of the board of the Jerusalem Journalists’ Association, on the day of her funeral, members expressed their condolences to her family and recalled the Anat they had known, some better than others.
Aryeh Shaked described how, as director of Israel Radio, the idea for Anat’s program had been born at the end of 2006, when research showed that 3 p.m. was an hour when people needed down time from Reshet Bet’s hectic news broadcasts. The show was aimed partly at mothers collecting children and people coming home from work, although it wasn’t a “woman’s show.”
It only took a few days of Anat’s voice and style to start building up an enthusiastic crowd of listeners.
That’s the seductive power of radio.
Anat always seemed to be talking to you, not talking down.
The “Three Good Things” slot, like the rest of the show, could be eclectic, including an item on a scientific breakthrough, a cultural discovery, and legislation or regulations helping to improve the daily life of listeners, and equally often, for their animal companions.
Writing this column in her memory, I wondered what items she would have chosen from the news stories in front of me. Surprisingly, despite all the bad news at home and in the world, there was a remarkably large choice.
Among my favorites:
• Three organizations were awarded the Knesset Speaker’s Award for Quality of Life: Tsofen, an organization aimed at helping Israeli Arabs integrate into the hi-tech industry; Matzmichim, which combats violence in schools by training pupils and teachers; and Families of Murder Victims, which, as its name suggests, helps victims rather than murderers.
• A biological blood marker linked to Alzheimer’s disease that could eventually serve as a reliable diagnostic blood test for the progressive, fatal dementia has been identified by researchers at Tel Aviv University, Rambam Medical Center/the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Harvard University. (I can’t decide whether the fact that those who truly observe the academic boycott of Israel won’t benefit is another good thing or not.)
• Sixty years after it was smuggled back to Jerusalem, the Aleppo Codex – believed to be the world’s oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible – will be listed in UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register. It’s on display at the Israel Museum.
ON FEBRUARY 4, shortly before Anat parted from listeners for the last time with a cheerful-sounding “Shabbat shalom! Bye-bye,” I was interviewed on a Canadian radio news broadcast on whether the previous day’s attack in Jerusalem, in which policewoman Hadar Cohen was killed, was an escalation in terrorism. The now-infamous CBS headline about the attack in which Cohen lost her life still stung: “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.”
“Three terrorists armed with guns, knives and explosives are apprehended on their way to carrying out an attack. Kill one of the women police officers who apprehended them, seriously wound another. That’s the daily violence. The foreign media coverage is just added abuse,” I noted on my Facebook page.
By the time we were talking, two 13-year-old Arab girls had been arrested after stabbing a security guard in Ramle.
The pleasant interviewer at National Post radio, Matt Gurney, expressed the hope that there would be no more bad news from Israel, “but we understand that obviously the people there are on edge.”
As he said it, I pointed out that despite the tension, we’re ordinary people living normal lives. Normal and not all bad.
Anat managed to avoid politics and gave depth to the regular issues she addressed: health, well-being, a good book, an interesting movie, a noteworthy lecture or exhibition and, of course, our animals and other family.
May her memory be for a blessing.
Death can’t completely silence a born radio star.