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Israel Society & Culture: History of Radio in Israel

Throughout the history of the country, radio has been the conveyor of important information at critical moments. Virtually the whole population was glued to radio sets at events such as the news of the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine in 1947. In times of national emergency radio was, and still is, used to call up troops. In the pre-state period, all sides in the conflict used radio to disseminate information, deliberate mis-information and propaganda. The Jews effectively used clandestine radio, and today though pirate radio is against the law some people still retain a sentimental feeling towards a medium that was so important in the formation of the nation.

With radio so prominent in the collective memory it has a special place in people's affections as so often it was used in order to follow important events affecting their lives, and still when the hourly news comes on the radio people stop whatever they are doing whether in shops, on buses (all fitted with radios) or in the street. Before TV and a multiplicity of radio stations came along, at night in any town or city street the voice of the Kol Israel radio news announcer could be heard emanating from every window around.

It was in about 1930 that radio antennas could first be seen on homes in Palestine and sets went on sale in city stores. At first the only stations to be heard were distant ones, by short-wave from Europe such as Radio Paris and BBC Empire Service, and medium wave from Cairo. Then in 1932 with 675 licensed sets local radio came to the country and here is a brief chronology of its radio history.

1932 April 7. At the Levant Fair in Tel Aviv the very first radio station goes on-air operated by Mendel Abramovitch under a special license from the British Mandatory Government. It went on air with a speech by Abramovitch and remarks from Tel Aviv Mayor Meir Dizengoff including an expression of hope that the station would be expanded to reach a worldwide Jewish audience. The station that came to be known as 'Radio Tel Aviv' broadcasts for several periods and finally closes in April 1935.

1936 March 30. The Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS) is inaugurated by British Mandatory Authority from Ramallah with studios and one transmitter on 668 kc/s (kHz) 449 meters with a power of 20 kW. Staff are recruited for daily broadcasts in English, Arabic and Hebrew and training given by the BBC. The station is born at a time of great tension between Arabs and Jews that within weeks erupts into violence. The Hebrew name of the station is eventually agreed to be 'Kol Yerushalyim' (The Voice of Jerusalem) after argument rages with Arab leaders when the Jews originally want to call it 'Kol Eretz Israel' (The Voice of the Land of Israel).

1938 Publication of new magazine Radio News in Hebrew and English to regularly list the various programs receivable in Palestine. Senior PBS employee tells Radio News that he would like to start a television service in Palestine.

The first clandestine radio station opens which is operated by an underground Jewish group. Each of the main groups eventually operate stations but most activity is after the Second World War. A history of Jewish underground radio stations by broadcasting historian Professor Douglas Boyd.

1939 July. Opening of New Broadcasting Building in Jerusalem for the Palestine Broadcasting Service at Queen Melisande's Street (now known as Queen Helene Street) and this is still the home of Kol Israel.

1939 August 2. The Etzel Jewish Underground sabotages the PBS in Jerusalem and two staff members are killed but broadcasting quickly resumes temporarily from the original studio in Ramallah.

1940 March 13. The Haganah Jewish Underground opens its clandestine radio station that is called Kol Israel (the Voice of Israel) on 42 meters (about 7000 kHz). Within a short time the Haganah decides to reserve this title for the when a state is established and the station is renamed. It ceases in June when there is a danger of invasion by Axis forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. Poster advertizing start of Kol Israel.

1942 The PBS opens a second channel (PBS2) on 574 kHz (522 meters at 20 kW) and the first channel PBS 1 is moved slightly to 677 kHz (443 meters) which allows it to be heard better in Europe as no other station is on the wavelength.

1943 The British Army opens the first Palestine station of the Middle East section of the Forces Broadcasting Service (FBS) with call sign JCPA on 316 meters. The studios are on Mount Zion at the Hospice of St. Pierre en Gallicantu and the transmitter is at Beit Jala. The station later moves to 216 meters (1391 kHz) and a second station JCKW opens on shortwave 41.55 meters (7220 kHz) with additional programs for troops from India.

Further FBS transmitters open later in the war at Haifa, Sarafan base at Ramla (near Tel Aviv), and at RAF Gaza and RAF Qastina. 1946 British Forces station schedule

Also based in Jerusalem is Sharq al Adna an Arabic language station. This station ceases transmission at the end of the British Mandate and moves to Cyprus from where it operates until the Suez Crisis of 1956 when it is closed down by the British authorities and the transmitters are taken over by the BBC as the East Mediterranean Relay Station which still operates today.

1945 October 4. The Haganah clandestine station (Kol Ha-Hagana) resumes transmission as conflict between Jews and the British intensifies in post-war Palestine. Radio takes on a crucial role as many more Jewish underground stations start to broadcast on shortwave.

1946 February 18. The British Army traces the Lehi group's secret station and arrests the operators including announcer Ge'ula Cohen who later has a long career as a politician. PBS program schedule of 1946.

A variety of radio sets are on the market including models manufactured in Palestine.

1947 The PBS prepares to close down as the date for British withdrawal nears. A statement by a PBS employee in late 1947.

1948 May 14. Israeli independence is proclaimed and Kol Israel (The Voice of Israel) starts broadcasting using the staff and facilities of both the PBS and the former clandestine Haganah stations. Kol Israel becomes a government department first under the Ministry of the Interior, the Office of Posts and Telegraphs and subsequently under the Prime Minister's Office. Publication of November 1948 showing both former PBS and Haganah transmitting stations in use.

In the war between Israel and the Arab armies, Ramallah, where the PBS transmitting station is located, becomes part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It broadcasts the Jordanian radio service on 677 kHz until the Six Day War in June 1967.

1949 Kol Israel service quickly develops as shown by publication of October 1949. Israel is one of the first countries to pioneer the use of FM (VHF) transmission; at first simply to distribute audio from studios to medium wave stations.

October 30. BBC in London starts daily shortwave broadcasts to Israel. The Hebrew Service supplies a great deal of talent to Israeli broadcasting until it closes on October 27, 1968. Inaugural program. Final Program.

1950 March 11. Broadcasts specifically targeted at overseas audiences are started as "Kol Zion La Golah" (The Voice of Zion to the Diaspora") and are operated from Kol Israel facilities by the World Zionist Organisation (in collaboration with the Jewish Agency). Kol Zion is integrated into Kol Israel in 1958 and the title dropped. Kol Israel schedule from November 1950.

September 24. An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) station opens named Galei Zahal and is the first competition for Kol Israel. Program for soldiers previously aired on Kol Israel are transferred to the new station.

1951 The overall organization operating Kol Israel becomes known as The Israel Broadcasting Service.

1952 A second channel starts on 652 kHz and is named Reshet Bet (Second Network) and the other transmitters are called Reshet Alef (First Network). A program schedule from the time. The overseas short-wave channel comes to be referred to in-house as Reshet Gimel.

1953 First high power shortwave transmitter of 50 kilowatts is purchased from RCA for Kol Zion Lagolah and enters service in 1955 - 1953 schedule.

1957 Programs are started for the United Nations Emergency Force in Sinai daily from 1600-1700 in Swedish, French, and English on Channel B (Reshet Bet). 1957 Publication

April 27. Israel's most popular radio program of all time 'Three Men in a Boat' achieves its highest audience.

1958 Arabic network starts operation known as 'Sout el Israyl', Channel D (Reshet Dalet) on 737 kHz with 100 kW of power.

1963 March 2. Knesset votes to allow the start of Educational Television and on August 8 agreement is reached with CBS in the USA for them to assist in the building of general Israel TV.

1965 June 6. The Broadcasting Authority Law is passed by Israel's Parliament (The Knesset) which creates the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) as an independent public body. In 1968 the law is amended to include television transmission. Overseas broadcasts of Kol Israel are secured under a legal provision that there must be programming beamed abroad to Jews and others.

1967 June. During the Six Day War the Ramallah radio station that was originally the PBS is captured by Israel and henceforth transmits IBA Arabic network Reshet Dalet on 677 kHz (674 kHz from 1975, and 675 kHz from November 1978) using the 1942 20 kW Marconi transmitter that is still operational. The original1936 transmitter had been removed and scrapped by the Jordanians prior to 1967 and a new 100 kW Telefunken transmitter donated by the Federal German Republic was in the process of being installed when the war started.

1968 May 2. Israel Television is inaugurated by the IBA on Independence Day with the televising of a parade through the streets of Jerusalem. Radio now has a rival medium. In fact TV sets went on the market in around 1960 when signals from Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt could be picked up. Israel Education TV was technically the first station in the country as it started transmissions on March 24, 1966, and its transmission was later incorporated into the daytime schedules of Israel Television. Much argument rages over whether there should be TV on Friday evening (the Eve of the Sabbath) and the IBA defies the wishes of the Government and broadcasts after an intervention by the High Court.

1969 The shortwave facilities of Kol Israel are greatly upgraded by the purchase of four 300 kilowatt transmitters and several antennas directed at different parts of the world.

1972 July 26. Israel is connected to the world by satellite for TV and radio broadcasts by the opening of the Emek Ha'ela Telecommunications station.

1973 May 18. Offshore pirate radio station the Voice of Peace is opened by peace campaigner Abie Nathan and achieves enormous popularity.

With the growth of television the IBA wishes to stress the cohesiveness of the organization and the name Kol Israel is dropped in favor of Shidurei Yisrael (Israel Broadcasting).

1976 June. New pop music network Reshet Gimel (Third Network) starts operation on medium wave 531 kHz and FM stations are added some years later. In common with Reshet Bet it carries advertizing. The overseas channel, which had been the 'third network', is henceforth referred to in-house as Reshet Hei (the fifth network).

1979 May. The title Kol Israel is re-introduced for the IBA radio services.

1981 January 13, Israel TV officially starts transmission in color. Some imported programs had previously been in color and the public bought sets but the Government believed this consumer spending gave unwanted stimulation to the sensitive economy and ordered the IBA to suppress the color signal. Enterprising individuals then developed a device to recover the suppressed color signal and the Government, fearing great unpopularity, eventually gave in but heavily taxed the sets.

1983 The FM transmitter network formerly of Reshet Alef is used to form a new stereo classical music and cultural network known as Kol Ha Musica (the Voice of Music).

1985 September 29. Bill to create the Second TV channel gets preliminary approval in the Knesset and an Act is passed on January 1, 1990 with the service starting on November 11, 1993.

1986 July 29. Cable TV Act is passed after illegal operators had been active for some years. At a ceremony on February 2, 1990 some residents of Rishon Lezion are the first to receive TV (and radio) programming via cable.

1987 April 10. Agreement is reached for Voice of America to build a powerful shortwave station in the Arava valley. However there are environmental and other problems and the station is never built.

October 7. IBA journalists and producers go on strike and TV and radio closes for two months.

1993 October 1. Voice of Peace station closes down - Abie Nathan says 'The Goal has been achieved.'

1994 May. Under the agreement giving autonomy to the Palestinians they are able to operate broadcasting stations. The initial areas are Gaza and Jericho but as it is not feasible to build a high power station capable of reaching the entire area they are permitted to operate from the Ramallah site ahead of its handover. The Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) operating as Voice of Palestine is inaugurated from the station and in December 1995 Ramallah comes fully within the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. The Israel Ministry of Communications initially moves the transmitter's frequency to 702 kHz - which is also being used by 'Al Kuds' a station beaming to Palestinians from Syria. The two stations interfere with each other very badly and after a short time PBC is given permission to move back to 675 kHz.

1995 September. Commercial local radio begins under the regulatory control of the Second Channel and Local Radio Authority.

1996 May 18. Israel's Amos 1 satellite is launched and transmits domestic TV and radio.

Sources: Israel Radio