What exactly lies behind the closing of Israel’s Broadcasting Authority after its seven decades of serving the public is a subject for speculation. Politics, finances and greed are part of the picture for sure, although other reasons have been posited.
The radio, followed by television, has been the constant companion of daily life in Israel for the vast majority of its population. Initially there was only one radio channel, and during the day its various programmes of talk and music, both light and heavy, constituted the means whereby information was disseminated to the population.
The various languages spoken in the nascent State reflected its composition, which consisted to a large extent of immigrants from a wide range of countries. There were programmes in Yiddish for those originally from Eastern Europe, many of them Holocaust survivors. There were programmes in Arabic for the immigrants from the countries of the Maghreb, who were forced to leave their homes when Israel was established. Those programmes also served the indigenous Arab population. There were even programmes in French and English, consisting mainly of news, as well as programmes in simple Hebrew to help all immigrants. One important programme was devoted to the search for missing relatives, which often succeeded in reuniting family members who had lost touch with one another due to the events of WWII.
For someone like me, who grew up in the England of the 1950s and 1960s, when the BBC ruled the sound waves, our daily routine was accompanied by stalwarts like Music While You Work, Mrs. Dale’s Diary, Listen With Mother and Women’s Hour. At the weekends there was Educating Archie and the Billy Cotton Band Show, with the highlights of the week being Family Favourites and the Goon Show. All that is ancient history now, but the fact that those names come easily to my brain show that they evidently made a deep and lasting impression on me.
The same goes for the early days of radio and TV in Israel. I was not here when Israel was founded, but made my way here only in 1964, upon graduating from university in London. I brought a radio with me and very quickly came to know the daily routine, despite my very inadequate knowledge of Hebrew. The early morning programme would start with an energetic male voice instructing listeners in some elementary gymnastics – a subject I had always hated at school, and was not very enthusiastic about then either. This was followed by a gentleman speaking Hebrew with a strong American accent giving drivers some helpful hints about driving carefully and avoiding accidents. Light music and talks of various kinds generally followed. At the weekend there was the weekly music quiz, where one of the first Hebrew words I learned was the one for composer.
After my daughter was born and I found myself unable to continue in my job at the university I benefited greatly from the daily programme devoted to housewifely matters and hosted by Rivka Michaeli. It contained medical advice from children’s physician, Dr. Sherashevsky, cookery hints from Chef Nikolai, and many other useful items. I must confess that that, too, helped me to learn Hebrew.
Life changed for me when a programme was inaugurated devoted to music, primarily of the classical kind. And that improved even more when that programme was extended to twenty-four hours. I later learned that the programme from midnight to 6 a.m., which I encountered occasionally, was in fact produced by a computer, but that did not bother me as I continued to enjoy the music.
The TV programmes also played a major role in Israel’s communications scene, and I was even able to use texts from two TV news programmes as the basis for my M.A. thesis in Communications at the Hebrew University, comparing their respective uses of rhetorical devices.
But now all that has gone. No more talk programmes. No more phone-ins. No more news broadcasts. No more sports commentaries. My constant compantion, The Voice of Music, has been replaced by the computerized programme of music (which is not at all bad, I must admit). I don’t know how many people were once employed there, but it can’t be making them feel any better to know they’ve been replaced by a computer.
I wonder what would happen if the British government decided to scrap the BBC.