After he moved from the U.S. to Jerusalem almost two years ago, Arizona native Ari Louis leaped headfirst into the world of odd jobs. To be able to pay the bills, he cleaned houses, slaved away for a telemarketing company and even did some labor-intensive construction work.
But after a few months, the 27-year-old single immigrant decided to drop menial labor and make his hobby - co-hosting a sports show on a local Anglo radio station - his profession. Together with two fellow U.S. immigrants, Louis created Israel's first sports-only radio station.
"We're here from eight in the morning until midnight, but I'd take it any time over the other things I did," Louis told Anglo File during a recent interview in Israel Sports Radio's small but cozy studio in Jerusalem's Talpiot area. "It's still easier than nightshift at some of the telemarketing places I worked at," he said while sitting at his desk, with three computer screens, several microphones and a huge switchboard. "I was crying there every other night, and I'm not joking. This station is the way we have to make a living, because I'm not going back to that."
Louis has degree in broadcasting and ample open access television experience from the U.S. he is joined in the venture by Andy Gershman, a native of Richmond, Virginia, and Josh Halickman, originally from Montreal. Together, they put about NIS 35,000 into setting up the station. Being broadcast over the Internet, the station can be listened to from all over the world via computer.
Though entirely financed through advertising and sponsoring, they firmly believe the station will bring in enough money so that none of them one will have to go back to shlepping bricks or cleaning other people's toilets.
"We can certainly make a living out of this," said Gershman, 41, who immigrated to Israel with his wife and two sons at the same time as Louis. "We wouldn't have put in the money if we hadn't thought so."
The station, which operates Sunday through Thursday, from 4 P.M. until midnight, has local hobby DJs host shows about American sports, world soccer, hockey and rugby, as well as in-depth coverage of the local Anglo leagues. All shows but one are in English.
Late last year, Israel Sports Radio started live coverage of games of the Israel Football League, which is popular among local Anglos. They have also begun broadcasting remotely once a week from Jerusalem sports bar Hagov, owned by Los Angeles native Yonah Mishaan, who coaches the league's Jerusalem Lions.
"A while ago I predicted that one team would crush another in the IFL, but exactly the opposite happened," Gershman recalled. "I received about 60 e-mails telling me how wrong I was, most them were from players on the other team. It was a Tel Aviv team and I was walking in Jerusalem, on Emek Refaim Street, when one guy comes running out the grocery store there, and he's like: 'You picked us to lose, but we won!' I was like, holy cow, people really care about this."
Since the station went live on October 4, Louis, Gershman and Halickman counted more than 50,000 unique site visits and 3,500 downloads of recorded programs. Depending on the content and the timing of the shows, about 200 to 300 listeners tune in at any given time, they say.
Like most American sports talk programs, Israel Sports Radio is based on studio guests and self-declared sports pundits who call in to discuss the sporting events of the day. The list of sports personalities who appeared on the station so far include Jewish-Orthodox boxer Dmitry Salita, NBA star Omri Casspi and Guma Aguiar, the American-Israeli co-owner of Beitar Jerusalem.
Last week, Macabbi Tel Aviv's David Blu also joined the mix, co-hosting a show with Gershman and Dubi Pick.
The station also features less prominent names the managers believe are attractive to an audience interested in Jewish or Israeli sports, such as representatives from the American Jewish Coaches Association and Jewish correspondents of ESPN, a leading American sports channel.
"We give airtime to American-Jewish athletes who don't get a lot of airtime in the U.S.," said Gershman, explaining why people would tune in to his station when they could also listen to professional sports journalists at the major networks. Past interviewees such as Jack McClinton, of Hapoel Gilboa/Galil Elyon, and Jeremy Pargo, of Macabbi Tel Aviv, who started their basketball careers in the U.S., are interesting for Jewish sports fans but would not be interviewed at length anywhere but on Israel Sports Radio, he added.
"We got the Jewish-Israeli twist to it, a flavor that you're not going to find really on any other network," Gershman said. "We try to get the biggest names, whether they're Jewish or not Jewish. We had the former general manager of the Boston Red Sox, Dan Duquette, for example. He also has a Jewish Israeli-connection because he was part of bringing baseball to Israel originally. There's still that twist that brings people to us to hear what he has to say."
But is there really enough of a market for an Anglo-Israeli sports station?
The station bosses believe there is.
"There are 300,000 Anglos here in Israel, there are countless Christian Zionists and there are millions of Jews in the U.S.," said Gershman, adding that feedback he received makes him believe the station's programming could attract large numbers of listeners from all these groups.
Before creating their own station, Gershman and Louis hosted a sports show on Rusty Mike Radio, Israel's first Anglo Internet radio station. Founded in March 2009 by U.K. native Adam Mallerman, the station is located in a building across the street from Israel Sports Radio. Once the three hobby DJs felt there was enough potential for an entire sports channel, they split and created their own program.
"People told us all the time to also talk about soccer and rugby and cricket," Gershman remembered. "We really didn't know anything about these sports. But we knew there was some sort of interest. We felt the more Anglos we talked to the more there was this gap, where some people made aliyah and that was it for their sports knowledge. They kind of put it aside and nothing else was going to happen."
After soliciting show hosts, and receiving about 20 e-mails for each sport, the three immigrants decided there was enough interest to warrant the launch of their own station.
"I don't think we're competing, we're just complementing each other," Rusty Mike's Mallerman told Anglo File, adding that he still has a friendly relationship with Gershman and Louis. "I'm sure we'll do a bit of work together, perhaps a bit of a crossover."
However, people familiar with the Anglo broadcasting scene, who asked to remain anonymous because they didn't want to offend anyone, expressed slight reservations about whether a second English-language Internet radio station that only addresses sports aficionados is financially viable.
"I'm just not sure how many people will listen to that - the local football crowd, okay, but who else? You can only have Casspi and Salita on so many times," one said.
But the Israel Sports Radio team does not think their project and Rusty Mike vie for the same listeners.
"I don't really see it that much as a competition. Yes, there are Anglo listeners who will prefer Rusty Mike, but it's a very different audience," Gershman said. Most of the show on Rusty Mike, added Louis, are music or chat shows, "so it really depends on what you're looking for in a radio show."
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