It Was Good Radio

Former Army Radio Commander Yitzhak Livni's basic assumption was that if the IDF is the people's army, the station can and should broadcast about all the issues that can and should interest civilians.

Gideon Levy wrote a profile of the 60-year-old Army Radio station ("This is Army Radio," Haaretz, September 19 ). As a "controversial journalist," he wrote with warmth about his first days as a newsman on Army Radio and critically about "the intoxicating, deceitful embrace of the establishment" in the early 1970s. He also wrote about Army Radio's "statesmanlike" spirit, (which was fraught with too much opportunism and propaganda and not courageous and critical enough ), which has since prevailed in the entire Israeli media.

"Generations of journalists learned their craft in that atmosphere and were corrupted by it," he said.

Today the military radio station will hold a gathering of its alumni over the years in Hayarkon Park. It is advisable to add some shading to the black picture Levy depicted. In its formative period at the end of the '60s and the '70s, Army Radio had a far-reaching positive influence on Israeli culture. The Army Radio spirit of those days was inspired by its then-commander, Yitzhak Livni. He shaped it, to a large extent, with the station managers who worked with him and continued after him (Gideon Samet, Morderchai Naor, Zvi Shapira and Elon Shalev ), and was sometimes at odds with his Army superiors.

While military broadcasting stations throughout the world concentrated on music and programs intended for soldiers and their families, Livni's basic assumption was that if the IDF is the people's army, the station can and should broadcast about all the issues that can and should interest civilians. So the station broadcast music and messages from soldiers as well as military news magazines (20 minutes a day ). Agreed, it did not deal with straight politics, but it did address issues of culture in the widest sense.

Even by the end of the '60s, when the Army Radio broadcast from 6 A.M. to midnight (with a one-hour intermission between 2 and 3 P.M. to let the transmitters rest ), its listeners received a 10-minute monologue by various philosophers and David Avidan read a new poem once a week.

True, there was a list of taboo subjects and people. But the young, opinionated, curious and diligent people Livni brought to the Army Radio were educated to think no issue was impossible to broach, in one way or another. They believed they should interview those people who were not banned but would go on the air and could say things similar to what the banned individuals might say. No, not against the occupation; who spoke at the time against the occupation? Even Levy didn't - but about a host of other issues, even controversial ones.

In the 70s the Army Radio carried ambitious and multilayered highbrow programs, radio plays, and initiated "University on the Air". Natan Dunevitz held broadcast live telephone conversations with listeners for the first time on this station. Talk shows hosted by Ram Evron were broadcast live nightly and toward the end of the '70s the station came out with programs consisting of music and short recorded items with unexpected guests as "Two hours from two" and "Right now" with Yitzhak Ben-Ner. This was the first time that regular people, not only broadcasters, spoke on the radio.

I and many of my generation in the Army Radio did not think - in contrast to Levy - that this is how journalism should be made. We knew the limitations and made within them the most interesting and exciting radio we were allowed to. Why should a military station broadcast a live theater review of a play that had just ended? Because I suggested it to Livni on the stairs and he muttered something that sounded like "yes."

Only after the joint Yom Kippur War studio broadcasts ended did the station continue to broadcast 24 hours a day, including news magazines, without any formal decision. A few years later came the first Lebanon war and the station began to listen to its listeners, becoming, together with Israeli society, what it is today. The media reflect the society they operate in, even if for a moment they delude themselves that they are molding it.

Archive / Ariel Shalit