It's a familiar Catch-22 for just about every parent. A car trip with the kids turns into a trap as the radio broadcasts the news, often about rapes and other acts of violence. On the other hand, the two overused children's CDs in the car make you want to open the door and jump out. These problems are not exclusive to car trips. At home, the easy option of turning on one of the children's television stations is becoming increasingly troublesome - most of the children's shows are loud and violent, and on the whole, spending hours glued to the small screen is disturbing and debilitating.
Such concerns prompted Michal Shalev Reicher and Yaara Yeshurun to launch a new venture: a radio station for kids. The station, Kol Hayeladim (Children's Voice ), will be launched Tuesday and broadcast several hours daily (from 6 A.M. to 8 A.M. and again from 2 P.M. until the evening ) via an Internet site.
Kol Hayeladim's programming will consist, among other things, of a news program presented by Dalik Wolinetz each morning; Danny Kerman and Efraim Sidon discussing illustration and books; Idan Alterman hosting a music show; and programs on history and science presented by Ran Levy, a show about the environment, nutrition and more. Each program will last between 30 minutes to an hour, a length that allows kids to remain attentive and also talk afterward with their family about what they learned.
Shalev Reicher and Yeshurun worked on this project for a year or so. Their enthusiasm for the project can explain the across-the-board mobilization by all the parties involved to get the project up and running.
"Every car trip with the kids, you say to yourself that it can't be that there's nothing like this. It's a necessity," says Yeshurun. "Not everyone has a DVD in the car, and besides, I think addiction to video screens is unacceptable. Staring at the screen continuously, at something that will amuse you and do the work for you - that's terrible."
Shalev Reicher: "There is no room left for any different kind of thinking, for the imagination, for creativity, for anything. When you watch television, the critical eye disappears; you are more open to accepting problematic messages, marketing content. All the more so when it's kids."
Shalev Reicher, 36, a mother of two girls who lives in Ramat Gan, is the owner of a marketing communications firm, Ontxt. She used to work in high-tech, marketing and was also an aide to the Israel Defense Forces attache to NATO while studying in Holland. Yeshurun, 31 and a mother of four who lives in Mazkeret Batya, worked at Internet companies and describes herself as an entrepreneur.
They met around five years ago at a Horim Ovdim Leshinui (Parents Working for Change ) event organized by Yeshurun to get school vacations to coincide with parents' vacation days. The change in this past summer's school vacations - which they were not entirely pleased with - came partly as a result of their efforts.
They note that over the years they considered a number of shared ideas for projects, but Kol Hayeladim is the first to be fully achieved, and rather quickly. "Given our friendship we started talking about the big problems with the world of children's content," says Shalev Reicher. "In the media intended for kids, the content is shallow; there are very few pearls there. In the media not meant for kids, on the major stations and on the news and radio, the feeling is one of being unprotected."
Yeshurun: "You travel by car and hear about the massacre in Connecticut in great detail and it's hard for you to realize that your kids are also hearing this."
The first step toward the station, they say, was to formulate their ideas in a document they called, "I Believe," and present it to potential partners. Shalev Reicher: "We started to meet people, shape the character of a radio station. Dalik Wolinetz, who became our partner in this venture, was one of the first people we met, and like all the partners in the project, he is doing it on a volunteer basis."
Yeshurun: "The broadcasters get paid small amounts. But just about everyone we spoke to about there being no good radio content for kids, and that if there is, it isn't accessible to all - quickly agreed to join."
As an example of quality content that is not accessible to the general public, they cite the children's show, "Devarim Shehashuv Li Lehagid" ("Important Things I Have to Say" ), a musical project with many participants created by Ronit Kano and shown primarily on Tel Aviv stages. Kano is also responsible for one of the key programs to be aired on their radio station.
What is written in your "I Believe"?
Shalev Reicher: "To create a platform for unique content for children, to bring back artists who once were part of our lives and introduce them to our children."
Yeshurun: "To extend prime time. Our goal is to have something available over time, long-term broadcasting, because there is excellent content that we don't know about."
Radio is perhaps considered a little outdated. Once there were children's shows on the radio, radio plays.
Shalev Reicher: "Ronit Kfir does radio plays for our station. We plan to have a variety and an environment that is free of marketing content. We will have, we hope, advertisements, but they will be completely separate from the content. There will not be any marketing content. We are aware of the complexity that surfaces the moment children become consumers, and the advertising will be different. There will be ads dealing with consumerism and how to handle money."
Yeshurun: "One of the objectives is to appeal to the family as a family, because today everything is niche oriented. The channels focus on narrowly defined age groups and our goal is to successfully appeal to all the kids in a family and to the parents. For example, at 5 A.M., when parents of small children wake up, they and the children can enjoy children's songs. From 6 A.M., the hours when people listen to the news, we broadcast a daily news program, presented by Dalik Wolinetz, and the character and content are suited to kids."
Coming to America
Shalev Reicher and Yeshurun's experience and the latest technologies enabled them to move quickly on a project that was relatively inexpensive to produce. Thanks to a private contribution, they prepared the first month of broadcasts in advance, after which they hope to generate income from advertising.
The broadcast is recorded in a small studio in Rishon Letzion and then aired over the Internet. This way they saved on the steep costs of buying a broadcasting frequency and creating a commercial station. The actual broadcasts can be heard by connecting a desktop computer or a laptop, a Smartphone or a Tablet to the home or car speaker. In a few weeks it will also be possible to hear the program in North America and later on there are plans for a Smartphone app and audio on demand at any hour (much like the video-on- demand service for television shows ).
The focus group for the content was made up of the two women's children and the children of relatives and friends.
The two mention the freedom and great variety in the content currently offered, which on one hand enables content to be customized, but on the other hand confuses consumers and moves them to search for those who are like them - a community. Do they essentially offer community programming?
Shalev Reicher: "Yaara and I talk about it quite a bit - about the question of whether being a parent is enough of a common denominator to create a community. We have been dealing with this for years and have different opinions. I think so; informed parenthood by choice creates a community in my view."
Yeshurun: "I think otherwise. Parenthood doesn't make a community. I was very active in the stroller protest, and there is certainly a common experience about being a parent that speaks to everyone. But within that, there are many details and it's unclear they speak the same language."
Shalev Reicher: "I am aiming for a group of parents who understand that their children's leisure habits can be shaped together. We want to expand their content and variety through a dialogue with parents. I think this is doable and that radio can develop in interesting directions."