Israel Radio aired its last show Wednesday evening, bringing to an end the storied history of the 81-year-old station.
The shuttering of the radio station came as part of the process of replacing the Israel Broadcasting Authority with a new publicly funded entity, known as “Kan,” which is scheduled to start broadcasting on May 15.
Israel Radio began broadcasting in Hebrew on March 30, 1936, when it was established under the name Jerusalem Calling, as part of the British Mandate’s Palestine Broadcasting Service.
In 1950, Jerusalem Calling was merged with the nascent Israel Radio, which went on air a minute before the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. It continued to broadcast under the name Israel Radio until 7:04 p.m. Wednesday.
Until 1960, when “Reshet Bet” was established as a news station, Israel Radio broadcast solely on “Reshet Aleph.” In 1976, “Reshet Gimmel” was added and went on to become Israel Radio’s exclusively Hebrew-language music station.
Additional stations were added later on, including for classical music, Arabic-language broadcasting and programming for immigrants in a number of languages, among them Amharic and Russian.
The broadcast on the flagship “Reshet Bet” ended Wednesday evening with the Arik Einstein song “We’ll Meet Again,” after the news, which was preceded by the familiar beeps signaling the top-of-the-hour broadcast along with the iconic phrase “This is the voice of Israel from Jerusalem.”
All programming was then ended, except for the hourly news bulletins, which will continue to be broadcast, along with music, until the new public broadcaster takes over on Monday at 8:00 a.m.
Dozens of workers from the broadcast network gathered at their headquarters to be together in the final hours, with correspondents and presenters recounting their memories and their thoughts on the impending end.
In an interview with Channel 2 Wednesday, Israel Radio’s longtime military correspondent Carmela Menashe mourned the closure of the iconic radio station.
“Israel Radio was home. Eighty-one years of an unparalleled asset are over,” she said.
On Tuesday, the IBA’s Channel 1 news also aired its final broadcast, only two hours after receiving notice that the show would go off the air, bringing an end to Israel’s first news channel.
Employees of Channel 1, who had thought their last broadcast was to be on May 15, closed the nightly news with a rendition of the “Hatikvah” national anthem, with many openly weeping.
The abrupt, slipshod nature of the closure was roundly criticized in the media, with some calling it a dishonorable end for a show that had defined Israeli media for much of its 49-year run.
“With just a flick they inform [presenter] Geula Even in the middle of the broadcast [of the station’s closure], as if Road 443 was closed for half an hour. This is how you turn off Israel’s soundtrack?” Menashe told Channel 2 in her trademark gravelly voice.
Speaking alongside Menashe, Haim Yavin — the retired anchor who on Channel 1 news, in 1977, announced the political revolution that brought Menachem Begin’s Likud party to power for the first time — called for a commission of inquiry over the closure of the IBA.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied he had anything to do with Channel 1’s sudden closure and slammed the manner in which it was shuttered, calling it “disrespectful and dishonorable.”
Netanyahu had recently pushed to keep the existing public broadcaster, and dismantle the new state-funded corporation, citing unneeded layoffs and reportedly concerned over a lack of government oversight, although he had backed the legislation that led to its closure.
The Knesset plenum on Wednesday was set to vote into law a bill that will restructure the new public broadcasting corporation, implementing a March compromise reached by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
The deal stripped the new broadcaster, “Kan,” of its news division and created a separate news entity in its stead, largely made up of staffers from the old Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Netanyahu, who was until recently also acting communications minister, oversaw passage of the 2014 law to establish the new corporation, but more recently has led an effort to abort it before it goes on the air, complaining of a lack of government control over its editorial line, which may be critical of his government.
The IBA was established in 1948 and held a monopoly on TV and radio broadcasting in Israel until the 1990s.
In an interview with Israel Radio Wednesday prior to its closure, President Reuven Rivlin shared his memories of listening to Israel Radio as a child, while also saying that public broadcasting is essential for preserving Israel’s democratic character.
“Without public broadcasting, there is no democracy. Without public broadcasting, the State of Israel is not the State of Israel,” he said. “An official public broadcaster is very important. It allows the government to express its policies and to try and explain [them] to the public. But the broadcasting authority is the public’s because it is the broadcasting authority that is meant to allow the public to formulate its views.”