In the three weeks since the abrupt closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the switch to the new government media corporation, Kan, listeners at 88FM — a public radio station dedicated to carefully curated programs of classic rock, jazz and world music — have become an unhappy audience.
It isn’t just the new jingle that doesn’t sound right — it’s the whole package.
“The station doesn’t sound the same,” said Hilla Shagan, the founder of the station’s fan club, Mishmar 88. “It’s just a line of hits. You hear Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and Deep Purple but only their most basic hits. There’s no soul.”
88FM was known among its fan base as the radio station for music lovers. It wasn’t just the knowledgeable tributes to beloved musicians who passed away, or the musical lead-ups preceding much-anticipated concerts like those of The Rolling Stones or The Pixies.
Rather, it was the encyclopedic musical grasp of the station’s staff, and their acknowledgement that they were sharing it with an equally appreciative audience.
“It’s what made 88FM so different,” said Lilach Yifat, another Mishmar 88 member. “The editors set the playlists.”
Though a significant segment of the 88FM staff has remained on the job following the dramatic turnover of the IBA public broadcasting authority, the quality and sound that once distinguished the station are gone, complained listeners.
But these fans are not taking the loss quietly.
They embarked on a letter-writing campaign as soon as the closure of the IBA was announced, demanding a return to the music and editorial choices they preferred. Now they’re planning a demonstration outside the station’s Tel Aviv offices on Thursday, June 1, at 5:30 p.m.
Their plan is to wield pressure. A lot of pressure.
“We’re talking about public radio,” said Shagan, who started Mishmar 88 a decade ago when other changes were being made at the public radio station without taking public opinion into account. “Its job is to educate and represent audiences that can’t be represented in commercial radio. Eldad Koblenz [the new director] isn’t doing his job.”
They’re not the only ones complaining. There has been a litany of columns and letters about 88FM in the Israeli press, as well as an ongoing thread of complaints on the group’s active Facebook page of 7,000 followers.
“The public has more power than it thinks, and it can’t just accept this,” said Shagan. “There are a lot of problems in Israel, but something like this, the music station I love — if you’re going to take that as well, I’m going to fight it.”
What always distinguished 88FM from other rock music stations was its well-trained staff of editors and broadcasters, who utilized their well-honed skills in forming each playlist.
An hour with any one of the announcers — whether the subject is rock or jazz, world music or Latin sound — would set listeners on a musical journey, ranging across decades and sounds and often offering lesser-known works of renowned musicians or the worthwhile sounds of younger ones.
All that has changed now, said Shagan. Some programs were canceled while others were moved from prime time to bizarre times of the day when few would be tuning in. The editorial choices are being made by a staff of just three, she said.
“If 88 is all about musical pluralism, it’s now based on the knowledge of just three people and it’s a crazy reduction of taste and knowledg;, it’s just a string of hits,” said Shagan.
Boaz Cohen, a well-known morning 88FM announcer whose former 8 a.m.-10 a.m. show was called “Roker Tov” — a play on rock plus boker tov, or good morning — and who made the move to Kan, said the process has been complicated, to say the least.
“There’s almost nothing in the new station that is like what there was in the old station,” said Cohen. “My show is an hour later, I’m not editing my music any longer, a lot is done with computers and the intention is to bring in more listeners.”
It’s akin to the words of “Radio Song,” the R.E.M. song Cohen played on one of his first Kan morning shows last week:
Hey, I can’t find nothing on the radio
Yo! turn to that station
The world is collapsing
Around our ears
I turned up the radio
But I can’t hear it
While many of the announcers on the new 88 are the same as in the station’s previous incarnation, they’ve become “marionettes,” said Shagan, without any of the editing or decision-making powers they held when 88FM was still part of the IBA.
According to another 88FM announcer who preferred to remain anonymous, the abrupt removal of music editors and the decision to take all editing responsibilities away from the announcers make little sense.
“They said that some of the 88FM people were too edgy or too removed, but that’s ridiculous,” he said. “You can tell people to do things a little differently, to start and end a show with hits. These are people who knew what they were doing, and the biggest problem is how horribly it was all done, just walking all over people. It was completely rude and uncalled for.”
It’s a big mess, said Shagan.
“Other musicians and people will join the fight,” she said. “There was this one radio station for this kind of music, and they changed everything.”
The Mishmar 88 demonstration will be held outside the Kan offices in Tel Aviv, at 6 Kremenentski Street, at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, June 1.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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