TEL AVIV — Forty years after radio announcer Tony Fyne first stepped into this warren of small rooms at Reshet Gimmel’s Studio 5 in central Tel Aviv, the British import with a broad Lancastrian accent aired his final show on April 26, his 65th birthday, surrounded by colleagues, friends and family.
The show, hosted by the affable Kobi Menora, was less of the usual medley of songs and chatter and more of a goodbye party to whom many consider to be the father of “real” Israeli radio.
“Tony Fyne’s shows — Shlosha B’Gigit and Beten Gav in the summer — were real radio shows. He was the star, he brought the London spirit to Israel,” said Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, who worked as a music editor at Reshet Gimmel early on in his career. “He brought us Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, the Eurythmics and U2, Bruce Springsteen and REO Speedwagon.”
Akunis, who is now turning 43, reminisced about when he was an 11-year-old kid addicted to radio and how he viewed the radio announcers as celebrities of the time.
“There was only Reshet Gimmel and Galatz and Channel 1,” he recalled. “In the summer of 1985, I sent a postcard to Tony Fyne… and I asked to please let me come to the studio to see how it works.”
Akunis received an invite to come to the studio, which he described as “one of the best days of my childhood.” He ended up becoming a regular visitor and got to know “the man behind the jingles.”
“Before Tony, Israeli radio was very conservative, very heavy,” said Akunis. “They would talk quietly and the music was old-fashioned and slow.”
He wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Over the course of the two-hour show, fans called in and fellow announcers showed up at the studio to thank Fyne, dressed in his usual T-shirt and bandanna, for showing them how to make Israeli radio sound professional.
“He showed us how to bring music from abroad into our sphere,” said Eli Lapid, another Reshet Gimmel announcer. “He brought us the Pet Shop Boys,” referring to the British electronic pop duo from the early 1980s.
For the radio personalities, many of them now adults in their late 30s, 40s and 50s, Fyne’s music selections became the soundtracks of their own lives, the stuff of their adolescent dreams and wishes.
“Madonna?” said Akunis. “I would’ve missed that first album if it wasn’t for Fyne. We didn’t have MTV.”
Fellow announcer Noam Gil’Or, whose own velvet voice is very familiar from radio and television, called Fyne something of a Renaissance man, a disc jockey who is also a weather forecaster and photographer.
“He taught us to say something personal on the air,” he said, smiling over at Fyne, trying to imitate Fyne’s familiar accent in his jingles and promos. “He made Israeli radio into the real thing.”
That hadn’t been Fyne’s intention when he first landed in Israel in 1976. He just wanted a job.
Back then the 25-year-old had already been working in the music industry since he was just a kid, first singing solos until his voice changed as a pre-teen. He then played the organ in two different bands that performed rock and soul music. “We headlined Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where the Beatles played,” he said.
He then turned to disc jockeying in the late 1960s, spinning everything from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple to Motown from his box of records, performing under strobe lights at churches and town halls, at a time when major recording stars would come to his shows to hand out their own singles.
He was also an ardent lover of Israel, visiting his grandfather who had moved to Israel in the 1960s. By the age of 25, he wanted to find “a nice Jewish girl,” and figured he would have more luck in the land of Israel.
Fyne, said his colleagues, doesn’t make a move without Edna, his wife of many years, with whom he lives in the same apartment in Tel Aviv that he found back in 1976. Finding a job, however, wasn’t quite as easy.
At the time, Israel’s public radio stations played only Hebrew music and broadcast solely in Hebrew, something of a challenge for the English-speaking Fyne.
“All I could say was ‘Shalom!'” he said.
When he finally got to Kol Yisrael, the station was just about to launch Reshet Gimmel, and their series of own pop music radio shows, and were willing to take on Fyne.
Back then Israeli radio played a mish-mash of old Hebrew songs, Elvis Presley and Spanish and Italian ballads, said Fyne, waiting until new albums came out on full, long-play records. There was no internet or YouTube, no Sound Cloud or other methods to hear new music being made.
“The whole country was out of date,” he said.
Fyne arrived from Britain with a catalog of 65,000 seven-inch singles of the latest music being made in England, boasting that he had “2.5 tons of singles” back home, ready to ship over.
Fyne’s father, recalled Akunis and many others, mailed him the 7-inch singles sent from local record companies.
“When you heard a new song, it was from Tony,” the minister said. “School would finish at 1 p.m., you’d get home by 1:45 p.m., and Tony’s show was at 3 p.m., and we would all tune in.”
Reshet Gimmel began broadcasting on June 20, 1976, and Fyne joined in October, first hosting a weekly show and moving to a daily show just a few months later. He added Shosh Atari as his co-host, who “became like my second wife,” he said, creating a kind of radio blueprint for the local radio world.
“I was the first to use compact discs and a computer at the radio,” he said. “I brought longer needles for reverse play, so that we could line up records beforehand. I was the first to bring charts and jingles and promos. I told the DJs how to speak and how to give credit.”
Training with Fyne was like going back to school, said Lior Ben Shimon, one of Fyne’s last trainees.
“He worked with me in the middle of the night, when the studios were empty,” said Ben Shimon, who first worked in television, but didn’t like it as much. “He taught me about jingles, mixes, editing from fader to fader. He was a tough Brit, where everything has to be perfect. He taught me to only speak in the 20 seconds between songs, and not over the song — a common error made on many Israeli radio shows.”
‘He taught me to honor the music, so that I would understand what’s important’
“For Tony, that’s the holy of holies,” said Ben Shimon. “He taught me to honor the music, so that I would understand what’s important.”
To work with Fyne was to work according to his conditions, said Yigal Ravid, another familiar voice from Reshet Gimmel and television. DJ training meant sitting with Fyne at 4 a.m., analyzing each and every song and doing demo recordings.
“You know, I forgot about those DJ training sessions, but the passion for professionalism came from Tony Fyne,” said Ravid.
Today, said Fyne, radio has changed considerably, becoming global and less local.
“There’re too many alternatives to hear music,” he said. “Now the audience is very split up. It may be financially good for the business to have so many outlets for music, to be able to hear on MTV, or any station from Hawaii to Moscow, but there’s no sense of local music. Nobody dominates the fashion of music like Reshet Gimmel used to until the end of the 1980s.”
For now, though, he’s taking a break from the business, planning to travel the world with his wife.
“I’m 65 today, I’m not dead yet, and as long as I have my health and my energy, I still have a lot to contribute,” he said. “I have a lot of experience.”