Israeli radio’s assault on classical music


By Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Dorothea Shefer Vanson

MEVASSERET ZION, Israel – When I first arrived in Israel in the early 1960s, there was no television and only one radio broadcast. In England, the radio had played an important role in my life and that of my family, and one of my first thoughts when I had time for myself was to listen to the radio for information and comfort. My knowledge of Hebrew was minimal at best, but I enjoyed Israeli songs and occasional English broadcasts for the immigrant population. One Shabbat morning my ear picked up what I deduced to be some sort of musical quiz, and so one of the first words I learned in Hebrew was the word for composer (malkhine), and gradually started trying to answer questions that I could understand (the answers had to be sent on a postcard). After several attempts, I must have been right, because a little later an LP (long-playing) record arrived in the mail.

Over the years, Israeli radio has diversified, reaching out to different audiences. Live concerts by various Israeli orchestras were also broadcast. Whereas in the past the time allotted for classical music was limited to an hour or two a day, it gradually grew, and one fine day the music-loving public in Israel was treated to a program dedicated solely to classical music. classical music. At first the shows ended at ten in the evening, but later that spread all night (and eventually that segment was picked up by a computerized compilation of recordings).

That was the time! Producers and advertisers became household names, almost friends, whose tastes and interests coincided with mine, and also, presumably, with those of that segment of the population of Israel who enjoyed listening to classical music. We took it for granted that these knowledgeable people knew which performances were best suited for our daily consumption, and we found ourselves in the privileged position of being surrounded by music at all times. I know it’s considered rude to have the music playing in the background for other activities, but in my particular case it was a godsend, allowing me to take on my daily chores at home and at the machine. to write (and later on the computer) in a golden haze of glorious notes.

But someone somewhere decided that a change was needed. The much-loved Israel Broadcasting Association has been dissolved (some say it was for political reasons). Lots of familiar names and individuals have vanished, and a proven programming overhaul has been introduced. Many new programs were introduced, but it was a relief that the classical music program could continue, albeit with set hours devoted to jazz and oriental music. Now the responsible body was called Kan.

Suddenly, a few months ago, a more radical change appeared. Instead of playing an entire symphony or concerto, a single movement or part of a concerto was played. I know this has been rampant in foreign radio programs, but it has never been done in Israel. The music-loving public reacted with rage and disbelief, and the Letters from the Readers section of the main daily, Haaretz, was inundated with letters protesting the new policy, calling it “infantile”, “insulting her intelligence” and “general stupefaction” of the program that had become an institution for the listening public. In addition, new advertisers were recruited, and these did not appear particularly knowledgeable about music, having difficulty pronouncing names and often showing blatant ignorance of the music being played (and having a general tendency talking about irrelevant topics, such as weather and traffic).

The authorities were quick to react. Articles appeared in the newspaper denigrating the “elitism”, stubbornness and “exclusivity” of the angry listeners. It was even claimed that listeners belonged to a dying older generation. But the protest letters continued to appear almost daily, indicating that a member of the editorial board of Haaretz agreed with readers.

Some people, including myself, have argued that the idea behind the change was to attract new listeners, perhaps young people, and therefore it was inevitable that the intellectual level of the programs had to be toned down. I doubt the desired outcome has been achieved and no audience figures have yet been released. During this time, it seems that some sort of compromise has been reached, because every now and then we are entitled to a full performance of a symphony or concerto. Thank you very much Kan.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson is a freelance writer and editor based in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, Israel. She can be contacted via


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