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Voice of Peace - History (12)

1992

Abie Nathan was freed from jail on 30th March 1992 after serving only six of his eighteen months sentence. A new Labour Government had been elected in Israel and  shortly after taking power  it repealed the law forbidding talks between Israelis and the PLO. Abie Nathan had served two prison sentences for violating that law, now at least he could continue his quest for peace without fear of having to serve a third term.

The election of the new Government also brought hopes that legislation would be introduced to allow the establishment of privately owned commercial radio stations. The acceptance of the concept of privately owned and operated broadcasting coupled with the Government's stated commitment to introduce local commercial radio stations, signalled the start of a new era in Israeli media circles.  

However, political and administrative delays in introducing the new local radio network led to many potential operators growing impatient and taking matters into their own hands. This in turn  led to an explosion in the number of landbased pirate stations operating in Israel, many of whom were run on a very professional basis and supported by significant advertisers.

Many of these stations became very popular and commercially successful, and although the authorities conducted frequent raids to silence them they were often able to return to the air very quickly thanks to the extent of their financial and operational support.

As an elaborate 'cover' some landbased pirates claimed to be operating from offshore bases while others did establish transmitters on board ships, openly relaying their programmes from landbased studios. A few stations, tired of the repeated raids on their landbased premises did actually move away and broadcast from an offshore base in the generally accepted manner.

During 1992 a Bill was introduced into the Knesset to establish up to twenty private local radio stations, but proposed  operating restrictions meant that they were unlikely to be commercially profitable.  

The Bill provided for regional stations under the control of local councils who were to decide on programme content and govern advertising regulations - the same system as the state-run Kol Israel radio network, but at a local level. Additionally the new stations would have to operate under trade union regulations and pay fees to the Bezek (Israel's communications monopoly), the local council, Ministry of Communications, Israeli Songwriter's Union and local record producers.

In September 1992 the Voice of Peace changed its format yet again to 'mellow music' with a new station slogan - 'Peaceful Easy Listening'. The change had partly been brought about as the result of difficulties experienced in obtaining new records after Abie Nathan cancelled the station's subscription to Billboard magazine and a US based new release service. Unfortunately for the Voice of Peace by this time even local Israeli based record companies had stopped supplying the station with much new material because of its diminishing audience ratings.

1993

The studio and broadcasting equipment on board the Peace ship had also been allowed to deteriorate and had not been updated or replaced for some time. By the beginning of 1993 the production studio was virtually out of commission and the main on-air studio was operated with considerable difficulty by the DJs. There was no longer a resident engineer on board the MV Peace, Abie Nathan relied instead on the technical expertise of one of the DJs, Kenny Page, to patch and repair the broadcasting equipment.

The 'mellow music' format was unpopular with listeners and as a consequence few commercial spots were sold because advertisers and agencies perceived that the Voice of Peace now had a very small audience. They were probably correct. The  Voice of Peace had lost its market leader position because it had undergone so many format changes, suffered from  frequent technical breakdowns and competition from the more professional offshore rival, Aruts Sheva .

Early in 1993 Abie Nathan explored the possibility of selling the Voice of Peace to millionaire Israeli media tycoon Yaacov Nimrodim, whose business interests included Mareeve, a daily Hebrew language newspaper, a record company and a cable television outlet. Contracts were due to be signed on 1st March 1993, but the deal fell through at the last minute.

In March 1993, shortly after the proposed sale of the Voice of Peace had fallen through, the MV Peace was temporarily impounded by the authorities while on a regular refuelling visit to Ashdod. The ship's Panamanian registration had expired and although Abie Nathan was in America at the time arranging a renewal of the registration the Israeli authorities refused to let the ship return to her anchorage off Tel Aviv until the paperwork was sorted out. However, as a demonstration of the easy going relationship between the authorities and the offshore stations at the time (in contrast to the contemporary European and American official attitudes ) the MV Peace was allowed to anchor just outside the harbour walls and resume broadcasting until the registration documents had been received from Panama.

By contrast to Aruts Sheva's professionalism and commercial success the Voice of Peace was now in serious financial difficulties. Rumours continued to circulate during the summer of 1993 that the Israeli Government would grant both it and Aruts Sheva, licences to operate from landbased facilities. These licences were to be in addition to the planned new network of local private stations to be launched in Israel. Earlier in the year both stations had been asked to provide applications detailing their current transmission arrangements, programming, transmitter power and area covered by their broadcasts. However, the plan came to nothing, partly because the state network, Kol Israel, mounted a vociferous campaign against the proposed granting of landbased licences to the two main offshore broadcasters.

By mid-1993 the Voice of Peace was said to be up for sale again. Meanwhile, in an effort to cover operating costs, Abie Nathan explored another possible use of the Peace ship's facilities - he tried to rent the station's transmitters to organisations operating telephone chat lines. The idea was that they would use the Voice of Peace's transmitters overnight to broadcast their service on air, but as with so many proposals affecting the station the plan came to nothing.

The failure to obtain a landbased licence had been a devastating blow to the Voice of Peace which now faced serious technical and financial problems. The station's FM transmitter had failed at the end of June 1993 and although broadcasts continued on medium wave many listeners and advertisers assumed that the Voice of Peace was off the air altogether.



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