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volume 9
july 2006

Remember the promise you made ...

 





  Remembering the Voice of Peace (24)
by Don Stevens
Previous
  Five years had passed since Don Stevens left the Voice of Peace and his life had changed in many ways. He had found employment in Britain as Music Director for a large entertainment group in the north-east of England and was responsible for the music policy of establishments in six major cities. The smallest of these seated 150 people for food and beverage consumption in an open environment, the medium size units were 500 capacity pubs, and their flagships were six 1500+ capacity night clubs. In 1985, however, unexpectedly Abie Nathan called him back to the Voice of Peace to re-vamp the programming.
 
1 Right: Charlie, Buck, Don and Stevie

Revamping the format. By 1982, Keith York headhunted me to leave this group in England and join South Coast Radio, Cork, Ireland as General Manager and Presenter. One of my first acts to build the stations profile was to re-vamp the format into a facsimile of the 4 Double G sound we had used so effectively back in 1976 on The Voice of Peace. This gave the presenters an element of choice in their show but the music selections were all less than 3 minutes long, giving us more hits per hour. Tony Allan was recruited and helped make the voice overs (vo's) that made my second stage concept, "The Music Leader" a reality, the station was a success until the Irish Government raided Radio Nova in Dublin and it became difficult for a while to sell airtime. Eventually, Keith York and myself provided radio service to other Irish stations as a combined programming/engineering/presenters package, or advising in any or all of those areas. By 1984, Keith alone had advised six stations on technical matters and improved their sound and signal. This was the year we went to Galway to advise Atlantic Sound and instead found ourselves part owners of the station, due, entirely to Keith's work on the transmitters and audio output, his on-air work and production with the format, jingles and programming from myself. The station was an immediate success after two years of barely being heard and we made a name for ourselves, even being invited to help Radio Nova Dublin through the Summer of 1984, this saw us back with Tony Allan again ... that's a whole story.

  After an ownership dispute with Atlantic Sound I found myself unemployed in January 1985 so I planned the launch of a new station to compete with Atlantic Sound and secure employment for my loyal team, still with Atlantic and very unhappy. Keith left too by mid-January and helped me get the equipment to set up the station and put it on air to launch the "West Local Station" in FM Stereo, the first of its kind outside Dublin. It soon became "WLS" and then "WLS Music Radio" and we were working 25 hours a day to keep it running, using non stop music programming in stereo to attract the audience, it was touch and go ... then the phone rang.
  At first I thought it was a joke, but the caller was very earnest and extremely serious, would Keith York go out to work on the transmitters on the Voice of Peace and Abie wanted to talk to me. As soon as Abie began talking I noticed that the man had changed a great deal in his attitude to the station and a desire to do something important, and quickly. Abie was normally very controlling about all aspects of the station, yet, here he was reminding me of the promise I made to him in 1980, and offering me an open chance to re-vamp the programming with no interference from anybody. He asked me to take responsibility for the station, he had to go to Ethiopia to help the people who had suffered in recent natural disasters and from famine. His desire was that we garner the biggest audience in the fastest time possible and create a fertile advertising medium so his people could sell airtime and raise money for Ethiopia, would I do it, could I do it? To reinforce the point he said "remember the promise you made in 1980, I need people I can trust to look after the station while I am gone, we know each other well and I know you will not let me down." He wanted an answer straight away, so I explained Keith and I had our commitments to over 23 staff and investors in our own radio company which was in a critical launch phase, we needed to discuss this. Abie agreed to phone back the next day, leaving Keith and I with a problem which we wrestled with all night long.
2

Free choice tunes. In the morning, we explained to the staff what Abie expected of us and we wanted the opinion of all the team. They assured us they could keep WLS Music Radio on its launch track until we got home to Galway. Abie phoned back that afternoon, we gave him the go and told him our staff sent him their blessing and supported us in going to his aid, within the week we were flying out of Dublin to Heathrow, a helicopter was arranged to fly us to Gatwick to board the ongoing flight to Tel Aviv, Keith and I suddenly realised Abie was deadly serious about the need for help. This was real red carpet treatment, we also knew that Bob Noakes was being deployed from the Nederlands to assist us in this major endeavour, I began to feel the old fire of "1540" return, this time we could show the Middle East that the Peace Ship still had plenty of life and fresh ideas, she could still compete. Collected at Ben Gurion we were swept straight out to the ship via the office to see Abie and get his blessing in front of all the office staff. Clearly, he was in no mood for infighting while he was away, he gave us the authority to do as we pleased to make the station work and produce a seismic shock in the Middle East radio market. He was changed from the man who controlled all aspects of the station by Motorola radio, he was demonstrating full confidence in our expertise to make his baby kick ass, and when he made eye contact he gave a little wink and said "I know you can do it, you know what to do" and then he bid us to leave as the tender was waiting. We shook hands, big smiles, and off we went to start our task.

  Keith had decided that he could clean up the AM audio and he was keen to see what the FM was doing, he felt it was too low in power and once aboard ship his hunch was proved correct. That first day Keith checked all the equipment on the ship to see what options we had technically to improve audio, power output and, this was new, split service ... one AM and one FM. Meanwhile, I explained to the on-air staff what was in minds and the kind of programming we were going to put on air within 24 hours. They could forget about Abie and the Motorola radio, they dealt with Keith and myself and we sorted out problems on ship. Our mission was to be the tightest, fastest moving sound on the dial with a clear powerful FM Stereo signal to make it sound Boss. I told them how we used the jingle package we brought out, how to transition from fast to slow and vice versa, create rolling segues and generate excitement just by music choices. They loved the idea of having free choice tunes, as much as four per hour, more if they played shorter cuts, but on everything else I had a problem. After a lot of complaints about the commercialism of this plan, and it was not peace enough I offered them all flights home effective immediately ... total agreement followed.
  We used the jingle package from our own operation in Galway, a superb set from TM Productions called "Airworks" commissioned originally for WAKY, Louisville, Kentucky and one of the most flexible and dynamic set of audio and programming tools I have ever had the pleasure to work with. By this time Keith had already got the audio back to spec and he was able to restore the output levels with the limited kit available to him. A night in the production studio tailoring the jingles to Voice of Peace use, placing the format records and elements in the studio, and then a bit of sleep before we launched. Abie was on the Motorola, why was nothing happening, you have been out on the ship for 24 hours, so we explained that we needed time to get everything sorted ... crafty devil congratulated Keith on the wonderful sound from the FM and the AM, he'd noticed the difference already.
  First day on air for "100 FM" and I kicked off with the "Sunrise Special" show (to anchor the sound for the day) after the Kol Israel news and fired off the first "Airworks" jingle "The music sounds best on the Voice of Peace" and we were off, the chain belt music machine was back on the air. More hits every hour, deejay ident jingles brought back in played twice an hour, a minimum of two brand new release Hebrew hits, preferably Sephardi pop, all the Revive 45's came from 1975 and 1976 to stimulate the association between "1540" then and "100 FM" now. We went so far as to wish morning greetings to our listeners in Cyprus and Lebanon, bit cheeky, but it generated responses. "Sunrise Special" closed on the original theme from my morning shows in 1976 "Bandolero" by Juan Carlos Calderon an instrumental from 1975 into news and then David Fortune tried his hand at the new sound. Keith York's "Drivetime" was just like Ken Dickin's show, fast paced and confident, with Yorkies free choice tunes being the cream of rock. Feedback from the office was immediate, the phones never stopped ringing from complaints, a few and compliments thousands. All wanting to know was this permanent, by day three all the region knew that Abie's baby was back and earning respect, advertisers began to phone with tentative enquiries. Reuven Levi in the office said it was the first positive sign in ages, but he felt we were too tight and fast, and assured him to go with the flow, it would settle down.
3 Right: Don Stevens on the bridge

A new sound and new commercials. Bob Noakes arrived soon after and was amazed to see everything from the last ten years programme gone, Perry Como gone, the Sunset gone, The Peace Programme all new records for the first time since 1975, the Kassach programme all new Israeli hits with the emphasis on the new "street" sound, and a host of other changes. After two weeks of the new sound we noticed the new commercials arriving by every tender, we had four commercial breaks an hour a change from two a day when we arrived. Reshet Gimel responded by tightening up its programming as did BFBS Cyprus, it was clear that we were making waves and attracting an audience far bigger than we realised, and not just in Israel. We heard that Israeli newspapers were reporting a big shift of listeners to 100 FM and it was noticed that the FM was 24 hour of the new format, we put the specialist shows onto AM in the night.

  Bob and Keith had made this possible so once it was ready, they hooked up the Production Studio to the AM and we could run Arabic classics and Russian music for the Soviets in Syria on the AM which they could hear clearly. In the daytime, the AM ran the FM output, man it was slick and very effective and our thoughts turned to maybe getting an Arab speaking disc jockey to run the AM programme in the future once Abie got back. Our first shore leave took us by surprise, everybody had the station on just like the Londoners tuned into Laser at about the same time so we were getting the same revolution in Tel Aviv. Maybe the time was right, but we hit a huge wave of support and it was astonishing to us. Keith and I soon became aware that this new sound from the Peace Ship was upsetting a few people and the office staff were so concerned that they implored us to back off a little. We kept going, the airtime was being bought money was coming in and listeners were tuned in, we'd wait for Abie and see his smile on his return from Ethiopia to buy more supplies.
  By mid-June we had no real problems, oil was required by mid-July but that would not be a problem as we would get Abie to send a tender thus we would keep on air. We were transmitting 14 minutes of commercials every hour too, things could not have been running any smoother. The generators needed looking at, but Bob and Keith said it was not a problem and they could fix them at night by servicing one at a time, we had food and fresh water and a full complement of staff. The FM and AM transmitters were pushing out high quality signals and everything was rosy, all was well, and then history repeated itself ... much to my frustration. Abie arrived back from Ethiopia and was on the Motorola asking for me and Keith, he told us he loved what we were doing but we had to go into Ashdod for oil and water and he wanted to service the generators and ship. He refused to believe that by going into Ashdod for a couple of days we would lose all that we had worked for, suddenly, we were dealing with the Abie Nathan I knew in 1976 who wanted to go MOR, and did. We explained that we could do it all at sea, including bunkering, and he said he spent all the money in Ethiopia and could not afford a tender. I asked how he could afford Ashdod harbour fees and downtime on the station, he could not give a cogent answer and he seemed all at sea, a man under pressure who was acting under orders.
  Yorkie and I were fit to burst with anger, we had come all this way to build a permanent new sound for Abie, as requested, and now he can't wait to closedown on any pretext. He told the media that he had received no revenues, he had serious staff problems and the ship was falling apart, the last two statements were clearly untrue. Noam Aviram an Israeli engineer who worked with Keith and is still a close friend, brought this news to us and he was at a loss to explain what was happening. I eventually drew my own conclusions, Abie Nathan's many enemies within Israel did not want him to have a successful major market radio station. It made sense, lightning does not strike in the same place twice, and in 1976 he had given up the fight and handed over the airwaves to Reshet Gimel. Now, nine and a half years later history was repeating itself and it was more obvious this time. Abie had demonstrated his desire for a hit station by spending so much to get us out from Galway, giving us a free hand to build the sound and trusting us to operate the station, knowing we would not up anchor and sail to the North Sea.
4 Left: Don Stevens and Norman Lloyd

Shutting down the transmitters. On the 10th July 1985 Abie made a speech in English and Hebrew which was grossly inaccurate with a fair measure of fantasy mixed in. Once he finished we played Junior Campbell and shut down the transmitters. The next morning we weighed anchor and steered for Ashdod, upon arrival, the Captain signed off and made his way back to Holland the smartest move of the day. We spent days in Ashdod and it was clear that nothing was being done, with no Captain we could not leave harbour, dirty tricks anyone, we thought so too and no attempt was made to service the kit or replenish the ship. Keith and I made plans to return to Galway and to see Abie and find out what was really going on, but first we had to get out of Ashdod and then get to Tel Aviv no mean feat. We'd spent a couple of days hanging around Ashdod town drinking beer but we were effectively stranded, so a good friend of mine in the Israeli advertising industry helped me out with funds and she saved us a lot of time. Abie, when we eventually got to see him was a broken man, he could not make eye contact and it was clear he was changed from our meeting in May. I told him my views on what was really happening and he gave a gentle nod of his head, so I left it at that, wished him all the best for the future and shook hands. He paid us very well and encouraged Yorkie and I to stay in the city for a while to enjoy a break before heading home.

  When we left Israel we took Jeremy James with us to work at WLS Music Radio, a job he enjoyed to the hilt. Keith and I never had further dealings with Abie, we heard about its gradual decline and when other pirate ships anchored off Israel and made an impact they were never subjected to the harassment meted out to Abie. Even when it closed, Abie was unable to keep her afloat as a museum, and once again made a decision that made no sense, unless you believe that he was under pressure to scuttle the MV Peace and leave nothing physical behind of this wonderful ship and the wonderful station that came from her. I know Abie would have kept the ship afloat, just as he wanted his station to be a success. Just as he walked away from a successful station making no sense at all, so did he sink his life's work and that made no sense at all.
   
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