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volume 9
july 2006

A rising popularity


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (13)
by Hans Knot
  In 1976 the popularity of the Voice of Peace rose to new heights, as at least 40% of the Israeli population was listening regularly to the sound of 1540. Here, Hans Knot tells us more about this sound and the deejays who were responsibable for it, like Black Printz, Robin Banks, Ken Dicken, Crispian St. John, Don Stevens, Phil Sayer, Richard Woods and, of course, Abie Nathan himself.
1 Left: Robin Banks

The Black Printz. Delving in my archive I recovered several notes I made in 1976, from which I will take some for this chapter. First one is a short memory from the Black Printz, who recalled the fact that early 1976 Abie Nathan decided not to be too much on the Peace Ship. And instead of that he came out mostly to the Peace Ship during the weekends: "Abie was totally into his Peace messages and often forgot the musical side of the programme. In other words the messages were far more important than the tracks to be played. One night Abie closed off his show with a classical musical track, a part of a symphony. After he left the studio so that the show could be taken over by another presenter at the top of the hour. When this guy entered the studio, with the aim to wait till the music from Abie's choice had stopped within a few minutes, he had to act very quickly as there was the sound of "dead air" on "1540." The reason was that Abie had put on a classical track, which was aimed to be played at 33 speeds, at 45 rpm."

  Black Printz, one of the other new guys from Great Britain, had a massive conflicting views with Abie Nathan about presenting the programmes on the station: "When I came I thought to be making the perfect way of personality radio with some name checks, time and temperature, and of course using some nice jingles. Abie didn't like it at all and when he told me, he was so upset that it seemed he got almost a heart attack. From that moment on I was not allowed playing any name jingle in the shows and the links between two songs were restricted to 10 seconds. Strange enough Abie came out to the ship a few weeks later and told me that from that moment on I would be Head of Productions and responsible for producing all commercials, promo spots and other material. But again with one of the many other restrictions, Abie always had in mind: I wasn't allowed to use my own voice in the production work."
  Listening back to old recordings sometimes you could hear that Abie was not too happy with weather conditions. From a recording in 1976 here some bits and pieces: "As you know there's a real bad storm a the moment and the boys out here are braving the ocean waves to bring you The Voice of Peace." This was followed by the announcement of the next song, but halfway that new link Abie interrupted with: "Oh my God, another wave hits the ship. We'll strive to bring you the music to the bitter end." The next weather report mentioned force 5 around the coast of Israel.
  It was not the only time Abie was overreacting on the weather conditions and at one stage some of the deejays made the plan to get him a bit upset. When Abie was on the air it was Robin Banks who went into the Discotheque on the ship, which was situated next to the presentation studio. He took a huge pile of records and was accompanied by Black Printz, who had a bucket filled with screws and bolds. A third person who was part of this trick was Ken Dicken, who had taken an iron pipe. When the first wave had beaten the side of the ship it was Robin, who followed by throwing the pile of records against the studio wall. They hade done a lot of preparation before the trick went on. For instance in the presentation studio a lot of reel to reel tapes were hanging on the wall on nails. The threesomes had not forgotten to get the heads off the nails, so when hitting the wall with the records also the tapes would be flying around Abie Nathan's head and on the studio floor. Next there was a heavy noise made by Ken beating with the pipe on the bucket and the listeners could enjoy a heavy banging. This, as Abie always spoke very softly and the microphone fader on the mixer was always opened to the top. Before Abie had ended a next part of his Peace Talk all the rubbish was taken away, except all the records on the floor. The three had gone to other parts of the ship, where they could listen via the internal system to Abie's programme. Abie was mentioning in his programme: "Oh, my God, what's that? I'd better go and have a look." The next he did was playing from a cartridge a loop tape of "Give Peace a change" by John Lennon, which was adapted by the station as "the station tune." Coming back into his programme he told the listeners what a mess the bad weather had caused on board.
2 Right: Peter Vallez and Abie Nathan

Complaints and praise. It was not the only time the crew and deejays had fun with the nervous behaviour of Abie. Robin Banks told once the story of the id's which were brought in at the top of the air-conditioning circuit. They succeeded in getting a heavy smell all over the ship, from which Abie thought it was like there was something burning on the ship. After 15 minutes the next thing was Abie telling that a bird had flown into the air-conditioning and got on fire. Abie believed it, told it in his programme but reality was totally wrong that time. Although the heavy smell surrounded all corners of the ship for the next few days.

  Through the years much has been written about the popularity of the Voice of Peace in the Middle East. Sometime people talked about the too much difference within the music policy of the station. Also many people complained that, at a certain stage, the Russian programmes were a mess. The Classical programmes were hated by Top 40 lovers, although others loved this part of the music on 1540. I remember many complaints about Abie's everlasting talks for Peace. Friends of mine, on holiday in Israel or radio friends in that country recorded programmes for me including the Nathan ones. I must say that sometime I think back to the glorious way Abie could attend you to his programme from minute one till the last second of his show. I think it depended on your mood if you were open for Abie's message. On the other hand I'm happy that I've some of his many programmes in my archive to reminisce sometimes back to his ideology to get all the people together for the same idea of happiness and peace without any form of war.
  Luckily enough I was not the only one and there were several times, within the twenty years the Voice of Peace was on the air, that several people at several places tuned in to the then most favourite station in Israel and the surrounding countries. The people in the Middle East loved the station at one stage in 1976 very much. Whether they were at home, in a taxi, their favourite shops, on the beaches, or in their cars after a long day of working, they were listening to the sound of 1540. Indeed the deejays on the Peace Ship were really doing something positive and, as a listener you got the idea that they were there with the intention to stay until their work, fighting for Peace, was done.
  Crispian St. John, a.k.a. J.J. Jackson in eighties days on Radio Caroline as well as I knew him with his own name "Howard G. Rose" since 1969, did mention it to me early summer 1976 that the station sounded very slick and that he wanted to stay, right where he was, to fulfil his task as promised to Abie Nathan, to bring the VOP to the top of the ratings in the Middle East. Indeed, listening back to the programmes of 1976, the station sounded very professional and the golden fingers of Crispian, who was sometimes in the ears of colleagues an irritant pusher of more and more of the better way, touched the dial to get the correct sound out of his and mine, at that time, favourite radiostation.
  Talking about ratings it can be mentioned that in the month of April 1976 the results were published from a research made I order of Kol Israel, the governmental broadcaster. In the research the aim was to see if Kol Israel had more listeners than Galei Zahel, the army station, and the Voice of Peace. At least 40% of the questioned people answered that they listened very regularly to "1540," the frequency of their favourite station. And it must be said that this was a very good result. All around Tel Aviv the sound of the Voice of Peace could be heard and people just loved it.
  Also Don Stevens was, in 1976, one of the big names on the Voice of Peace and in one of my diary pages I found some remarks too about the popularity of the station: "It has been said that the Voice of Peace is sounding better than it has ever sounded. And as a man who has heard many European radio stations I would like to say that only Radio Mi Amigo International can touch us for polish." Radio Mi Amigo International was on the air for a few hours a day as a extension for the Flemish language radio station Radio Mi Amigo. Although this Mi Amigo International was not a commercial success it was a huge success by the listeners in Western Europe with high class deejays like Norman Barrington Smythe, Brian Anderson and Graham Kaye.

Strong rules. The main aim of the VOP was still to bring English language programmes, and also with the advertising agency, more advertisers came in as in the 1976 Hans Knot diary, shows new commercials could be heard for instance from Volkswagen, Austin Allegro, Stock Vermouth and the American Schweppes soft drinks. And strange enough, compared to previous transmitions, most of the commercials were not in Hebrew but in the English language too. Strong rules were also on board the Voice of Peace, whereby the deejays were not allowed to talk before or after an announcement from one of their sponsors and as Abie mentioned earlier in one of the chapters, was going to alleviating unfortunate peoples distress or to humanitarian organisations.

  The year 1976 was also the year one very famous promotional spot was heard for the first time on the station, which would be one of the most famous ones to be remembered in station's history: "The Voice of Peace is a non profit radio station registrated in the United States which branches in Canada, Holland, Belgium, France and Cyprus. All funds obtained from advertising go, after operating costs, toward world wide causes in the Middle East and throughout the world. We're hear to keep the message of Peace in the minds of all our listeners, 24 hours a day." Even in 1993, the last year in VOP's history, this marvellous production spot, made by the late Crispian St. John, could be heard in the Middle East. Just like other well known words: "The Voice of Peace, nobody does it better!"
  Going to the files at my home I can find a lot of articles in which Abie can be found back in yet another children home, on the Islands of Cyprus bring block recorders to poor children or baking brick stones in Nicaragua as again villages were suffering from severe weather conditions. Sometimes however he gave deejays the opportunity to get all the press attention they also sometimes needed. Let's see what Don Stevens recalls: "I remember that, while I was on shore leave in May 1976 I went with Abie to donate medical equipment to a hospital in Israel. It was needed monitoring heart and pulse movement whilst a patient is being operated upon. They were really overjoyed getting this — for those days — high tech equipment — which was all paid for by the Voice of Peace. And seeing all the looks of the people working there, overjoyed with a lot of appreciation for the gifts. Abie and myself were given a guided tour of the hospital and we could see how this hospital functioned and how the patient would benefit with our donated apparatus. Afterwards photos were taken about the whole party, probably for the hospital archive."
  In those days listening to medium wave transmissions was far much loved by people. I don't think I say too much that most of all those deejays, who've ever worked on the MV Cito were avid medium wave listeners in their young days, trying to score more and more stations to get another QSL card from, in their ears, a strange station. Some of the international stations — let's take Radio Sweden International as an example — took attention to the transmissions of the VOP and every action taken by the station in Israel was mentioned. In 1976 it was not the time of just sending around a newsletter from the head office by e mail, so internet. No, there was a weekly information programme on short-wave and, just for special members, a printed bulletin send by mail from Stockholm. As nowadays we get all the information we want within an hour, we had to wait sometimes three weeks or more. But it was "top of the bill" to get the news first!"
  It counted too for the VOP as they got reception reports, which the responsible people in the office in Tel Aviv never thought to receive. I was sharp and thought "well, give it a try around, if I can receive "yet again" just again a sound from the transmitter on the radio ship, which was once called the MV Cito. 2'oclock Dutch time and my alarm clock rang and "in a shock" told me to get the tranny on to 1540." Of course, most of the days, no signal was heard at all, but under good conditions and with the right receiver, conditions were, for just one day, reasonable. And while listening, in the North of the Netherlands, it was possible, under those really good conditions, hearing some of the names of deejays. My diary has in the month of April 1976 the names of Phil Sayer and Richard Woods. Also a mentioning of a new captain. Next to the Dutchman Van Aaldijk, deejays mentioned Donald Christie, who came original from England. He got his job with thanks to Les Clement, a one time captain who originated from Marseille.
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