Close-down announced in 1978
|Remembering the Voice of Peace (17)|
|by Hans Knot|
|For this chapter of our ongoing series on the Voice of Peace, Hans Knot rummaged through his archives to see what the first months of 1978 brought the station when Abie Nathan announced a close-down because Israel's public radio station sent the VOP-advertisers a mail advicing them to stop their commercials on the station.|
Left: Sleeve of Richie Havens' 1977 hit record "Salom Salem Aleicum", a tribute to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty
Like an appeal for help. January 1978 brought the visit of American singer Richie Havens to Israel. He offered the very first copy of his then brand new LP to Abie, an album called "Forty Four Hours in Jerusalem." This stood for the time Egyptian President Sadat was in Israel for his legendary meeting with Israel Premier Begin at the time.
Although it would last until late 1993 that the Voice of Peace would close down forever and the ship went down forever, it was announced by several sources in February 1978 that the station had to be closed down for good that month. Early 1978 a letter came in from Crispian St. John (Howard G. Rose) which was sent out to all his connections in the Free Radio world in Western Europe. It was like an appeal for help as he requested to see if there was anywhere a technician who was willing to fly out to Israel at once. Reason was that the transmitter engineer, Mike Gollaway, had decided to leave the station at once.
|Next it was the Jerusalem Post, which published an interview in which Abie mentioned that money was running out. "Nathan told the Jerusalem Post that Israeli's Radio's Second and Third programmes and hostile ad agents have all but squeezed his Peace Ship out of the advertising market. Also a storm, that started this early winter, cost more than 500,000 in Israeli Pounds in damage to the ship and its equipment. "I don't want to ask for any charity, what we are earning (from advertising) 200,000 Israeli Pounds a month was just enough to keep us afloat. But now some of the big advertising people have spread rumours that we have no listening audience. Which is of course untrue. The reputable British Broadcasting Magazine rated our audience at 23 million people all the way from Kuwait to the African shoreline."|
|Also comments could be read in Dutch newspapers like "De Telegraaf" and "Het Algemeen Dagblad." "I don't see why our commercial income can hurt the national broadcast service. We all have our own share to earn but they have other ideas and influence the advertising agency to tear the — for us important — bigger advertisers away from the Voice of Peace. What ever I tried the people at the advertising agency didn't want to promise to keep the advertisers to stay with us.|
|2||Right: Motorola antenna
A visit to Groningen. In a VARA Hilversum 2 early morning programme Abie was interviewed when he visited again the good old town of Groningen, where he was questioned by Henk van Stipriaan about the problems: "I even offered one of the agency people the double commission he normally got (40% instead of 20%). The man returned in short order with a very low contract. There was only one thing I could do at that moment, which was to tore the contract in front of him."
One of the major advertisers who stopped advertising was a top soft drink company and this led to a massive anti campaign for which spots were produced by Tony Allen. Listeners were asked to drink cool refreshing water in stead of the mentioned soft drink. In the earlier mentioned interview Abie told that he would run this campaign for a couple of days but better, as history told us, we could mention that it was aired for months in the programmes of Voice of Peace, mostly direct after the news on the top of the hour.
|However in the VARA interview Nathan also told that there was no money left to keep the station going on and that it would probably go on sale. He added that is was worth a 500,000 dollars but, as it was rebuilt into a radio ship many years ago, it couldn't be used as a cargo ship anymore. Then some nice memories to the early days in Groningen were shared with the listeners and after the programme Abie, Henk and I had some other nice moments, which I still remember happening in pub "Drie Gezusters" at the "Grote Markt" in Groningen.|
|One of the things Abie mentioned outside the programme was that he really had an offer for selling the ship to a Lebanon organisation with the name of Phalangist. This is a political and military organisation of the Maronite Church of Lebanon. Abie told that he wouldn't get involved into politics (!) and not sell the ship to those in Lebanon. In the meantime the Jerusalem Post mentioned that the VOP would go off the air late February and had Abie again to comment: "If we do have to strike our colours we'll do it with a farewell cruise, just a few hundred metres off the shore, so that everyone can see us. That will be on the 25th. Another newspaper mentioned that the Voice of Peace would go off the air on February 28th, the day which is always remembered as the one Abie flew for the first time into Egypt in 1966.|
|It's not so that the VOP didn't had too much income, as suggested in some of the newspaper articles. Abie himself was very clear in that by stating: "We may not have achieved our aim of bringing Peace into the Middle East. But I do believe we have contributed to that end. And when we made money, for instance 1,2 million in 1976/1977, we shared it with charitable institutions."|
|But it was January 25th 1978 that Tel Aviv got another demonstration. Deejays had asked the listeners to come to the centre to protest against the fact several advertisers had withdrawn their contact with the station. Even the listeners were asked to avoid buying products from those who stopped advertising. What must have been a small protest ended in 60,000 listeners making a huge demonstration, which could be seen also as a protest against the plans to stop broadcasting.|
|Years ago Howard C. Jones (a.k.a. Crispian St. John) told me how it al started. "It was early January that year we learned for the first time that advertisers of the Voice of Peace got a letter from the official governmental radio station, in which was mentioned it was better to stop advertising on the VOP as all figures, mentioned by the VOP about their listeners ship were only lies. We wouldn't have a lot of listeners so it would be nonsense to advertise on the VOP. In the weeks following the letter was sent, more and more advertisers withdrew their commercials from the Voice of Peace. When the demonstration took place and so many people appeared a television crew came to help to show the huge amount of people. As a result many of the advertisers came back to us. Next to that really a few very big advertisers signed a contract and the future was shining again for us."|
|Earlier this chapter I mentioned the letter Crispian posted with the question to look for a new technician as Mike Galloway would leave the station. Of course Mike had his own ideas about the "early closedown of the VOP." Months after leaving he wrote: "Of course the announcements that the station would leave the air was in my ears nothing else than a big publicity stint. First at low level later more and more the listeners were asked to react on the possible closedown. The station wasn't only loved by the Jewish listeners but there were also a lot of American and English people living in the area who tuned in very regularly to "1540." In the office in Tel Aviv the telephone calls were recorded and later mixed into the programmes on the ship.|
|Other listeners were influenced by those calls. I know for sure that when there was no demonstration held at all, the VOP would go on with broadcasting. Of course it was very nice to see such a lot of people. As a "thank you" Abie gave us the opportunity to get involved in the special on Israeli television. We all could say something in Hebrew, although we didn't know what we told the people."|
|3||Left: One of the masts
Back on the tracks. Some weeks later Abie appeared on Dutch radio as well as BBC Television stating that in no way he had thought about begging again for money to get the station on financial tracks again: "My idea is that the Voice of Peace is not dependable from money from listeners or the Jewish community in countries like Holland and New York. It's time we get all out of advertising. I'm very happy most of the advertisers have come back to us, so we can go on with our messages of Peace. I know for sure that there is no stronger medium in the Middle East than radio. We have far more listeners to this medium than in other parts of the world and therefore there's a strong believe we will be successful in the future again. We try bring, with our messages of Peace, understanding between several nations in the Middle East. And if we do repeat our message again and again people want to listen to it."
Before ending this chapter, filled with facts about the first months of 1978, I can tell you that finally a new technician came aboard in the person of Clive Barwood. He came on board in the month of May and originated from Grimsby in Great Britain. After arriving on the ship he discovered that there was a lot to do: "The first thing I saw was that the equipment in the generator as well as in the transmitter-room were ready for a big overhaul. Next to that the big problem was that there were almost no spare parts stocked on the Peace Ship. When I asked people in the office to sent out spare parts it became known to me that they also didn't have any storage and the wanted things had to be ordered mainly from companies in the USA. So deliverance took several weeks and the first thing coming in also was a wrong type and had to be sent back. You can understand that it took a lot of frustration to be out there. To avoid larger problems with the generators we decided to go off the air each night at 11 o'clock local time. When finally all the wanted parts arrived and I had done my work, we succeeded to get the station on the air again for 24 hours a day!" Clive however wouldn't last for long in the Middle East and was replaced later that summer by Bill Danse, who had worked earlier for several periods on the Peace Ship and originated from Holland.
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