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volume 9
july 2006

A report from February 1987


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (26)
by Dave James
  Dave James was one of the few disk-jockeys of the Voice of Peace who met Abie Nathan before travelling to Isreal, as most of the British deejays were sent out by the station's representative in England. James, however, had the luck of meeting Nathan in person, while he was visiting London. In February 1987 James reported on his experiences on the Peace Ship, where he worked for a period of ten months.
1 Left: MV Peace

Music Radio as a policy. I was quite lucky because when I joined the station they were under-staffed with Dave Asher, Gary B. and James Bays being the only English staff, with two Israelis, Noam Aviram and Gil Katsir. But in my first two weeks the station gained four new presenters: Kevin Copeland, Greg Fairley, Pete Jeffries and myself. So my first shore leave came after only three weeks on board. Abie at this time was in Ethiopia working on a project to build a camp to house famine victims. When he returned from Ethiopia, Abie came out to the ship to make a live broadcast. This was the only time he visited the ship while we were at sea, although he always came on board when the ship went into port for fuel and water, which was every six weeks.

  A lot has been written about Abie. I've heard many stories myself and although most are based on truth I suspect a lot gets exaggerated with the telling and re-telling. Abie spends a good deal of his time looking for good causes and trying to help people around the world who need it. In my time, in addition to the work that he did in Ethiopia, he raised money for, and supervised the building of, a factory to make bricks in Columbia to help the earthquake victims to rebuild their homes. Also, within Israel, he organised an anti-apartheid campaign and a campaign against "War toys." It is true to say that Abie is not the easiest person you could work for. He does have a habit of shouting at disc-jockeys over the Motorola while they are trying to do a programme, which as you can imagine can be very off-putting when you are trying to be creative.
  "Music Radio" is the policy and ten-second links the order of the day. In Abie's mind, should a disc-jockey have the barefaced cheek to talk for more than ten seconds then they deserve to be screamed at, via the Motorola. The trick I discovered was to say something on air that I knew Abie would not like in the first half hour of the programme, to check if he was listening. Once having discovered that important piece of information I knew whether I could relax or had to be careful for the rest of the programme!"
  The big question was of course how the condition of the old MV Cito was. Of course the ship went into harbour for getting fuel, water and food but were there any holes in the ship sheating? Dave recalled:
  "The ship is getting on a little bit, and in some places it shows. At one time, I remember, it developed two holes in the hull right under the engine room. The Captain and one of the crew had to plug them with wood and cement as a temporary bodge until the scheduled dry dock one month later. It's true that the sea rarely gets rough in the Mediterranean but through the winter you can get weeks of moderately rough weather and large rolling swells. The Peace Ship rolls from side to side when the sea reaches anything more than a force three, and that constant rolling can be a real headache, especially when doing a programme. Cups, ashtrays, records and tapes can fly from one side of the studio to the other if you're not careful. The safest place for articles is on the floor! If I knew bad weather had been forecast, I used to storm-proof my cabin by putting anything that could move safely away. More than once I have strolled into someone else's cabin to find it looking as if it had been turned upside down and shaken!"
2 Right: Arnold Bio one time chief engineer

Abie's phone-in. Next to condition on board a ship it's also important that, when coming for the first time on a radio ship and staying there for a longer period, others try to feel you at home instead of making problems. How relevant was this to Dave James?

"Morale onboard during my time was quite good. With one or two exceptions everybody seemed to get on well. The only time morale among the deejays would drop was if the station was off the air for a few days; although the Captain seemed to love it when the station was off, especially if there was a storm as well. The Captain, well into his seventies, is more or less in semi-retirement; he's Master of a small ship that only sails twenty miles once every six weeks. The old man is very set in his ways and likes to believe that he is the captain of a real ship. He is a great character, and can still drink a lot of younger men under the table when he goes on the town in Tel-Aviv — which maybe why he so rarely leaves the ship."

  In 1986/1987 the music policy from 6:00 in the morning till 6:00 in the evening was a mixture of top forty and classic oldies except for three hours during the afternoon when Abie hosted a "phone-in programme." This was quite amazing for those days as Abie Nathan had a telephone link to the ship and he was talking in this program to somebody who was also on a telephone. Let go to Dave James again: "As you can imagine the sound quality left a lot to be desired! But despite that, the programme proved quite popular at that time. Abie's phone-in lasted two hours and was followed by one hour of traditional Israeli music. At 18:00 we'd play a cart with Abie's voice requesting the listeners to pray with him for all the victims of violence in this region and all over our planet. We would have thirty seconds of silence then, followed by the Eagles with "We Wish You Peace." After this was a programme called "Twilight Time" which was easy-listening music for ninety minutes. At 19:30 we would put on our Radio Three hats for an hour and a half of classical music. There was Russian music at 21:00 — of which I will say no more! 22:00 until midnight was the time for our "specialist" music programmes. Depending on which day you tuned in, you could hear rock music, country, jazz or the International Top Thirty Countdown and after midnight until 6:00 we played MOR and easy-rock music.
3 Left: Pete Jeffries

Filling the hours. Next to doing two programmes a day there were many hours left and the question was how to fill the hours on a ship off the Israeli coast?

"Doing two programmes per day it still leaves a lot of free time, and when you're not working life onboard can become a bit boring. During the day almost everybody does a bit of sunbathing, and at one time we tried a spot of fishing. Sometimes we were allowed to swim. Once during the Winter we saw a small shark attacking a shoal of fish near to the ship — I hasten to add that we were not swimming ourselves at that time! In the evenings we watched television. In most parts of Israel you can pick up T.V. from three different countries: Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. So you can usually find something in English to watch. Other pastimes include reading, or drinking — if you have managed to smuggle some cheap spirit onboard."

  "The turnover of staff is something that has to be experienced. There were people like Dave Asher and David Fortune who had spent several years on and off working for the Voice of Peace, whilst others stayed for three months or less. I remember one guy, Adam Webb, who stayed with us for a whole four days! Then there was myself, Greg Fairley and Pete Jeffries who all had the staying power to last more than the standard six months — just to make sure. there is an incentive to stay at least six months because after that time Abie will usually pay your air-fare, which with a salary of one hundred and thirty dollars a month could mean the difference between a working holiday and actually being able to live on what you earned when you were on shore."
  In the seventies there were already problems to get a decent cook to stay on the ship for a longer period. How was food served in Dave James his working period for the Voice of Peace station? "Everybody I had met in England who had worked there in the past had told me to expect the food on the Peace Ship to be bad — if I was lucky! So I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite the reverse when I first arrived. You were not allowed to cook anything for yourself, but if you were up and about at the right times you could expect three meals a day; a cooked breakfast, usually salad and cold meat at lunch time, and a cooked meal with a sweet in the evening. Unfortunately the standard dropped during my last few months onboard."
4 Right: Peace Ship in dry dock

Always something happening. Of course in those days there were discussions about the future of the radio station. Would that be for yet another long period on the ship or could it become possible to transmit programmes as a official station from land?

Dave: "I think that Abie hopes to one day have a licence to broadcast from shore. At present there are four State-run radio stations in Israel; a pop music station, a classical music station, a news and current affairs station, and a music station run by the Army. They all broadcast in Hebrew, so there is a market for an English-speaking station. I heard recently that the Israeli government are considering the possibility of community radio — so who knows?" I think looking back on the ten months I spent in Israel I never lost interest in the Voice of Peace because there's always something happening and always changes taking place. For instance, one morning a tender arrived with Noam Aviram, the Israeli engineer, onboard. He used to come out to the ship once a week to carry out routine maintenance on the transmitters, as we had on one of this occasions that he fitted a cellular telephone into the studio and wired it into the mixer. Then there was the four months that we ran a split transmission on AM and FM. At 9:00 in the evening we would split during the news and then the specialist music programmes were broadcast on FM from the main on-air studio while the international music was broadcast on AM from the production studio. International music usually lasted two hours; it was always one hour of Russian, followed by, depending on which day of the week it was, either French, Italian, Greek or Rumanian music. Some evenings, though, it would just be the one hour of Russian music. The services would then rejoin during the news, and with it went the International programmes — all but the Russian ... The International was a real pain to do, but the split made it kind of fun as well."

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