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Radio One - History

Just as the Gulf War broke out in mid-January 1991 a third offshore radio station was launched off the coast of Israel, much to the displeasure of the Communications Ministry.

The new station - Radio One - was directed at the Haifa area, a northern city and centre of population felt by many to have been neglected by the state broadcasting services and even the two existing offshore stations whose transmissions were directed largely at Tel Aviv and the surrounding area.

Radio One was the brainchild of Ghiora Izsak, who had been Marketing Manager for Aruts Sheva until he left  to set up his own offshore station in November 1990. He established an operating company - Broadcasting Authority Ltd. - with $1million of financial support from German Jewish investors and leased a ship, MV Polaris, from a Greek shipping agency.

The new station was to be a 24 hour music and information station, with local news and traffic reports directed specifically at the Haifa area. Unlike the other two Israeli offshore radio stations Radio One had no ideological or religious agenda, it was simply a local entertainment based station.

Radio One also had a strong policy of featuring local musicians and artists in its programmes and all employees were Haifa residents - to further underline its commitment to the concept of being a truly local station.

The outbreak of the Gulf War, which coincided with Radio One's launch date, meant that the station started broadcasting on 15th January 1991 with a full schedule of news and information programmes from the outset rather than, as had been planned, spending the first month operating test transmissions of continuous music.

Within three months of its launch Radio One was claiming an audience of 80-120,000 and was enthusiastically embraced by the Mayor and Council of Haifa. The Mayor even presented his own regular programme on the station. This local official support led to a situation whereby Radio One was allowed to produce its programmes in landbased studios and relay them by microwave link to the radio ship, which itself came inshore and anchored within territorial waters just outside Haifa Harbour.  

A spokesman for Haifa Council said that the local authority saw the establishment of the offshore station as a positive development and challenged the Communications Ministry to prove otherwise. For its part the Communications Ministry said the Government were in the process of preparing a law to regulate the creation of local radio (and television) stations and that any station operating unofficially (i.e. without a licence from the Ministry) should be opposed.

During 1992 a Bill had was introduced into the Israeli Parliament,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.

A spokesman for Radio One, Yoram Halper, said of the Government's new plans for private radio stations:-

“Despite the Government's contention this law will not lead to private radio broadcasting. With the burdensome regulations and required allotments of airtime for local matters the public will find the new stations as boring as Israel Radio. Listeners will continue to tune into the offshore stations and advertisers will not support a station that cannot boast a sizeable audience. It is unlikely that the stations will be profitable.”

On 31st January 1993 a severe storm in the eastern Mediterranean drove the Radio One ship, Polaris, aground outside Haifa Harbour. The station, which was operated from landbased studios  in Haifa, feeding its programmes by microwave link to the ship-based transmitter inside territorial waters, continued with this arrangement for some time while the ship was aground. Enquiries were made by the station's owners about the possibility of purchasing the former Laser 558/Laser Hot Hits ship, Communicator (then in Portugal) as a replacement, but this plan did not go ahead.  

The Polaris was eventually re-floated on 23rd March 1993 and she was berthed in Haifa port. Broadcasts of Radio One continued from this base inside Haifa Harbour with the full approval of the local Council and the Mayor who had always been very supportive towards the station. However, following elections at the beginning of April 1993, which resulted in a change of Mayor and Council in Haifa, the authorities raided the Polaris and forced Radio One to close, although it did re-emerge and operated as one of Israel's growing number of landbased pirates.

Towards the end of 1994, shortly before contracts for local commercial radio were about to be advertised, Radio One closed voluntarily because to have continued as a landbased pirate would have prevented the station tendering for a licence. This strategy proved successful because Radio One was ultimately awarded the licence for the Haifa area and began legal broadcasts on 18th October 1995 using the call sign Radio Haifa.

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