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British station seeks a permanent voice

Daniel Taylor, right, broadcasts his evening drive-time show on London´s Shalom FM station in November 2006. (Vanessa Bulkacz)

Daniel Taylor, right, broadcasts his evening drive-time show on London´s Shalom FM station in November 2006. (Vanessa Bulkacz)

LONDON, Jan. 17 (JTA) — A Jewish voice for Britain is waiting to have that voice certified by the government. Shalom FM, the sole station in Britain that offers all-Jewish programming, is awaiting an answer to its second application for a full-time community broadcasting license. A previous bid was rejected.

One of the station’s co-founders, Richard Ford, is optimistic that OFCOM, the body in charge of licensing for television and radio, will give the go-ahead this time.

“This time we had a member of Parliament lobbying for us, and we’ve been told our permanent license will go through,” said Ford, the unpaid station director who has been working in radio broadcasting for nearly 40 years.

Parliament member Andrew Dismore noted to the body on Jan. 11 that the Jewish community “is the only significant minority in London without a dedicated community radio station” and called upon the government to speed up the process that would allow Shalom FM to acquire a permanent license.

Ford believes the station was turned down because other community stations in London feature non-English programming, while Shalom FM’s is in English. He also suspects it was because individuals and not the community were making the application.

In its four-year history, Shalom FM has received a restricted service license four times, allowing it to broadcast for 28 days but restricting the station to only a 10-watt range. The station, which has a Web site, www.shalomradio.co.uk, last aired in November, then reapplied for the permanent license.

As is common for community stations, the facilities are bare-bones. The only decor in the studio, a room off the main salon, is a tangle of wires and equipment with a table, chairs and microphones for guests. In the salon are some hastily assembled tables and chairs, a couple of computers, and volunteers busily working on the phones and at their desks. Editing equipment is in the corner.

When it’s on the air, Shalom FM runs 24 hours. Original programming, which puts an emphasis on young people, goes from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. The remaining time is filled with a live link from an Israeli station.

Shalom FM goes off on Shabbat from 3 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday.

One 24-hour period in November featured klezmer music, current events, Jewish news, a Lubavitch reggae DJ, discussions led by community leaders from various streams of Judaism, Jewish lifestyle segments, speeches by Orthodox rabbis and teenagers hosting a drive-time chat show.

Shalom FM’s radius covers a three-mile area in Britain’s Jewish heartland, in the middle of the Golder’s Green area of London.

Ford, 59, the co-founder with Mike Mendoza, became involved to provide the London Jewish community with a voice.

“There’s no Jewish voice on the air in London,” he asserted. “Anti-Semitism springs from ignorance, so it’s important to be heard. We need to say we’re all Jews and we’re all proud to be Jews.”

The emphasis on youth is apparent in programming: Young people hosted the breakfast chat show and the evening drive-time program, both high-profile time slots.

“The older generation doesn’t often give young people any credence, but they are the future,” Ford told JTA.

London native Daniel Taylor, the 18-year-old host of the evening drive-time show, placed second for a British young DJ award two years ago when he first appeared on Shalom FM.

Now he is making community broadcasts during a year off between high school and college, where he plans to study business and communications. Taylor is enthused about his participation with the station.

“People get hooked on the Jewish style and format,” he said.

As Taylor prepared to go on-air with his posse of teenage friends during the station’s final week of broadcasts in November, Rabbi Raphy Garson of Federation Synagogue — one of the main synagogue organizational bodies in Britain — was speaking on-air about the virtues of patience and tolerance in light of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.

Meanwhile, morning-show hosts Phil Dave and Kimberley Newie were editing material for tomorrow’s broadcast. Dave said he expected to be at the station editing for much of the night even though, like the entire staff, he is a volunteer.

News presenter Roz Baron was researching, writing, editing and reading Jewish news five to 10 times a day, six days a week. She rose at 5 a.m. every day and skipped out on her responsibilities to the family business for the month of November while Shalom FM was on the air.

Why put in such extreme hours?

“My focus is to present accurate Jewish news with a perspective not used by the rest of the general media,” Baron told JTA.

Ford says the volunteers “just enjoy being in a Jewish environment,” noting that there was something for everyone in the program every day.

“The Jewish community here in London doesn’t have a united stand, and therefore Shalom FM doesn’t have an agenda,” he said. “We’re just all Jews and proud of it.”

Ford hopes that with any luck, Shalom FM’s diverse mix of Jewish-themed broadcasting will be back on the air soon — with a permanent license.

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