PBS Hagalgal cover page vol 2, No. 1

Digitizing History: Palestine Broadcasting Service, 1936-1948

under construction


This website is a work in progress. It will try to reconstruct in a digitized format, the Palestine Broadcasting Service (PBS) and its experiment with public diplomacy 1936-1948. It will do this by focusing on the programs and publications produced by the PBS, including daily schedules. It will take into consideration the people behind the scenes and in front of the microphone.

Although the PBS was largely modelled on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), most people at the time had little to no idea what it meant to be at the other side of the microphone, what a radio studio looked like, what it needed to function.

To be clear, the PBS was not a clone of the BBC. There were many significant differences between the BBC and the PBS. In the first place, the BBC was an independent corporation, and proud of that status, while the PBS was a British government agency, opened as a department of the Post Office administered by the Postmaster-General. Secondly, there was language. The BBC may have had regional divisions to consider, but only one language, English, and only one major publication for its schedules, The Radio Times. The PBS had to consider their target audiences and that meant they had to prepare programs and publications in three languages, English, Arabic and Hebrew. That had a significant impact not only on budgets and personnel - they had to hire people that could communicate both the spoken and written word in all of these languages, including translators.

Ralph Poston, Deputy Director, Programmes, PBS: "So often the criticism is heard 'such and such a station cannot receive much more in licence fees than the P.B.S., yet it gives much better talks and concerts'. True, it may not receive a total which is bigger, but it does not have to divide its budget into three parts to cater for three language groups. The P.B.S. would be a much easier organisation to run if, for instance, it could spend all the money it had available for music on Western music, or Arabic or Jewish Music - but instead it is forced to divide its budget among the three programmes, a fact which critics would do well to remember and one which affects all branches of its activities. "
Source: In Jerusalem Radio, March 31, 1939.

They also needed to supervise local staff to stay on message of the Mandatory Government. Trust was a major issue. This became more acute during the war years. Edwin Samuel, who later became Programs Director, PBS, was given the job of radio censorship during the war years. He wrote about this in his book “A Lifetime in Jerusalem" (1970):

“As the newscasts themselves were drafted by the public information office throughout the war, all I had to do was to provide reliable men in the studios who switched off the broadcast if the announcer deviated in any way from the approved script. This involved no exercise of judgment but only continuous concentration, which was extremely exhausting. The radio switch censors also had to prevent any particular tune being broadcast to carry a hint (say, of troop movements) to listeners abroad. Musical request programmes were, therefore, prohibited till the end of the war. Even a mispronunciation of a word , or a stammer, or merely a cough, had to be considered as a possible means of instant communication with enemy monitors in the Balkans, or in neutral countries such as Turkey. ...

...Jerusalem was the center for the training of censors-in-charge and chief examiners for postal and telegraph censorships in other territories in the Middle East…

... by the end of the war, I had Palestinian staff in Aleppo, Baghdad, Khartoum, Eritrea and even Teheran where, believe it or not, there was a joint Anglo-Russian- Persian Censorship...."

Edwin Samuel Musical was not totally accurate when he wrote that "Musical request programmes were, therefore, prohibited till the end of the war". Saturday was the day that was set aside for the musical request programs: three separate programs for English, Arabic and Hebrew audiences. However, a closer look at the daily radio schedules will show that these request programs disappeared from the schedules only from August 3, 1940, one year into the war, and were re-instated from Saturday, May 1, 1943, with the war still raging in Europe. The war would continue in Europe for another two years! D-Day, the invasion of Europe, taking place only from June 1944.

PBS AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY It's easy to dismiss the PBS as just another colonial institute, but that would be doing those that served or worked in it a great disservice. The PBS was not just pioneering radio broadcasting it was pioneering what could later be termed "public diplomacy".

While there is agreement today that there is no single agreed definition of public diplomacy, there is a working definition for it, which is:

"The transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals."
(see webpage for University of Southern California (USC) Center for Public Diplomacy)

In 1948 the experiment was over with the new Israeli Government under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, eventually placing Mapai (The Workers Party of the Land of Israel) members into key positions, replacing non-Mapai members, effectively destroying most of what had been learned over the past 13 years. However, the legacy of the PBS lives on today, mainly through its publications. Unfortunately, recreating the past with just these publications is almost, to some extent, "mission impossible". This is partly due to the language barriers, but also because there are simply so many missing issues in the collections in almost all the archives. Alertness,and a budget, are necessary to track missing issues as they appear from time to time, in public auctions, including eBay, online, and/or private collections.

What I hope should make this site unique for anyone interested in the study of PBS, specifically and its place in the British Mandatory period in Palestine, are the online indexes of the major publications that include broadcasting schedules, background stories to the programs and wherever possible the transcripts of the programs. Not only will the transcripts be listed, and wherever possible actual recordings of the programs (extremely rare) they will also be linked from the schedule, to give a more interactive experience.

However, one of the major barriers to turn this into a totally "immersive experience" is that very little remains of the original sound recordings.

This site can only scratch the surface of the subject, and my hope is that it will add something, however little, to the public knowledge in this near forgotten and often misunderstood episode of history, the pioneers of radio in Palestine of the relationship between Britain and Israel during the Mandatory period.


The High Commissioner, Arthur Wauchope, giving inaugural address of the PBS, March 30, 1936
The High Commissioner, Arthur Wauchope, giving inaugural address of the PBS, March 30, 1936.

The inauguration ceremony of the Palestine Broadcasting Service took place in March 30, 1936. The speeches were broadcast round the country via radio shops with loudspeakers attached so that as many people people could hear the broadcasts as possible, even if they didn't have a radio receiver at home.

One of the keynote speakers was High Commissioner Arthur Wauchope. His speech was reported in English and in Hebrew and Arabic in the newspapers the next day. In his speech he set out his agenda at least for the first steps:

"... The Broadcasting Service in Palestine will not be concerned with Politics. Broadcasting will be directed for the advantage of all classes of all communities. Its main object will be the spread of knowledge and of culture nor, I can assure you, will the claims of religion be neglected.

As in all our activities, we shall start on a small scale but, God willing, we shall advance step by step,until we have a service worthy of the vivid and varied life of Palestine.

We shall try to stimulate new interests and make all forms of knowledge more widespread. I will give you two examples in both of which I have a deep interest.

There are thousands of farmers in this country who are striving to improve their methods of agriculture. I hope we shall find ways and means to help these farmers and assist them to increase the yield of the soil, improve the quality of their produce, and explain the advantages of various forms of cooperation.

There are thousands of people in Palestine who have a natural love of music, but who experience difficulty in finding the means, whereby they may enjoy the many pleasures that music gives. The Broadcasting service will endeavour to fill this need, and stimulate musical life in Palestine, so that we may see both Oriental and Western music grow in strength, side by side, each true to its own tradition...

...I also take this opportunity to thank the Postmaster General and his Department, Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, and our newly established Broadcasting Staff, and the Programme Advisory Committee for all the labour and thought given to ensure the success of our new Service."

You would think that from this speech all the service the radio was going to offer the general public was an opportunity to listen to music, oriental and western, and specifically for farmers to learn how to improve their produce.

What was really important was that radio was a means to communicate with the various institutions and organizations that were already in Palestine, Arab and Jewish. An excuse to get out and about and start conversations with the movers and shakers, the "influencers" of the times, and presumably to report back on their findings. Music and agriculture was just a starting point to get the conversation off the ground. So much better than having conversations limited to negative subjects such as restictions to legal immigrations, illegal imigration (maapilim), protests, riots, illegal weapon and their storage ("slicks"), and the like, which clearly fired up opposition to the British Mandatory Government, from both the Arabs and the Jews.

Once started the PBS could fine tune the programs to develop them to meet the needs of the audiences they really wanted to reach out to.


The core schedule was set in the first month. It was structured so that it could be expanded and contracted when deemed necessary.

Looking at the schedules from the first week, you will see that they were going to give the public more than just the daily news (In English, Hebrew and Arabic), music and agriculture.


On Sunday, April 5, 1936 was the start of an innovative monthly program on the night sky for that month, presented by David Zakay, an amatuer astronomer - a ten-minute monthly broadcast that would continue, off and on, till December 1947.


[More to be added to this section]


By May 1945, the war in Europe was over, although there was still fierce fighting going on in the Pacific arena against Japan until September 1945. Not waiting for hostilities to end Edwin Samuel who was appointed the new director of broadcasting, June 1, 1945, immediately began to reorganize the PBS into the post-war world and the new local environment, to move away from propaganda to "public diplomacy".

To help him in this re-organization, Samuel brought in the former war correspondent, Rex Keating, as Assistant Director of Broadcasting, PBS (1945-1948), based in Egypt at that time.

By 1945, the PBS management had realized the Jewish and Arab staff were like wild horses, pulling in opposite directions, and saw it necessary to separate the Arabic and Hebrew broadcasts once and for all. On December 15. 1945, with the separation of Arabic and Hebrew to separate radio stations, the Hebrew listeners were given no choice but to change the dial on their radio to a new setting to hear the broadcasts in Hebrew. The change-over took place relatively peacefully, having communicated what was going to happen in advance. This gave the organizers freedom to pursue their respective programs without the frustration of knowing that the Jewish sector would switch off the radio or change channels as Arabic programs came on the air while the Arab communities would switch off or over, when the Hebrew programs were on the air.


How transparent, how opaque was the PBS? From 1945, PBS broadcast a weekly program entitled "Between Ourselves" (בינינו לבין עצמנו Bein-aiy-nu Levain Azmainu). These programs were always delivered by their senior management team, British and local: Edwin Samuel, Rex Keating, Mordechai Zlotnik, Director of Hebrew Programs; Karl Salomon, Musical Director, and Yeshayahu Klinov. Edwin Samuel, Director of Broadcasting delivered the broadcast, in English, on Fridays, while the local, Mordechai Zlotnik, Director of Hebrew Programs; Karl Salomon, Musical Director and Yeshayahu Klinov, delivered either a translation or different version on Saturday evening, after the Sabbath holiday. The program was a bulletin board of program, staff, and policy changes. It often included in-house management details, such as general statistics on budgets and royalties, information on the availability of training programs, among other things.


The broadcasting authorities were constantly trying to develop a better product, to find out what the public thought of their broadcasts, what would the public like to see changed. To that end, the PBS established a Listeners Planning Committee. This went round the main cities and towns of the Yishuv to find out what listeners really thought of them first hand. From a public diplomacy perspective, it was exceedingly important to get to know their audience and to see whether the broadcasts were in fact influencing hearts and minds. Another way was through competitions and quizzes, requesting listeners to send in their answers to the PBS, or just to correspond with the radio station to subscribe to the publications and let them know about likes and dislikes.


Based on the British press at the time and still today, sport was left to the back pages, just before the back cover and the page of program schedules. Alexander Alexandrovitch wrote one of the longest standing columns in Hagalgal magazine. His column appeared under the bi-line "100 Lines of Sport." ("Meah Shurot al Sport") . Alexandrovitch also had a regular 5-10 minute weekly Saturday evening slot. The time varied a little but usually around 8:15 PM starting with a news bulletin. There is no way to know today if the column was a supplement to the radio program, or it had material not included in Hagalgal, or both. Hagalgal came out on a Thursday, so most likely the weekly magazine column was actually looking backward to the previous week, and would also include what to look forward to in sport in the week ahead. Hagalgal records Alexandrovitch's first radio broadcast as Saturday, July 29, 1944.

portrait of Alexander Alexandrovitch
Alexander Alexandrovitch


Salary LP 300 a year plus LP 113 war compensatory
allowance for an unmarried man or woman.
Qualifications required:
a) Knowledge of public relations or journalism.
b) Full command of Hebrew and a very good
knowledge of English.
c) Initiative.
To prepare all Hebrew broadcasting material for
publication in "Hagalgal", etc. and possibly in English for
other journals. To write up PBS events and programme
for the daily Hebrew and English press. To answer press
enquiries, etc.
Applications to be sent in writing to the Director of
Broadcasting, Jerusalem.

The Palestine Post, 11 January, 1946. page 3.

Radio was a new concept to most people. Very few people had any experience with working for anything close to radio other than the experience of a listener. Where did you begin to apply for a job at the PBS. What were they looking for in a candidate for a position. Language was one factor that had to be taken into consideration particularly important to reach out to the Hebrew and Arabic speaking audiences, but they also took into consideration that the English language was also important if not just for the writing memos, drafting speeches and reports to send up the line to those diplomats that needed to know, for example, what was the results of their budgets It was these diplomats that had to communicate with their government, with parliament and or to the United Nations Commissioners and anyone else who needed to know, for example, visiting members of parliaments, or experts in certain fields, the weather, agriculture and farming, among others. Not everyone hired was working behind a microphone, but for those that were one of the major requirements was did the candidate have a suitable radio voice and or personality. The broadcasters had to be taught how to use the relatively sophisticated equipment of the day. Placing recordings on the turntables at the right moment, making use of the sound archives. Speaking to a microphone, with just the right tone of voice. Imagining an audience. In some cases even recording their program in advance, outside broadcasts, etc. Keeping to timetables and schedules. The work was demanding. The broadcasters themselves were to become household names, celebs, their voices welcomed into people's homes even if the public didn't even know what they looked like. Hagalgal magazine place their portraits or "actions" shots of the journalists from time to time, to make the connection with the broadcasters more personal and friendly.


"In-house" training was an essential part of the success of the PBS project. They set up in-house training programs for local employees, and to create a cadre of potential new blood that would be able to take on the needs of broadcasting in general: specifically to learn how to perform in front of a microphone, with or without a live studio audience, and also, for example, how to script a radio play, creating a new hebrew word in the process "taskit"(תסכית). Senior staff were sent to London to learn how the BBC managed its programs.

This site can only scratch the surface of the subject, and my hope is that it will add something, however little, to the public knowledge in this near forgotten and often misunderstood episode of history, the pioneers of radio in Palestine of the relationship between Britain and Israel during the Mandatory period. A ray of light in this otherwise dark era.



(1) Letter Edwin Samuel wrote to Wing Commander A. H. Marsack, BBC offices, Cairo, dated May 24, 1945 archived Rex Keating 2/7/1, MEC Archive, St. Anthony's College, Oxford.
(2) Letter Edwin Samuel wrote to Rex Keating, dated 31 May, 1945. Archived Rex Keating 2/7/1/-2, MEC Archive, St. Anthony's College, Oxford.
Stranton, Andrea, L : Jerusalem Calling: The Birth of the Palestine Broadcasting Service"

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