Camp YavnehCamp Yavneh
April 09, 2015

40 Years Ago: How WYAV Got Its Start

Author - Camp Yavneh

by Jack(ie) Kahn, WYAV Co-founder

1969 has a special place in Yavneh history. Yes, it was the summer when man first walked on the moon—an event witnessed live on television by the entire camp on the morning of Sunday, July 20 in the Chadar Ochel. But to paraphrase astronaut Neil Armstrong, that was just “a small step” compared to what blasted off at 7:00 A.M. on the first morning of the season: the launch of WYAV radio.

How WYAV got started is a tale of imagination, careful planning, and luck. But before I tell it, you need some background:

Prior to 1969, the camp got woken up via the “Ram Kol”– an intercom system consisting of a speaker in each bunk. Sunday through Friday, different counselors delivered annoying monologues (in Hebrew) beginning with “Boker Tov, Mahane Yavneh” and counting down the minutes until Mifkad. To make things worse, they had only a single record to fill the time: a badly-scratched album made by the Oranim Zabar trio in the 1950s. (Because its contents were repeated day after day, none of us in the audience will ever forget such vintage songs as “Hey Daroma” or “HaDerech L’Eilat.”)

While we were in Kerem ‘68, David Kra and I figured there had to be a better way. After all, it was the golden age of rock ‘n roll radio, with the Beatles at their height and one hit after another on the Top 40 charts. We thought that if someone was able to put some of this material on the Ram-Kol, it could actually be made bearable. Eventually we realized no one was willing to do that, so we decided to try ourselves.

However, that was no easy task. At the time, the Avital administration had strict rules allowing only Hebrew in the camp, including a policy forbidding the playing of any songs with English words. It also allowed Rock music only once a year—at the Social for each Ayda. And of course, there was little chance two Kerem kids would be allowed to use the Ram Kol and wake up the camp each morning. It seemed almost hopeless….

But then we got our big break. After the 1968 season, newcomer Abe Yanover (z”l) was named camp director and David and I were hired as first-year counselors for the following summer. And we got a brilliant idea. If we began running the Ram Kol before the season began, perhaps Abe would think that this was how waking up the camp had ALWAYS been done—and not interfere with our operation. .

So over the winter we assembled the music we would need.  Since we didn’t know whether the ban on English lyrics would continue, we put together all the rock and jazz instrumentals we could find.  In those pre-Ipod days, even that wasn’t easy.  The only way we could record the music was on ¾” open-reel tapes (the tape cassette had not yet been invented).  Luckily, David was working after school at a Lafayette Electronics store and was able to get the tapes and equipment we needed at a discount.

Although we wouldn’t be broadcasting in the actual sense, we decided that we would act as though we were operating a real radio station–“WYAV”–on the mythical frequency of “43.” We divided job responsibilities: I became the Program Director and David became the Chief Engineer.  And because licensed radio stations need to identify themselves, our first joint effort was to put together some station identifications (IDs).

So using an Ampex tape recorder borrowed from my father z”l, we developed audio breaks proclaiming: “WYAV—HaKol HaIvri Shel Northwood Rabati.”

When we got to camp that June, we went right to work on our scheme.  We commandeered the closet in the office by the old gate that was Ram-Kol headquarters and set up a system that allowed us to put together programs using tapes and records.  As we had hoped, Abe Yanover never questioned what we were doing.  So we proceeded to wake up the camp with our all-Hebrew programs and by the time the campers arrived, our operation was well established. WYAV was on the air every morning…going out live at 7:00 AM!

As time went on, we switched to recording the programs late at night and had them go off by timer (so we could sleep later in the morning). We also began to include news from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, weather reports and interviews.  We were so enthusiastic that our taping sessions would often extend until 2 A.M.

Reaction from the listen audience was positive—mostly.  But soon the camp got many complaining phone calls from people living on the other side of Lucas Pond.  It seems that WYAV was coming through loud and clear via the speakers on the Yavneh ball field! Luckily, David was able to solve the problem by installing a “kill” switch that allowed us to turn off those speakers in the morning.

Within the camp, WYAV became popular and running it became part of our official duties.  Its programming expanded to include sports broadcasts (and pre-game shows), singing acts, and special pre-Shabbat and pre-Tisha B’Av broadcasts.  We even caught the attention of WBZ radio host Larry Glick, who spotlighted us on his program as “the only Hebrew radio station in the U.S.”

After David Kra left Yavneh in 1970, Jordan Leff took over as Chief Engineer. And after the 1972 season, I handed over the programming duties to Arnie Mandelstam. But like the Energizer Bunny, WYAV has just kept on going.  It’s outlived the Ram Kol system and has morphed into a real, over-the-air radio station.  And now there’s talk of putting WYAV on the Internet and going world-wide.   It’s hard to believe that 40 years ago, our goal was simply to be heard on the Ram-Kol system between Route 43 and Lucas Pond Road!