THE CHAI FM STORY
In April 2005 while driving with my mother she related to me that she had a dream in which she heard me on the radio. There were three very significant things about this conversation; firstly my mother never recalls her dreams, secondly she explained that she “had” to tell me her dream with an unusual sense of urgency and lastly the seed she planted began to grow inside me and I got this image in my mind of exactly how it needed to be done and what it would look like.
Immediately quitting my job, I began to learn about the many aspects of community radio; conducted community research, interviewed many community members, collected over 2500 signatures of support and I fell in love with my community.
Five weeks later the first application for the community radio license was submitted.
In 2005 the laws governing community broadcasting licenses stipulated that applications could only be by invitations to apply. At that time ICASA (the issuing body) would identify available frequencies and publish them in the government gazette with an invitation to apply. What’s amazing is the fact that 2005 was the first time in 9 years that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) had published invitations to apply.
What’s in a Name?
At the very beginning of what has been an incredible journey, I thought about a name for the station. What would I name it? Shalom Radio? How about Yid FM?
Just a side note: I had previously, like many other Jews, searched for spirituality and meaning through other avenues and belief systems. A wise person had said to me; “Kathy, be whatever religion you want to be but if you turn away from your Jewish roots then at least make it an educated decision. Find out what you are turning away from”. And I did. And I found what I had spent my life searching for. My “existence” really only became a life when I discovered the Jewish Tools for life that our Torah offers.
At that point I knew the station had to be called “Chai FM” – Life.
A Foot in the Door
The only frequency available for Gauteng province was 89.1 FM – a frequency previously used by Alex FM. During the application process I realised the 89.1 FM “footprint “was localised to Alexandra Township and could not have been used for the purposes of the Jewish community. I continued with the application not only because I was totally driven by the potential good for the Jewish community but because on another level I knew it was meant to be. The frequency of 89.1 added up to 18 – Chai in Gamatria.
The application was submitted in June 2005 and in December that year I formally withdrew our application at the public hearings. But it was our “foot in the door”.
At the hearings I pushed the parliamentary councillors for a date when the next invitations to apply would be published. I was assured it would be in February/March 2006.
Something is Better than Nothing
My calls to ICASA during the first half of 2006 produced no reward. They were not going to publish invitations to apply. Surely something is better than nothing? I launched an application for a 30 day “Special Events Broadcast” license. Our special event would be the Jewish high holidays and the broadcast period would be for the preceding month, the month of Elul 2006.
I compiled and submitted a new application in June 2006. ICASA staff had assured me that it was only in extremely rare cases that ICASA turned down these special events licenses. As the weeks grew shorter and the Chai FM preparations were finalised, my enquiries to ICASA about the status of our application always got the same response. They were still busy with it.
3 days before Chai FM was due to go on air I drove to the ICASA offices and refused to leave until I had a decision. The decision finally came via a telephone call to reception where I was waiting. The frequency that ICASA used for special events was given to a commercial talk station as their FM frequency.
No words can express the disappointment I felt on behalf of the community and it took its toll on my health. Three days later I got very ill and was bed ridden for 3 weeks.
I’ll do the Typing
At the same time I contacted ICASA to inform them I would be applying for a special events license, they notified me that the laws governing broadcasting in South Africa had just been changed. The laws, known as the Electronic Communications Act, would govern all electronic media.
I had technically been unemployed for a year and feeding my children was difficult enough let alone funding an application to ICASA. I remember standing in my bedroom and saying to G-d: “You know my needs before I do. You know what this could mean for my community. I don’t know where the money will come from for this application but please will you take care of the finance and I’ll take care of the typing.” And I typed. And typed. And typed.
It was approximately a month before the application was due to go in a couple contacted me. They told me that they had heard about what I was doing and would like to cover any costs involved with the application.
G-d had taken care of the funding.
When I delivered the application to ICASA I knew in my heart that this was the end of the road for me. I was either laying the foundation for someone else to take up or we would be granted the license. I was okay with either scenario.
The waiting was always the most difficult and sometimes it felt as though my whole life was in suspended animation. My calls to ICASA had the predictable response; they were still busy with it.
I decided that one way or another I needed to know what I had taken from the process. I sat down at my computer to write a list of the skills I had gained and all I had learned. I needed to get meaning from what I had gone through. Please understand it was not the typing – it was not being able to know with any certainty where the next cent was coming from and any work I did could never be long term. The list I compiled was personal and was never meant to be for anyone else. I began the list on the 31st of May 2007.
A few days later on the 4th of June, the call came through from ICASA to say that Chai FM had been granted the licence. The Hebrew was Chai Sivan – the 18th of Sivan.
The list I had completed the night before became the basis for an open letter to my community and this is what it said:
It is with praise and gratitude to Hashem that I sit here writing this letter to you.
Three years ago I began the process to obtain a licence for a full time, permanent, Jewish, community radio station – Chai FM.
Along the way I learned a few things;
I learned that it’s not just about obtaining the piece of paper at the end. It’s what one learns during the process, and that life is a lot like starting a radio station.
I learned that passion for a cause will keep one going long after the caffeine has run out.
I learned that joy is infinitely greater when working towards the “greater good”.
I learned that when one hands troubles over to Hashem, the solution will come and when it does it will surpass ones greatest expectations.
I learned that Jews come in all shapes, sizes and colours but we are all connected anyway!
I learned that miracles really do happen, to each of us, we just have to open our eyes and minds to the possibility.
I have learned that help comes in the blink of an eye and often from the most unexpected places.
I learned that a prayer from the heart, in ones own words is a powerful, effective tool.
I learned that saying “NO” to ones children doesn’t mean we don’t love them; it just reinforces the boundaries they need to grow.
I learned that everybody has troubles and I would rather have mine than someone else’s.
I learned that in the battles we lose, we learn the tactics that enable us to win the war.
I learned how proud I am to be a part of this nation.
I learned that Jews are like different instruments in an orchestra; we are capable of making something good when we recognise and love one another – no matter what.
I learned how to fall in love with a community.
Thank you for this gift.
PS. This afternoon Chai FM was awarded a permanent radio licence on 101.9 Fm.