Where can you hear the modern standards of composer Debbie Friedman, cantorial classics, and new Israeli pop within a four-hour span? Tune in to Kol Yehudim, a radio show hosted by Michael Greenberg that airs 6-10 a.m. on Edison-based radio station WJPR, 1640 on the AM dial.
“He plays a lot of artists we don’t normally play on air,” said station manager Al Gordon of Highland Park. “He’s got a big following from around the world. It’s a different kind of program for sure than any you’ll find elsewhere.”
The show, now in its third year, has an international reach through its online broadcast at 1640WJPR.com and Tunein radio. Greenberg also has archived years of programs at bit.ly/cooljewishradio; the online presence has garnered him a listening audience in countries as far away as Poland and Israel.
Greenberg, of Highland Park, grew up in Uniondale, Long Island, “listening to all kinds of Jewish tunes,” he said.
“I have found that Jewish music radio today seems specialized and the music sounds similar. There’s Yeshivish pop and at the other extreme is Jewish folk-rock radio. You are getting both extremes, but nothing in the middle. I include everything from old Jewish music from the 1930s to today.”
Greenberg is a fan of a variety of musical genres which includes secular new wave and Jewish music ranging from chasidic to cantorial, klezmer, and American contemporary. He identifies as modern Orthodox and is a member of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park.
Troubled by the lack of variety on the airwaves, he approached Gordon around three years ago about adding the program to the station’s mix of religious programming, sports, news, and oldies.
In August 2016, Greenberg launched Kol Yehudim and its “hybrid format” of playing different types of music. During the program listeners can hear songs by contemporary artists such as Joe Buchanan and Pharaoh’s Daughter to Israeli icon Shoshana Damari and religious artist Mordechai Shapiro.
The show has some structure — 8-8:30 a.m. features Israeli music through the decades and 9-9:30 is cantorial music. The remaining three hours is a mixed format. Commercials air once an hour, and Greenberg tries not to play any songs more than once every three weeks.
“Sometimes I use albums I have from my grandparents,” he said. “I have a lot of 1950s-era Israeli music you can’t find anywhere.”
Greenberg’s show has become so widely known among Jewish artists that some send him their work. Others who have recorded only a song or two send him their tunes looking for exposure, and Greenberg, seeking new material for the program, is in constant contact with musicians.
Unlike some Jewish radio programs that don’t play recordings of female artists, Kol Yehudim plays everything except Israeli rap with foul language. “I have several frum women artists who have no problem with me playing their music but would not allow me to see them play in concert,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said there is a lot of music coming out of non-Orthodox circles that “is so strong Jewishly, but the frum [religious] stations wouldn’t play because the music uses the name of Hashem that is reserved for prayer rather than song, and there are women singing. I understand because some of the frum stations have halachic issues.”
He said listeners usually find out about Kol Yehudim through social media; he promotes his program and playlists on Facebook pages followed by fans of Jewish music or those in the biz. Greenberg pre-records his program through a broadcast center on his home computer. Requests come in by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, from “places I never heard of,” he said, from people who said they found out about the program on social
Whenever possible, musical selections are tied to a holiday or weekly Torah portion. Over the next several weeks, he said, 75 percent of the music will center on Passover. There’s Safam’s Passover album, cantorial music, and numerous remixes of traditional tunes. The Sunday before the holiday Greenberg always plays Moishe Oysher’s 1958 seder recording. Oysher was a prominent 20th-century North American cantor.
For Greenberg, working in radio has been a career ambition since his days studying communications at Buffalo State University. He struggled to find a radio job after graduation so he began substitute teaching and said he loved using his communication skills in the classroom. He earned a graduate degree in elementary education at Long Island University and is now an elementary science teacher at P.S. 69 on Staten Island.