When Mairov Dubrovsky and Josh Shron took over The Israel Hour on the Rutgers radio station, they were students at the university.
That was 20 years ago, and they are still at it. Now married and raising five children in East Brunswick, the couple can still be heard on Sunday mornings, spinning music that spans the spectrum from classical to rap, and interviewing artists and experts.
The show airs from 11 a.m. to noon and can be heard within a 25-mile radius of the university’s New Brunswick campus, at WRSU-FM, 88.7 on the dial and on platforms across the Internet. Shron prepares a podcast of every week’s show that can be downloaded from IsraelHour.com or as a free offering from the iTunes Music Store. There is also an “Israel Hour” Facebook page, and fans can follow the show on Twitter.
The Internet and social media have brought The Israel Hour fans from Europe, Central and South America, and even Israel.
“It’s very hard to be here every Sunday morning, but I just can’t stop,” Shron said. “I’m having too much fun.” He talked to a reporter Dec. 14 during the 20th anniversary show while in the station’s studio in the main student center on campus.
The show had been on the air for 17 years when Shron and Dubrovsky took over.
“When I started I knew nothing about Israeli music, but I desperately wanted to be on the radio,” said Shron. “I was a radio geek. I would have loved to make this a profession, but that never worked out.”
However, once he got the Rutgers gig, Shron quickly fell in love with Israeli music and soon with Israeli culture as well.
“It just made me appreciate Israel so much more on subsequent trips,” said Shron, the son of a cantor. “I felt so much closer to the land because I knew the music.”
Although he runs an Internet e-mail marketing agency from home and she is a real estate agent, the couple loves spending time with their fans. They hosted an Internet-only Israeli music show on RadioIsrael.com from 1998 to 2000.
The Israel Hour has given them the opportunity to interview some of Israel’s best-known performers. David Broza came with his guitar and performed in their Rutgers studio. They interviewed Ofra Haza, who sang in The Prince of Egypt movie, when she performed in Atlantic City. Israeli singing duo Rami and Rita were interviewed backstage in Queens.
Idan Raichel was one of the Israeli artists who prerecorded a “mazel tov” on the anniversary and thanked the hosts for promoting Israeli music.
Dubrovsky said listeners have told them that through the show they have learned basic Hebrew and have come to feel a connection to the people, culture, and Land of Israel.
The loyal fan base of both listeners and musicians was evident during the hour. After chatting with a listener, Shron turned to Dubrovsky and said, “That call was from Mexico.”
Another listener, Matt Fieldman of Cleveland, thanked them in a call and on Facebook. He noted that his young daughters “can’t count beyond 20, but they know The Israel Hour phone number by heart.”
Every August, The Israel Hour holds “Hagigat Shirei Yeladim,” an entire program of children’s music.
Dubrovsky said Israeli music often deals with hot-button issues, but, she said, “we’re not political. We talk about the beauty of Israeli culture. I grew up with Israeli music because my mother is Israeli. It’s in my veins so when this radio geek dragged me in I was happy because I love Israeli music.”
They avoid discussing religion on what is a publicly funded station, but Judaism is very much a part of the Israeli cultural scene.
“Even rap music will throw in a verse of ‘Adon Olam’ or something Jewish,” said Dubrovsky. “Even secular Israelis will slip in something about Tu B’Shevat or Pesach.”
The one thing the hosts regret is that they have not been able to generate much interest among students in filling in as guest hosts.
“We love doing this,” said Shron, “but we would love to have a little bit of rotation.”