Shortages and Expenditures: Managing Music and Musicians on the Palestine Broadcasting Service

By Andrea L. Stanton
Submitted to Session P2914 (Mandate Palestine: Memory, Media, and Medicine, 2011 Annual Meeting
This paper examines three issues relating to the music – recorded and live – broadcast on the state-owned, Arabic-, English-, and Hebrew-language Palestine Broadcasting Service between 1936 and 1948: the challenge of obtaining enough gramophone records to please the station’s audience, the difficulty of determining and making appropriate copyright / royalty payments, and the ongoing problem of labor relations and contract negotiations with the PBS’ in-house and freelance musicians. It juxtaposes these with the budgetary limitations and pressures to economize placed on the PBS, as well as logistical issues of shipping and availability (for gramophone records) and foreign payments (for musicians and recording companies) that arose with the outbreak of World War II.

It connects these three strands to Palestine’s evolving listening practices, including a culture of connoisseurship indicated by demands for variety as well as quality in recorded music – and expressions of dismay at hearing the same recorded piece repeated more than twice in one week. It further connects them to the professionalization of musicians, which included both European Yishuv immigrants accustomed to professional treatment and also Palestinian (and other Levantine) musicians still struggling to consolidate their position among the professional classes. Finally, it uses these strands to excavate the history of the Palestinization of European concepts of intellectual property rights, arguing that copyright and royalties negotiations reflected a synthesis between station administrators’ application of British concepts and Yishuv immigrants’ experience with German and Central European property rights laws, as well as the lingering effects of early Arab-world and European recording companies like Baidaphon and Pathé.

Using documents from the British National and Israel State Archives, as well as private collections and period newspapers, this paper traces the history of these three PBS music-related issues, illustrating their connection to developments in Mandate Palestine, including evolving listening practices, the respect of intellectual property rights, and the professionalization of musicians, which affected both Arab Palestinians and the Yishuv. In doing so, it contributes to a broader argument about the Palestine Broadcasting Service and its role in the shaping of Palestinian society – a role that it played for both communities, and in the case of music and musicians, a role in which members of both communities were closely involved.