14 Mar REOPENING THE NSN STUDIO AFTER A MAJOR FIRE LAST YEAR AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NACHUM SEGAL
For over 40 years, Nachum Segal has been the host of the Jewish Moments in the Morning (JM in the AM) radio program and of the Nachum Segal Network (NSN). An unapologetic friend of Eretz Yisrael and Jewish communities around the world, Nachum uses his network to bridge the geographic and cultural gaps of the global Jewish community and to serve as a center for information, chesed and unity. Nachum’s presentation of music, news, and conversations has accompanied tens of thousands of listeners through their morning routine. Nachum also serves as Master of Ceremonies for major concerts and Jewish events. Last Friday, Nachum sat down with Ari Hirsch from The Jewish Vues to discuss the fire that destroyed his studio last year, his upcoming new studio dedication (3/23), how he got into radio and much more.
I wanted to start off by wishing you a big double Mazel Tov! First on your son Yehoshua’s engagement to Temimah Pilichowski & secondly on reopening your studio that burnt down a little over a year ago!
Thank you so much!
Please tell Jewish Vues readers about the history of your studio. When did you open it? Why in the Lower East Side? Did you find out how the fire started? What did you lose in the fire? etc.
The studio was founded in the year 2000. The majority of our activities have gone on since then from that studio and exclusively everything we’ve done was there starting in about 2015. Why the Lower East Side? Because the location is across the street from where I live, which makes the commute easy. The studio was very active and a place of tremendous nostalgia because the walls were covered with incredible memorabilia of everything that’s gone on in my career and everything that we had based on my career was in that studio. Sunday afternoon, March 27th of 2022, the studio burnt down. It took about 10 minutes for the entire thing to be consumed. It was an electrical fire that started from a bad power strip that was right under where I normally sat every day. It was a Sunday afternoon, so B”H I wasn’t there. One of the only things that was salvaged was a twenty volume scrapbook of my career, which was very very close to the entrance to the studio, so my kids were able, once the firefighters left, they were able to salvage that. We still have it, it’s not in great shape, but we have it. Otherwise, 99% of everything was gone. Memorabilia, items with great memories, things that you can’t replace, completely gone. All of our major equipment was destroyed. Every piece of equipment was gone.
What’s the aftermath of this trauma?
It was a very very down time. It was a terrible episode and, of course, on a personal level, since then Hakadosh Baruch Hu has blessed us with two weddings and two granddaughters so it’s amazing how different things are a year later B”H. But the question was, coming out of this, what would the direction be? What would be the direction of the network and of my career coming out of this terrible tragedy? Over forty years, we’ve become a virtual, global entity. We’re heard all over the world. We have tremendous listenership in Israel, in many parts of the United States and other parts of the world. We went from a radio show, forty years ago, that was hard to hear ten blocks away from the radio station, it was such a small radio station with such a weak signal it was hard to hear anywhere. We’ve gone to being able to be heard clearly everywhere around the world, which is amazing. So we became this virtual, global entity. So now, after the fire, my goal was to become a physical, global entity with studios and a headquarters in New York at 551 Grand Street- the location of the old studio- a rebuilt studio. In New Jersey, where we just finished building our brand new Teaneck, New Jersey studio, where I am a few days each week. And now B’ezrat Hashem we have a temporary Jerusalem studio in the headquarters of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Our goal is to make that a permanent studio at Nefesh B’Nefesh headquarters at some point. So, we’ve gone from a virtual, global entity to a physical one and we’ve added being a physical, global entity and that is the theme of the aftermath of the fire.
Next Thursday is a very big day for you & everyone at NSN. Do you want to tell Jewish Vues readers what you have in store for your new studio dedication?
We’re going to be on the air from 6am, at the new studio in Manhattan, we’re going to be on the air from the start of “JM in the AM” until 3PM. We are going to have special guests, government officials, Jewish music stars. We’re going to have people come to whom or for whom the studio rebuild is meaningful. You know people who have been involved with my efforts over all these years. The most important part of what’s happening on Thursday is that it’s a day for our supporters, our friends and our listeners. Meaning that with all the dignitaries that will be there, the most important people in my opinion who are stopping by are the actual supporters who have gotten us to this point, who helped us rebound financially and enthusiastically after the fire. The donors, the friends and of course the listeners- anybody in the area is certainly invited to stop by and see a new studio and participate and that’s our whole focus with this event is really just to welcome the world to come and celebrate and wish Mazel Tov and pay tribute to this new step, this brand new direction that we’re going in. And not to, Chas V’Shalom, think that the fire has stunted our growth, just the opposite, it has given us the spirit and excitement to grow to the next level.
Let’s go back to the beginning a little bit. You come from a distinguished Orthodox rabbinical family. Your father Rabbi Zev Segal z”l was the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Newark and served there for thirty three years from 1945 to 1978. So, how did you end up as a disc jockey?
In 1981, I went to become a staff member at Camp Morasha and my mother, A”H, said to me when you get to Morasha there are going to be a lot of staff members there from Yeshiva University, (where I was planning on going to in September after the summer). Speak to them about the campus radio station; it might be something that you’ll enjoy. That is what my mother said to me. She knew it’d be the type of thing I would enjoy. And sure enough I went to the radio station and I applied to get a shift there at WYUR in Washington Heights at Yeshiva University. I wanted to do a popular music show, which is standard for a college-aged kid. We were vey into popular music, especially then. Nobody was really addicted to listening to Jewish music on a regular basis, at least not from my crowd. So, I’m on the application line and the guy in front of me says “Well, what are you applying for?” I said “A Rock N’ Roll show- a popular music show” and he said, “Oh what a mistake.” I said “What do you mean?” He said, “Everybody on this line is applying for a Rock N’ Roll show, so there’s no way you’ll get a shiftas a freshman. If you apply for a Jewish music show, they’ll take you in a second.” So, at that moment, I took out my pen and crossed out Rock N’ Roll show and I wrote Jewish music show and I was on the air next week, knowing very little about Jewish music. That began my forty-year career. In 1983, when the radio station WFMU, which already had a morning Jewish show was looking for somebody to take over as host, the person who was leading the search committee, who’s name was Norman Laster, called Yeshiva University on a lark just out of desperation and asked the director of student activities, which is a natural thing when you’re looking to hire a student or to get a recommendation for a student, not knowing that the director of student activities was my mentor, Mr. Larry Wachsman. Larry said “Yeah, I’ll have someone for you tomorrow.” Sure enough, about twenty minutes later, I walked into his office and he said you have to call this guy. The next morning, Erev Rosh Hashanah 1983, I was on the air. I or someone from my staff have been on the air, in some way shape or form, every morning except for Yom Tov, every weekday since then.
On September 20, 2016 you announced that your last show on WFMU would be on December 1, 2016 and that after that show JM in the AM would be available exclusively via the Nachum Segal Network. How did that change NSN? Was it necessary?
I spent almost 35 incredible years at WFMU and I have absolutely no regrets about any of the time I spent there. It was a fantastic atmosphere, in terms of radio. It happens very often, that a specific brand gets too big, certain conflicts arise, and it becomes a little bit messy. We got very big, I mean B”H, we built something that became worthy of being its own network so to speak. So, with WFMU’s cooperation, they gave us months to prepare the audience for it, we broke away from them in December of 2016 and “JM in the AM” became the flagship show of NSN available 24 hours a day to everybody around the world. There’s nothing like freedom and independence for our own independent entity; it gives us the opportunity to do anything and everything, which is a wonderful feeling when you want to do interesting projects and wake up every day and be in control of everything.
You mentioned a little while ago that you’ve been on the air pretty much almost every weekday for the last forty years except for Yomim Tovim. I know people ask me all the time about the fact that we come out with sixty editions a year and I say that’s probably the most challenging part of the job, that there really is never a time off. Do you agree with that? Is that one of the most challenging parts of your job?
Yes, I jokingly, always tell my wife for the last 33 years that JM in the AM is my first love. She does understand that I’m sort of married to it. Look, the bottom line is that no matter where you are in the world, I could be on vacation with my wife in Rome, I could be traveling in Israel, I could be taking a day off, I could be in shul on a weekday morning taking a day off, no matter what there’s always a show going on that I’m responsible for. So, I have great subs, wonderful friends, incredible people who do great work with us. It’s all taken care of. But, there’s always another show to do. There’s always another show coming up. You’re never off. You’re always preparing for the next show because just going through life is preparation for the next show. Just watching the news, everything is preparation for the next show. B”H, I always say that I’ve never worked a day in my life; I love every minute of it. I love getting up at 4 in the morning and running to work, so that’s not an issue. But, for the people around me, it is a challenge. A challenge that I appreciate greatly. For my wife it hasn’t been easy, for my kids it has not always been easy growing up with me as a father, but it is what it is and I would never trade it for anything.
How do you wake up so early every morning for so many years? Did you ever think about changing your show time to the evening hours?
I would never do that because I know where most of the listeners are tuned in and of course, the morning in the New York, New Jersey area has always been the key. It’s a challenge, it’s not fun and it’s not easy. I don’t even know how to describe it at this point. Someone once at WFMU made some trading cards, baseball cards, for each of the DJs and it had fun facts on the back and one of the questions was “Who’s your biggest enemy?” and I wrote “Alarm Clocks.” But now, I’m basically immune to it. For the first ten years or so of waking up early, that was a killer, especially in those years, I was still a night person and I enjoyed being up until 12 or 1 o’ clock in the morning. Now, as an older guy, it doesn’t bother me to head into bed by the time 9 or 10 o’ clock rolls around. It’s been quite a challenge getting used to the discipline of waking up that early.
Doing as many interviews as you have done over the years, do you get nervous, especially before the “big interviews”?
Yes. I would argue that I get nervous before the start of every show. I mean let’s put it into perspective, I don’t mean nervous like I have stage fright and unable to continue, but there’s a rush that goes through me every single time I open up the microphone at 6:05 every morning after Modeh Ani. I would always tell my kids that if I wasn’t nervous, I’d be nervous. There’s no question that even at this point where I know that the odds are the interview is going to go well, because I want it to go as well as possible. There’s no interview that ever takes place where I don’t have regrets once it’s over. I don’t say to myself “Oh, if only I would’ve said it this way or have done this or asked this or answered that.” But, I always want to hit a home run. I always want to ask that question that nobody else will think of asking and that to me is the challenge. And that’s what makes me nervous. And that’s what gets me to consider if I can get this done in the way that people will say “Only Nachum Segal can either get away with that, or only Nachum Segal would ask that, or only Nachum Segal would think of a question like that, or that’s such a Nachum Segal question.” I really want to put my personal imprint on every one of these discussions.
What is the secret to doing a great interview?
For me, the secret is acting like the common man- trying to think what the average person out there would be curious about. That, to me, is one of the secrets because I don’t think that the majority of interviews that people watch, even in this era of podcasting etc. I don’t think they’re getting that. I mean there are exceptions, but I don’t think they’re generally getting that. What would I, the common man, want to know and am I getting that answer? So, I think that’s the first thing and also I think that asking a question that most people would think is off the beaten path is a good idea. Anybody could ask what’s your favorite this or what’s your favorite that or fill in the blank with whatever the profession is, but there are questions that people don’t consider or think about that I think the common person wants to know.
Your height. You are 6 feet 5.5 inches!! The Hirsch family has always been on the shorter side. When Nachum Segal walks into a room everyone notices. Do you think that your height has helped your career?
As I always tell my kids because B”H they’re enjoying this type of situation, until you’re 35 years old it’s incredible and after that it makes life very very difficult because you have no place to put your knees comfortably, and you’re always banging your head on different things. It’s harder to get around and that’s the bottom line. I sit in an airplane seat and I am trapped and I cannot move at all anywhere and in any direction and most people do not have that problem. Most people can adjust a little bit. So, has it helped my career? I think on the stage. There’s a certain level of respect that one can enjoy because of their physical presence, but I don’t even know if the height has to do with it, it’s just the way someone carries themselves, the way they project themselves, the demeanor they bring on stage. I think there are people my height that can’t do that. But, I think the whole package together certainly helps when you’re there on stage. Obviously, it doesn’t help on the air, on the radio, people can’t tell how tall or short I am. Although, it’s funny, people have said to me when they met me in person “You know, you don’t sound that tall on the radio.” So, I think on the physical end, on the in-person side, I think there is something to it. But again, I think anybody of any height, if they have the right personality, the right demeanor, the right friendliness, the right interest, the ability to listen to others, I think at any height or at any type of physical place that people are at they can have the same type of influence.
Do you like where the Jewish music industry is heading?
That’s always a tough question to ask somebody who’s getting older, frankly. Everybody, no matter what they’re taste is, is always going to refer back to the music or any type of artistic culture that was dominant in their era either growing up or their formative years, their twenties, thirties etc. That’s why we like nostalgia and oldies so much. I don’t know if that’s a fair question to ask me. I think my kids like the way so much of the music is going, which is an indication to me that there’s a lot of quality and inspiring stuff out there. I may not appreciate it as much because I grew up where I started my career in a different type of musical era. Look, the bottom line is, JM in the AM and this was a quote from the late, great Mrs. Newman, the famed principal of Bruriah High School in New Jersey, “JM in the AM made it cool for high school kids to listen to Jewish music.” I was a young guy, who kids would discover through their parents or through carpools or through other people in their lives, as the show grew they gravitated to it. It really helped in getting kids to be focused on Jewish Music. Now you have kids (even in the Modern Orthodox community, not just the more insular communities) that are literally listening to Jewish music on their Ipods or whatever they’re using. Which is amazing to me; that was not the case in my era when I was growing up. So, if they’re enjoying the stuff that’s coming out today, that’s inspiring them and they’re into it, then Kol Hakavod. Let’s keep doing that. I think it’s really important with all the junk that’s out there, that we at least keep our kids in the arena of Jewish themed culture.
You should live & be well till 120, but what is the future of the Nachum Segal Network, when Nachum is no longer running the show?
Well, first of all, I like to say that now that I’m here for forty years in this industry, I’m half done, assuming that things continue naturally. The issue of legacy in every industry is no easy matter. I’m not quite sure; I think the future of NSN really has to do with what the future of technology is going to be. If we really are going to get to a point where literally every human being can arrange their own playlist and search for their own interesting interviews and spoken word presentations, lectures etc., and there’s zero need for someone or some function like the NSN, then I think it’ll take a certain direction. If we continue on this path, where people like the live presentations and they like when others choose for you good programming, good music, just turn on Friday at the NSN and let the Erev Shabbos music roll- if that type of attitude continues, I think we have an important place in the future. So, I think it depends on which way technology and the human attitude toward that technology is going to go and if I’m not around to oversee it, I would hope that the people I’m working with, at the minimum, will be able to carry on that flag, carry on the tradition, and provide what listeners are craving, whether it would be days of themed music, Erev Shabbos, Erev Yom Tov, Yom Ha’Atzmaut things like that or just interesting programming that they would not come across if we were not there to provide it.
Everyone knows that Nachum loves Israel. When is Nachum making aliyah?
There’s no question that I love Israel. We made the announcement back in December that in 6 1⁄2 years, which would be the summer of 2029, please G-d when my wife retires from her public school job, we are planning and hope to make Aliyah. Now, there are circumstances that could make that day earlier. I don’t think, or I hope, there are no circumstances that would make the day later. I hope there may be some circumstances that might make that day earlier, but right now the official announcement is the summer of 2029.
Is there anything else that we did not discuss or did not mention that you would like to tell the Jewish Vues readers?
I’d like to tell the readers that Israel advocacy, especially while one is here in the United States, is vital at this point. Our generations have become experts B”H at protesting in the streets and writing letters and calling into radio shows etc. We now need the next generation, those in their teens and twenties, who are experts in dealing with social media, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok etc. We need them to become educated on what’s going on in Israel and how Israel is viewed by the world. The same way we were experts at writing letters to the editor, taking to the streets, calling people, calling Senators, we need them to take their expertise of using social media at government officials, at the media and responding to whatever needs to be responded to. We must get them to join our army and advocate for Israel. So, my message to all your readers is, if you’re in your teens or twenties, get involved and find out what you can do on social media to help. If you’re a parent or grandparent who’s reading this, tell your kids “Hey guys, you now have an expertise that we don’t have; you have this incredible skill that we do not have. You must become educated. We’re going to help you do that and you must get out there and utilize this skill to help defend Israel.”
FUN QUESTIONS WITH NACHUM SEGAL
Cups of coffee you have on average a day:
Most famous people that you have interviewed in both the Jewish world & secular world:
In the Jewish world, I was thrilled to interview Shlomo Carlebach. I was thrilled to interview Rabbi Steinsaltz. I was thrilled to interview Benjamin Netanyahu.In the secular world, I used to love when Mayor Giuliani or Mayor Bloomberg would come on the show. I’m hoping that Mayor Adams will be at our opening. I loved interviewing Charles Krauthammer because he was a guy who only discussed, in his entire media career, current events and philosophy of government, things like that. I got him on and we talked about Jewish music because people realized he was a big cantorial aficionado. When I had the owner of The New England Patriots, Robert Kraft on the show when he was honored by YU, he made the statement, “My father would find much more meaning in me being honored by Yeshiva University than all of the Super Bowl Victories.” That was something he can only say to my audience. He would never say that on ESPN. When I’m interviewing someone from the secular world, who’s the owner of a football team and he makes a statement like that, that to me is a big home run.
Favorite concert of all time that you MCed:
I should never answer a question like this, but I think it’s so obvious to people that it’s the reunion of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band. I did a massive introduction for them. I’m not talking about the one at HASC, I’m talking about the one in Carnegie Hall. So, I did very little MCing; they did most of the night. I was only out there a couple of times.
Favorite Interview of all time:
Interviews become my favorite when I ask a question and the answer justifies how good of a question it was. As an example, I asked Rabbi Natan Slifkin, who is the “Zoo Rabbi,” “What is the most Jewish animal?” It’s a ridiculous question when you think about it. His answer justified how great a question it was. His answer was “The most Jewish animal is the Mama Bear, the way she takes care of her cubs.” And that exchange made that interview one of my favorites.
Favorite politician you ever interviewed, dead or alive:
I have to say Mayor Bloomberg, only because out of all the government officials that I’ve had on the air I probably had the most fun with him. He actually had a sense of humor and a very very serious side, but he appreciated joking around. He was once in the WFMU studios, which in some ways was kept together by duct tape and bubble gum, and he reminisced with me about what it was like when he started his company. He would have to get under the table and he had to duct tape this and scotch tape that and keep it together and that was a really fun moment with him. I’ve had amazing government officials on the air, honorable mention to Simcha Felder, who’s always an amazing and fun interview. But, I think if you’re asking on that level, I would say Mayor Bloomberg.
The guest you’ve interviewed the most:
I assume Malcom Hoenlein only because he’s been on every week for the last twenty-two or twenty three years, so I’m assuming it’s him.
Someone you never interviewed that you would like to interview-both dead & alive:
It sounds so hoky, but I’d love to interview Moshe Rabbeinu. I need to know what he thought of the Jewish people and their stubbornness and their selfishness and their ungratefulness. I really need to know how he dealt with that especially since he grew up in the Egyptian palace. It’s funny because often you’ll hear a perspective of someone that didn’t grow up frum, and they will tell you how hard the community looks to people. He grew up in Pharaoh’s house, so he probably had limited knowledge growing up of what the Jewish community was really like. So I would have loved to have gotten his perspective on all of that.In terms of a living person, not that I’m his biggest fan, I’d really like to sit down with Donald Trump. I know his answers are not always a hundred percent on the up and up, but there’s so much good that he did, as far as I’m concerned, for our community. I would love to get his perspective on what we’re all about as well.
Interview that you messed up:
Every interview. Everything I do has 9AM regrets. After every single show I do, at 9 o’ clock, I say to myself: Here’s what went wrong. I do give myself the opportunity to revel in the success that we have B”H, but every day I can point out something that I should’ve done differently. Certainly, when an interview ends, I wonder about a question that I should’ve asked differently or why I asked this, and didn’t ask that.
Biggest news you ever broke on air:
Carlebach’s death. That was before social media, before the internet. He died on a plane that was sitting on the tarmac in New York at about 9PM on Thursday night. Not only did very few people hear the news yet, but I was waiting to hear it twice. In those days, if someone had a death to announce, unless I heard it from two sources, I would never say it on the air because it could be a joke or it could be one of these urban legends or rumors. So, I was waiting until Friday morning when I would get confirmation or a second person to announce it. Then of course around 7 o ‘clock Friday morning I announced it. I would say, I don’t know about the majority, certainly a good number of people, found out about his death and subsequent funeral on Sunday from my show.
Hardest day for you to go the air- someone died/world event:
Well a lot of people are familiar with the episode about my father, but I wasn’t on the air when they were searching for him, so that’s not an answer to your question. I’d have to say the morning after the fire, the 28th of March 2022, that’s probably the most difficult day of doing this show. It was like a feeling that I was never going to get through this and I’m going to break down, which I was doing plenty of times during the show. It was just a very very difficult show. A lot of people were calling with support and my family took off from school and work just to be there. That was probably the most difficult, certainly in the last few years.
Favorite song to sing at the Shabbos table:
My favorite song is probably “Prok” from Mordechai Ben David.
Wine you plan on using for the Arba Kosos this year:
Well, we are guests at our mechutanim in Mitzpeih Yericho for a seder, so I don’t know what they’re using, but whatever it is I’m sure it’ll be delicious.
Haggadah you plan on using for this year’s seder:
I will bring my father’s haggadah. Since his passing I have used it every year and I’ve brought it along to wherever we’ve gone for Pesach, and I will certainly use it again.
Aseh Lecha Rav-Who is the Rav that you ask your shailos to?
Our family Rabbi is Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger- the Rabbi of Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, New Jersey and Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser and Rabbi Nate Segal. We don’t have a lot of shailos, thank G-d, we’re not involved in too many complicated situations, but if the family needs a decision on something, they are the people we speak to.
If you could have 3 Friday night Shabbos dinner guests of people you interviewed, who would you want sitting there Friday night at the Shabbos table?
Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, Shmuel Sackett, and Moshe Feiglin. The reason is because I’d like to spend that Shabbos talking about the future of the Jewish people and these are three people who understand that the future of the Jewish people is in the state of Israel. A strong state of Israel is necessary for the future of the Jewish people.