Kol Yisrael was originally an underground Haganah radio station that broadcast from Tel Aviv. It started consistently broadcasting in December 1947 under the name Telem-Shamir-Boaz, and was renamed to Kol HaHagana ("Voice of the Haganah") in March 1948. With Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948, it was transformed into the official station Kol Yisrael. Another station named Kol Yisrael operated in Haifa, and was renamed Kol Tzva HaHagana (Voice of the Defense Force).
The first Kol Yisrael transmission was a live broadcast from Tel Aviv of David Ben-Gurion reading of the declaration of independence. It was operated by a department of the Ministry of the Interior responsible for domestic and international broadcasts. Responsibility for the service was later transferred to the Office of Posts and Telegraphs and then to the Prime Minister's Office.
The station inherited the facilities of the former Palestine Broadcasting Service which had been founded as the official broadcaster of the Mandate of Palestine in 1936, and had run the Kol Yerushalayim radio station. Kol Yisrael staff was made up both of former PBS personnel as well as former staffers at the underground radio stations run by the Haganah.
Kol Yisrael pioneered the use of FM transmission. In the early years, stations were operated in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. The PBS had had its transmitter in Ramallah, but this transmitter was lost to Kol Israel due to Ramallah being in the Arab sector and under Jordanian governance.
In March 1950, international broadcasting was begun under the name Kol Zion La Golah ("The Voice of Zion to the Diaspora.") The broadcasts were produced at Kol Yisrael by the World Zionist Organization in cooperation with the Jewish Agency. In 1958, the international service was merged with the domestic broadcaster, with both services operating under the Kol Israel name.
In 1965, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, an independent public entity, was created and took over responsibility for Kol Yisrael from the Prime Minister's office. In 1973, the IBA adopted the name Shidurei Yisrael (Israel Broadcasting) for the service's domestic radio and television services. The name Kol Yisrael was revived for the domestic and international radio service in 1979.
A previous station named Kol Yisrael had briefly been operated by the Haganah in 1940 on the 42-meter band. However, the station was soon renamed when the Haganah decided that the Kol Yisrael name should be reserved until independence.
Kol Yisrael channels include:
- Kol Yisrael Israel Radio International – Broadcasting internationally in 14 languages: English, French, Persian, Bukhori, Yiddish, Spanish, Maghrebi Arabic, Georgian, Amharic, Tigrinya, Ladino, Hungarian, Romanian, and Russian. Currently, Israel Radio International consists of a relay of REKA, plus an extended Persian broadcast.
- Reshet Aleph ("Network A"), also referred to as Kol Yisrael – General talk and cultural programming. Hebrew news are at the same times as Reshet Bet, listed below.
- Reshet Bet ("Network B") – Popular radio station with news and current affairs programming, as well as sports coverage. There are news bulletins on the hour in Hebrew.
- Reshet Gimel ("Network C") – Radio station devoted for promoting Israeli music. As with Reshet Aleph, there are news bulletins in Hebrew at the same times as Reshet Bet.
- Reshet Dalet ("Network D") – Arabic-language radio station.
- REQA ("Immigrant absorption network") – Radio for olim (immigrants) to Israel. Broadcasts in 14 languages, including English at 0430, 1030, 1830 UTC (+1 hr during the Summer).
- 88 FM – "High Quality" music (their terminology). Jazz, blues, electronic music and more, plus driver information.
- Kol Ha Musica ("The Voice of Music") – Classical music and drama.
- Reshet Moreshet ("The Heritage Network") – Religious broadcasting on Reshet Aleph's network.
Kol Yisrael's Arabic and Persian-language services have broadcast extensively to Arab countries and Iran for decades. As of April 1, 2008, only Persian to Iran is broadcast on shortwave, using leased airtime from Bezeq transmitters. The transmissions in Persian are occasionally jammed. Broadcasts to Arab countries are not jammed, apparently to avoid retaliatory jamming of their broadcasts to Israel. Kol Yisrael's Persian-language service is reportedly popular in Iran.
There are also educational stations broadcasting via low-power transmitters from colleges and universities across Israel under the collective banner of Tachana Chinuchit.
Israel Radio International, also known as Reshet Hei ("Network E") (formerly known as Kol Zion Lagola), is a shell of what it used to be. As of July 29, 2007, the only program created for Israel Radio International, is Persian. The rest of the network is a direct relay of the REKA network.
As of April 1, 2008, the only shortwave broadcast left of Israel Radio International is Persian. To listen to all other languages, including English, users are pointed to the new official Israel Radio International website. Transmission was shifted from shortwave to internet as a cost-saving measure. As of June 13, 2013, Persian is no longer broadcast on shortwave.