Catching up on Philippine radio

Think pieces on the state of Philippine cinema and television aren’t lacking in the interwebs. Almost everyone and anyone has an “opinion” about why the foundations of local television are crumbling, or why the indie scene of film here is bustling with energy and much needed brisk. However, sometimes, the most common place of things get sidelined or ignored completely.

Gone are the days when the dial of a radio set were eagerly operated on to find the suitable radio station (or just the perfect song) for the listener. It was all so simple back then, but as clichéd as it may seem, times have changed.

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Static history

An American colony during the 1920s, the Philippine archipelago was all about simple living, but they were accepting of entertainment and information. Henry Hermann, a business owner of the Electric Supply Company, tested out radio frequencies in 1922 to play music and to see the business potential of such in the country. Although an American named Mrs. Redgrave tested out the frequencies earlier during the year, it was Mr. Hermann who pursued it until he decided to give up on it later during the decade.

Soon after, the Radio Corporation of the Philippines launched KZRZ in Cebu in 1929. The station started with a 100-watt transmitter; interestingly enough, such a transmitter can cover a community or a city with its transmission. Though now defunct, KZRZ has inspired new radio stations to pop up that are still present today.

A pillar of Philippine radio, DZRH has been on the air for 70 years and counting. In 1939, DZRH was airing only jazz classics and ballads while broadcasting newsbits. During the Japanese occupation, it was shut down and used as a station for propaganda. After World War II, the Elizalde brothers looked to reinvent the frequency and rebranded KZRH as the Manila Broadcasting Company.

ABS-CBN’s radio station, DZMM, also had its fair share of history. During the Martial Law era, censorships were rampant and never few. Forced shutdowns were implemented while chaos was in the streets of Manila. Fortunately, the media censorship ceased and then DWWW became DZMM, ushering in news legends like Mel Tiangco, Noli De Castro and Dely Magpayo, a pioneer of advice radio.


Blowing horns and commentaries

A regular Joe might profess that AM is for all the news headlines, pressing issues, and events, and FM is solely for music; fortunately, the AM static is more than just a bulletin board for the whole country. To students, AM radio provides up-to-the-minute reports on class suspensions and flood-ridden areas, enough to fill the energy levels of pupils, while parents (or any other avid listener) can attest to the idea that AM radio can be as energizing as a great cup of coffee. Usually hitting its stride at 5:30 – 7:00 in the morning, AM radio blasts blaring horns and awakening sound effects with the wake-up calls from respected journalists like Mike Enriquez of DZBB and Ted Failon of DZMM. These anchors help usher in a new day by giving listeners fresh news reports and updates on the current issues that beleaguer the metro.

Often times, AM shows stand out from the crowd by giving the hosts a chance to say something about the issue. More often than not, these “stances” given by the hosts are the selling point of the station to advertisers and listeners. A witty example of such is S.R.O., or Suhestiyon, Reaksyon, Opinyon, a radio talk show that airs during the prime time hour. Currently hosted by Doris Bigornia and Alvin Elchico, the show tackles issues ranging from politics to current events, but the chemistry between the two anchors help make S.R.O. an in demand AM radio show. Witty and downright hilarious at times, the comments of both the anchors and the listeners (sent through text and social media) help make the show bright and colorful, enough to make weary employees laugh during their daily commute to home.


Theater of the mind

Generally, radio advertisements are called the “theater of the mind” as it utilizes the audience’s imagination and listening skills. Sure, your favorite songs are played on air, and as soon as the song ends, it stays in your mind for a while. But sometimes, it’s not just the songs, but also the commercials. When those advertisements roll in, you can’t help but listen and laugh at the good ones. Who doesn’t remember the classic “Makulay ang buhay, sa sinabawang gulay!” line that we hear on almost every radio station?

Unlike other forms of media, radio ads are cheap and inexpensive to produce; it only has to be creative and catchy within 3-5 seconds for the listener to get hooked. Oftentimes, companies would spend ad money to think of a catchy jingle that sets itself apart from the countless commercials and spiels being thrown around in radio. A recent example is Insular Life’s anthem, Isang Magandang Araw, sung by Lea Salonga. While television ads normally pull all the stops to get into your head, radio advertisements utilize voice and sound, two things that can be soaring and inspirational when done right.

Advertisements, for products with a target market for both frequencies, crossover to FM radio. These days, FM radio is riddled with commercials of telecom companies urging you to purchase their postpaid plans or prepaid promos, or fast food restaurants employing song and dance to help you memorize their delivery numbers. Luckily, the most surprising (and sometimes refreshing) ads come from scripts read by DJs of FM stations.


Trending topics and love problems

To the uninformed observer, FM radio stations can be replaced with another. Contrary to popular belief, FM radio employs narrowcasting; acting like cable television, its model is built on niche genres or specialties. That is why you have jazz stations, frequencies dedicated to slow rock and pop, and infamous “masa” stations that house OPM music, another maligned aspect of Philippine radio.

Long ago, FM radio felt like a solitary conversation between an eager listener and a deep-voiced DJ with listeners from all over the archipelago listening, but with the advent of social media, the conversation has been upgraded into a nationwide tweeting brigade the likes of which radio hasn’t seen before. Radio shows are entering the “tweetosphere” with topics originating from the hosts themselves or suggestions given by listeners. Often about love and all things Internet, these trending topics battle the “fascinating” fandom trends that plague the Philippine trends.

However, before trending topics, listeners have flocked to radio stations for the late night conversations that could give Conan or Fallon a run for their money. DJs like Papa Jack and DJ Chacha offer love advice, sometimes hilarious but applicable, with sound effects of canned laughter that is often exaggerated but reflects the sentiments of the listeners. It can actually be said that people come for the advice, and stay for the personalities behind them.


Voice recognition

Nowadays, DJs are becoming more of a public figure because of the Internet and social media. Before, few personalities ever get the limelight like Joe D’ Mango and Mo Twister. These days, however, DJs get the chance to publish books or host a show if their presence is warranted and demanded. Three of the most popular radio personalities now come from the Boys’ Night Out of Magic 89.9: Sam YG, Tony Toni and Slick Rick. Their banter and humor help make them household names because more and more people are flocking to their radio sets.

Curiously, radio shows with two or more hosts are getting the limelight as well. The trio of The Morning Rush (Chico Garcia, Delamar Arias, and Gino Quillamor) are making waves as endorsers and KBP Golden Dove recipients because of their program format and the hilarities that ensue. Don’t discount Nicole Hyala and Chris Tsuper whose pairing has been on the air since 2004. Because of the antics displayed (or heard) on radio, more and more people are tuning in to a medium they once deemed as dying.


More than music

Streaming services and music downloads are the go-to thing now for everyone; it’s surprising to think that it’s been a decade since the supposed “heyday” of radio. It was the time when now infamous “Love Radio” launched itself, while the legendary NU 107 Rock was still flourishing. Now, the former is still successful, while the latter has been off the air since 2010. Rock fans have been lamenting this, but a new wave of radio stations have been coming up to fill the needs of radio purists like 99.5 Play FM (formerly 99.5 RT) and the online Balut Radio.

In this day and age, technology tends to abandon what society may call as old school, and take them to the next level. People who say that the radio is reaching its last days have got it wrong. Radio has now gone online, with links that direct you to livestreams of segments currently on air. With technology becoming more and more advanced by the hour, it looks like radio is here to stay.


Daniel Ian Comandante

By Daniel Ian Comandante

Audrey Giongco

By Audrey Giongco

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