JUAN DELA CRUZ TUNES IN
American businessmen introduced radio to the Philippines in the 1920s as a commercial enterprise that would promote their consumer goods to Filipinos. Following a test broadcast by a certain Mrs. Redgrave from Nichols Air Field in 1922, Henry Herman conducted commercial experiments from 50-watt stations in Manila, Pasay, and a mobile unit, after the American station KDKA launched on air. Two years later, he replaced the set up with a single 100-watt station at the Monte de Piedad building in Sta. Cruz, which he called KZKZ.
Department store owner Isaac Beck’s KZIB and the Radio Corporation of the Philippines’ KZRM (Radio Manila) and KZRC (Radio Cebu) led other stations that contributed to the growth and stability of the radio business well into the 1930s. RCP eventually sold its network to the department store owners, Erlanger and Galinger, who, in turn, sold their broadcast holdings to J. Amado Araneta’s Far East Broadcasting Company. Meanwhile, Samuel Gaches, owner of the department store H.E Heacock Co., put up KZRH (Radio Heacock) in 1939. A year later, the firm acquired KZRC to cover the Cebuano market.
Radio broadcasts centered on music, variety shows, comedy skits, and short newscasts. Jazz and ballads became standard fare. With English language, western music, and American voices dominating the airwaves, radio supplemented the educational infrastructure established by the Thomasites and became an agent for the Americanization of Uncle Sam’s “little brown brother.”
As radio gained popularity, companies began buying airtime. Corporate sponsors underwrote specific shows, and thanks to advertising, radio became quite lucrative. But as businessmen, radio executi8ves also had to be sensitive to what their listeners wanted. Programming eventually shifted to include Filipino singers, musicians, announcer, along with expressions of traditional culture such as the kundiman.
While it was customary to imitate the American vocal timbre, the Filipinization of local radio was well underway. Popular performers who crossed over to and from the vaudeville stage found a niche for distinctly Pinoy-flavored comedy on air. But it was the advent of the drama serials that eventually marked Philippine radio for all time.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Filipinos were in an era of “flapper” modernism, adapting more and more to American ways. Jazz music was in the air. Aggressive advertising promoted drinking, smoking, and driving flashy automobiles. Women wore shorter skirts, bobbed their hair, put on more make-up, and received the right to vote. Iluminada Tuason, Manila’s very last Carnival Queen, donned swimwear, flouting conventional social mores.
Globally, technological innovations were the order of the day. The first jet plane that was taken to the air, Kodak produced the flash camera. Edwin Armstrong built the first FM transmitter station and RCA produced the first TV sets—with NBC, CBS, and BBC publicly demonstrating the power of television.
With Europe on the brink of war, Asia was drawn into the vortex as Japan advanced south. The Philippine Commonwealth government faced growintg uncertainty about the level of the US Government’s commitment to the future Republic. Agrarian unrest was building up, and there was a need to embark on an ambitious agenda to gain greater control over the economy, which was almost entirely dependent on American markets for the disposition of local products.
Manuel L. Quezon, duly elected President just two years back, successfully steered the Nacionalista Party convention into amending the constitution and permitting his own reelection. The Philippine Constabulary was made independent of the army and placed under the supervision of the Department of the Interior to devote itself to the task of maintaining peace and order throughout the country. The Department of National Defense was established to address the growing threat of Japanese aggression in Asia. The administration likewise sought to institute reforms in education, improve transport, colonize the island of Mindanao, and promote local capital and industrialization.
The Philippine Islands were at the cusp of more drastic change. Uncle Sam’s singular, most successful experiment in colonization was to take bigger steps toward nationhood even under the clouds of war.
RADIO AND WORLD WAR II
As the shadows of the Second World War loomed over the horizon, radio highlighted the conflicting ideologies of the so-called “Co-Prosperity Sphere” as bannered by overt propaganda from the Japanese military, against the democratic ideal embedded in the forbidden programs aired by defiant Resistance forces on their underground stations which broadcast on different frequencies to avoid detection.
As war became imminent, radio became an important source of news and information. KZRH Station Manager Bertrand Silen was appointed Chief Coordinator of Information by the American High Commissioner. Instead of destroying KZRH equipment as the USAFFE had done to the other stations to prevent their use by the Imperial forces, Silen’s staff brought a shortwave transmitter to Corregidor and built a makeshift radio station,. Which Generak Souglas MacArthur christened as the Voice of Freedom
However, Japanese forces eventually found equipment hidden in the basement of the Heacock building in Escolta, and used these to continue broadcasting as KZRH. It was here that General Jonathan Wainwright eventually announced the USAFFE surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army. The call letters were changed to PIAM, and the station bombarded listeners with music, language, literature, and even calisthenics—the Nippon way.
MacArthur’s return and the American declaration of independence for the Philippines signaled the postwar reconstruction of the Philippine radio. The Elizalde family brought KZRH from the Heacock Company, and with Silen’s help, acquired equipment from the National Broadcasting Company in New York to establish operations at the Insular Life Building on Plaza Cervantes. KZRH was back on the air under the auspices of Manila Broadcasting Company on July 1, 1946—just in time to cover the inauguration of the second Philippine Republic, with Manuel Roxas as President.
Apart from the Elizaledes, families in bug business such as the Sorianos, the Roceses, the Lopezes, and the Yabuts resurrected commercial radio operations. The post-war period also saw religious groups and institutions going on air to propagate the faith and provide community programs. Even the government developed its own network under the Philippine Broadcasting Service, which aired educational and agricultural programs in cooperation with the Bureau of Public Schools.
The listening audience became excited as new programming genres spearheaded the phenomenal growth of the radio industry after the war, Music, theatre, language, and literature flourished hand and hand with the broadcast sector. Amateur singing contests, quiz shows, children’s programs, talk shows, and even on-air “Balagtasan” by the country’s premier poets took root at this time.
But it was the advent of soap operas in 1949, beginning with KZRH’s “Gulong ng Palad,” written by society columnist Lina Flor, that changed the face of popular Filipino entertainment. Long-running radio serials were not just adapted for television and film, but were likewise translated into regional dialects and aired over the provincial stations. Even the star system so prevalent in motion pictures became heavily reliant on the success of the radio drama.
By the mid-50’s, with its call sign now DZRH, the station took another step forward by launching a counseling program featuring Dely Magpayo. Letters detatiling domestic and marital woes received her compassionate attention, and along with it, the commiseration of the listening public. Through the next 50 years, Tiya Dely remained a constant on radio, with generations of fans pining for her ever-soothing voice even after her death in September 2008.
Popular DZRH programs drew support from corporate sponsors due to the enthusiasm of Filipino housewives who were glued to the radio while doing their daily chores. Gabi ng Shell featured the reel-and real-life tandem of Lolita Rodriguez and Eddie Arenas. On Reyna Ng Vicks, a Reyna was chosen daily from among the many who braved being interviewed on the air, and was named queen for the day.
Indeed, DZRH emerged as the acknowledged leader during the golden days of radio, also airing comedy shows like Tang-Ta-Rang-Tang, adventure shows like Kapitan Kidlat, detective dramas like Johnny
Davao, horror shows like Gabi ng Lagim, and other popular serials like Ginang Hukom and Dr. Ramon Selga.
NEWS, PUBLIC AFFAIRS, AND CIVIC ACTION
In many markets, the most popular stations carry little or no music at all. This is premised on the belief that the more information people get, the more they want. Audiences need to feel that they are in-tune with the up-to-the-minute events.
Local radio stations have found that the audiences want to be informed and entertained—to have the news explained and discussed, not just reported. The news commentary addressed these needs and provided listeners with a vehicle for sounding off about socio-political events.
With politics consuming our national psyche, the commentaries by DZRH anchorson current events keep the Filipino public vigilant and concerned, despite serious threats on the lives of many broadcasters and their families. A number of them chose to be vociferous, while a lighter tack anchored in the Pinoy’s penchant for humorous gossip seems to be just as effective.
But serbisyong bayan still tops the station’s priorities. DZRH teams are on 24-hour duty.
Indeed, the development of public affairs programming over DZRH is a distinct feature that marks its role in the history of Philippine radio. Erstwhile, newsbreaks have been expanded into full programs that include live interviews and on-the-spot coverage of important events. The news-talk show format now also includes discussions of subjects like medicine and health, justice and the law, environment and sustainable development, arts and culture, showbiz personalities, and even frank discussions of sex-related matters.
Broadcasting has spread out to encompass more areas throughout the archipelago. Tagalong and regional dialects are heard on air, further breaking the dominance of English. With the introduction of inexpensive transistor radios to many homes, the accessibility that broadcasts provide for the dissemination of news and information to the most isolated barrios certainly keeps radio a step ahead of print media.
In 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos accused the licentious media—including the feisty radio commentators who severely criticized his administration—of destabilizing the government. His declaration of Martial Law allowed him to close down the media and suppress dissent. Broadcasting was placed under the supervision of the Broadcast Media Council. A year later, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) was organized to enable the industry to regulate itself.
Censorship, threats of legal sanctions, bribery, detention, physical intimidation and ultimately, death, were weapons used by the military in controlling media. Expansion became limited due to political risk, and it...