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       Aling Cely, 53, a widow with five children, is becoming blind because of an eye infection which needs immediate operation. She goes to a local radio station and makes apanawagan (appeal) for financial support from good samaritans.

       Aling Carmen’s monthly financial support from her contract worker-husband in Saudi Arabia has not come the past four months. To know the whereabouts of her husband, she visited a local radio station which airs “To Saudi with Love.” The program enables studio audiences to make free overseas telephone call to their loved ones. The conversation is aired live!

       Love struck teens exchange love messages, send letters on the air and seek advice for their relationship problems from “Doctor Love” in a radio program called “The Love Clinic.”

       President Joseph Estrada dialogues with the masang Filipino on gut issues and poverty problems through his weekly program, “Jeep ni Erap.”

       Perhaps no other media channel has touched the lives of ordinary Filipinos as much as the radio. From the traditional panawagans during personal tragedies or natural disasters, the tearjerkers of Tiya Dely Magpayo, knowledge power of Ernie Baron, eccentric health advises from Johnny Midnight and of course, the most requested songs in pop music radio stations.

       But the power of radio is best dramatized during the 1986 People Power Revolution. This historic event, which led to the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, was given impetus with an appeal from Jaime Cardinal Sin Archbishop, of Manila, aired over Radio Veritas, a Catholic radio station, asking freedom loving Filipinos to support then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. In response, millions of Filipinos took over EDSA for four days. Millions of Filipinos all over the country followed the developments of the historic event from the clandestine Radyo Bandido anchored by women broadcaster June Keithley.

       Radio is more than just a media channel to many Filipinos, it is a way of life. It is part of Filipino culture. Even today’s so-called Generation X still finds radio “in” despite competition from the Internet and MTV. Consider these: The RX Concert Series features live performances by renowned bands and artists — broadcast live from the radio station’s studio itself. Generation RX presents viewpoints on various issues from the pop generation who send their pinions via telephone, pager, and recently text messages. Both programs explain why radio listening is still a favorite past time of many young audiences.

       The fact that radio uses the local language or dialect makes it the most accessible channel to the Filipinomasa.

Philippine radio signs on

        Radio broadcasting started in 1922 when an American businessman in Manila opened three 50-watt radio stations, not for commercial broadcasting but as a demonstration channel for his electrical supply business. Two years later, the first commercial radio stations went on the air: station KZKZ owned by the Radio Corporation of the Philippines, and KZRQ, owned by the Far Eastern Radio, Inc.

       The oldest existing radio station in the country today is DZRH. It first signed on in 1939 as KZRH. The last two letters of the call station stands for Radio Heacock , after H.E. Heacock, the original owner of the station and one of the largest chains of department stores in the Pacific Rim.

       Radio programming from the pre-war to the early post-war period was primarily entertainment-oriented and, as expected, “flavoured with colonial productions” including even canned American serials. News and public affairs programming, including government programs, were virtually unheard until a few years before the end of World War II. Advertising of products other than those of the station owners began only in 1939. In 1929, the first provincial radio station, KZRC was established in Cebu City. However, it merely relayed programs originally aired over KZRM in Manila. This Manila-centric programming was to continue up to today.

       Radio played an important role in keeping the Filipino spirit alive during World War II. The then KZRH broadcasted the ” Voice of Freedom” from its transmitter physically transferred in Corregidor. Anchored by Norman Reyes, its stirring broadcast announcing the fall of Bataan in 1942 is a classic in broadcast journalism — “Bataan has fallen… But the spirit that made it stand, a beacon to all liberty-loving people of the world, cannot fall.”

       The 1950s saw the introduction of development broadcasting through farm programs. The Philippine Broadcasting System was the pioneer in this area through its school broadcast, features and documentaries on outstanding government programs and news and public affairs. The early years of development broadcasting were difficult since many station managers and advertisers were doubtful of the effectiveness of radio as a medium for information and education.

       But by the late 1960s to the 70s, the use of radio for agriculture and rural development became more pronounced. Institutions such as the Department of Agriculture, UP at Los Baños, International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) were among the advocates of farmcasting and developmental communication. In particular, the information campaign for Masagana 99 launched in 1973 as the country’s rice self-sufficiency program is considered a pioneering “success story” in the use of broadcast media for development.

Radio today: A louder voice

       Radio is now acknowledged as the primary source of news and the most pervasive, persuasive, and credible medium. It reaches 85 to 90 percent of the population with over 25 million sets nationwide. Of the 12 million estimated total number of households nationwide, the number of radio households is 10.2 million. In contrast, estimated households with television set is 8.52 million while estimated households with video cassette recorder is only 3.6 million. Station DZRH has the widest reach. With its satellite capability courtesy of Palapa B-4 which could send signals to the 20 relays scattered all over the Philippine archipelago, the station can cover as much as 97 percent of the entire country. Meanwhile, industry estimates suggest that the average radio listening time is two to three hours a day.

       According to the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), there are a total of 629 radio stations nationwide as of 1997, of which, 330 are AM stations and 399 are FM radio stations. Luzon has the most number of total AM and FM radio stations, 257 (123 AM and 134 FM). Mindanao has 235 radio stations — 100 AM and 135 FM. Visayas has 182 consisting of 77 AM and 105 FM stations, while Metro Manila has 55 — 30 AM and 25 FM. Of the 629 stations, only 530 are within the fold of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP).

       In terms of type of service, of the 539 KBP-member stations as of 1998, 488 operate as commercial stations and only 51 as non-commercial stations. Of the latter, 32 are government-owned (31 AM and one FM), 10 are religious (eight AM and two FM stations), seven educational (four AM and three FM), and two military (all AM stations).

       Most radio stations are part of a broadcast network. The largest network is Radio Mindanao Network, Inc. with 37 radio stations nationwide. Manila Broadcasting Company owns 31 AM and FM stations nationwide, excluding the 100 low power FM stations. Nation Broadcasting Corporation with 29 radio stations nationwide.

       An interesting development is the growth of community radio stations. In 12 remote communities nationwide, low-powered FM radio stations have been set up since 1991 through the Tambuli Project funded by UNESCO and Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). These radio stations are owned and operated by the local community members who also produce their own programs, using the very popular Karaoke system ( a sing-along cassette console with loudspeaker). These stations feature developmental messages, especially on health care, environment, and livelihood as well as entertainment.

       Commercial radio networks are now duplicating the success of the Tambuli project. Manila Broadcasting Corporation (which operates DZRH) has set up 100 low powered radio stations in remote communities nationwide. Each station has a 500-watt transmitter capable of sending a clear signal within a 10 kilometer radius. However, most of the programs aired are still packaged or produced in Manila which reinforces Manila-centric programming rather than promoting local programming.

       Advancements in telecommunications technology during the past decade have expanded the reach of radio. Some major radio networks such as ABS-CBN Broadcasting (through DZMM) and Manila Broadcasting Company (through its lead station DZRH) are bow linked to the satellite for nationwide and even global coverage.

The people’s choice

       A cursory look into radio programming would explain why radio remains as the medium of choice especially by the Filipino masa. Programming content and format are so diversified that there is always a program suited to the taste of every sector — housewife, students, businessman or entrepreneur, music enthusiast (from pop music to rock and revivals), religious, farmer, sports enthusiast, among others.

       Since over 90 percent of radio stations are commercial, it is expected that programming is dictated by consumers’ (or listeners’) wants and tastes as measured by the ratings game. The higher the rating, the more advertisers for the program and higher income for the station. Content is dominated by entertainment. AM stations programming usually consists of news and public affairs, public service , soap opera (drama), talk shows which focus on national and local issues or entertainment (movie) trivia. Even news and current affairs programs are interspersed with entertainment or showbiz news as the latter are very popular. One AM station has reformatted its programming thrust to focus on “showbiz tsismis” (movie gossips) !

       On the other hand, FM stations are still dominated by music programming. Most provide a variety of music beats although some specialize in jazz, pop songs, rock and even revivals.

       Public service programs are usually of the panawagan genre. The poor and the sick (or their relatives) are given the chance to “air their plight” on air and ask for donations from civic groups, philantrophic individuals, etc. Publicity for missing and even deceased loved ones are announced for relatives to know. During times of crisis (e.g., typhoons), the public use the radio to inform relatives of their whereabouts and condition. Listeners or studio guests are given the chance to air complaints or grievances against government agencies or are given referrals to appropriate agencies.

       The more popular news and current affairs shows are those hosted by the so-called “hardhitting commentators” including Noli de Castro, Joe Taruc, Jay Sonza, Ted Failon, Korina Sanchez, Rey Langit, — to name a few — in a usually no holds-barred discussion of issues. A popular innovation is the use of satire on current issues through such characters as Juan Flavor, Tongressman Atras Abante, Atty. No Case, Mang Tonyo, Card Neil Sin, Lola Sella, etc.

       Over the past decades, radio has also proven to be an effective development communication channel. There has been significant increase in the coverage of non-sensational topics such as health and nutrition, environment, science and technology, education, women and children’s rights, among others. These topics are either featured in regular programs or in developmental plugs.

       To encourage and sustain quality programming, the KBP annually confers the Golden Dove Award to outstanding Metro Manila and provincial radio stations/programs in various categories — drama, musical variety, news, public affairs, comedy, among others.

       The popularity and impact of radio is evidenced by the number of radio programs hosted by politicians. Potential candidates are aware of the advantage of name recall for media personalities. Long before an election period, the candidates already project themselves and try to develop loyal followings among their listeners.

The self-regulatory framework

        The broadcast industry operates under the principle of self-regulation. The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas or KBP, organized in 1973, provides the framework for self-regulation through its radio and television codes. The government recognizes the self-regulatory principle of the KBP “to police its members on matters relating to the enforcement of broadcast media rules and regulations.” The KBPs’ Standards Authority is responsible for monitoring compliance with the KBP Radio and Television Codes.

       Both codes set program standards for news, public affairs and commentaries, political broadcasts, children’s shows, religious programming, and advertising. It also instituted an accreditation program for radio personalities aimed at upgrading professionalism among broadcasters. KBP’s Standards Authority is recognized worldwide as a model in self-regulatory mechanism.

Some issues and concerns

       The Philippine mass media in general is known as the freest and liveliest in the whole of Asia. But it is also criticized for being often irreverent and irresponsible. There have been pressures from various sectors urging media organizations such as the KBP to impose higher ethical standards and social responsibility among their members.

       Many sectors perceive “envelopmental” journalism as being prevalent. This refers to the practice of bribing media practitioners (including broadcasters) to get positive media mileage or to down play, if not totally “kill” negative stories. A recent publication, News for Sale by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), documents the “prices” political candidates have to pay for desired media exposures.

       In terms of content, media in general are being criticized for being rambunctious, floundering in sensationalism, acrimony and mudslinging. In particular, they deplore the seeming proliferation of so-called tabloid broadcast journalism where radio programs apply the “success formula” of tabloids — crimes, sex and gossip broadcasting.

       Media’s penchant for exposes and to defend the underprivileged had cost the lives of many (broadcast) journalists especially those from the provinces. Because of their watchdog function and adversarial stance, many journalists will continue to tread on dangerous grounds.

       Meanwhile, technological developments are proving to be the most serious challenge to the radio industry. Phono players, reels and cassettes would only do for “jurassic” stations. On-air multiband sound processing or multitract recording will be the technology of choice. Digital and Internet will dominate new broadcast technologies.

       Radio stations have to retool, i.e., go digital, in order to compete, provide better quality programming, and eliminate of multi-path interference. Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) will offer listeners additional services such as artists information, stock quotes, and sports scores. Satellite systems are transforming the media audience into global audiences whose choices of channels and programs are virtually unlimited. In this new media landscape, how can local radio stations offer better programming?

       In this age of global village, the threat of cultural homogenization or domination, especially by those who own and control technology, becomes even more real. The interactive and two-way capabilities of modern technologies should be harnessed to the fullest to ensure cultural harmony, integrity, and identity. But this concern applies not only in the global setting but in the national setting as well. For decades, broadcasting in the Philippines has been one-way — Manila produces and the rest of the country watches or listens. New technologies now allow for more exchange of images and messages within and across countries.

Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. (1998). Communication sector analysis for child rights-based programming. Manila: AIJC.

Braid, Florangel and Ramon R. Tuazon. (1998). “Communication and media in the making of a nation.” Paper presented during the centennial congress on Higher Education, May 28.

KBP. 1998 Broadcast Media Factbook. Makati City: KBP.

Manila Broadcasting Company. (1999). “DZRH: a 60-year history of leadership”in Philippine Star. S-1-S-8.

Maslog, Crispin. (1998). Philippine Communication: an introduction. Laguna: Philippine Association of Communication Educators.

National Telecommunication Commission. (1996). Ensuring universal access to telecommunication services. National Telecommunication Annual Report.

About the Author:
Ramon R. Tuazon is the vice president of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) and president of the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE). Among the more than 20 publications he has co-authored/co-edited are: Megatrends: The Future of Filipino Children (1998), A Handbook for Frontline Advocates of Children’s Rights (1997), How Social Mobilization Works: The Philippine Experience (1996), Jose Luna Castro’s Handbook on Journalism (1990).