Remembering my radio days in line with Fil-Aust stations going all out for Rizaliana Radio Festival (Part 1)

Last 22 August at Lidcombe Dooleys Club, I had the privilege of attending a pow-wow of existing Filipino-Australian radio broadcasters.

That’s right folks, perhaps unknown to many of us is the proliferation of so many community broadcast stations that simply could not ignore the significant contributions of Filipinos as one of the most vibrant ethnic migrant communities adding up Tagalog or Filipino to the Babel of tongues amidst an ever-changing, fast-evolving multiculturally diverse society such as Sydney.

Simply judging from the cross section of interesting personalities that showed up in that caucus (including some who didn’t make it but expressed were definitely there in terms of esprit de corps), each one was representing Radio this and Radio that and has been actively and religiously attending the informal gatherings and sharing sessions usually presided by the same founding prexy and steering hand behind FILPRESS — Mr. Jimmy Pimentel.

Mr. Cavestany (right) with other Fil-Aust community radio broadcasters.
Mr. Cavestany (right) with other Fil-Aust community radio broadcasters.

To date, there are already eight Filipino administered and convened radio stations. These are: The Mob which broadcasts in two different stations as jointly and indefatigably undertaken by the young couple Oliver Gadista and Bless Salonga plus Mitchell Badelles at the start although he has lately dropped off ; Radio Sandigan anchored by Violi Calvert with Michelle Baltazar and Veronica Monroe; Radyo Tamaraw, produced and broadcast by Jhun Salazar with Cora Paras and Alisha Buaya; Radyo Bandila, initiated by Raquel Pellero with Tom Baena and recently joined in by yours truly; and Radyo Dalisay hosted by Nilda Carpo and Cita Lazo-Hoersch which will start airing in October yet.

The two other definitely more established radio programs operating for a long time now are the SBS Filipino Language Program currently anchored by Ronald Manila (after Richie Buenaventura, and Remy Floro before her); and Radio Pinoy, run by the strong and unbeatable tandem of Ross and Cecile Aguilar who have survived all forms of storm and stress whilst soldiering on and for a sometime, it almost singularly lorded it over the air as a privately-operated initiative of course vis-a-vis the more corporate and thus entrenched SBS for obvious reasons. I had been invited to Radio Pinoy countless times and I distinctly remember the beginnings of this controversy-ridden program then run by Sennie Masian and her sister sometime in the early 90′s when I was relatively “bagong salta” (new migrant). There is of course the hugely popular ABC Radio what with its classic programming and radio dramas that once hired Filipino talents led by me as all-rounder Coordinator, Acting Coach and Voice Talent because it featured a prize-winning play called “RITA’s LULLABY”, won by a Bikolana teaching at Wollongong University, Dr. Merlinda Bobis, about the heart-tugging plight of child prostitutes abused by Aussie pedophiles. This was sometime in 1997 when my Filipinas-Petals pool of mainstay actors like Lalaine Lozano and Eugene Benitez were cast in lead roles including Valerie Berry in a bit role.

Also a part of this group is the unstoppable husband and wife tandem of Ruben and Cen Amores who managed to do a maiden broadcast but the station underwent renovation so they are currently at a standstill.

Here’s hoping and praying they get back on air soonest to add to the wealth of information giving and mining of new talented broadcasters coming from differing backgrounds, orientations, disciplines not to mention work specializations and areas of expertise that they are creatively able to draw from and weave into their own radio formats, thrusts, slants and other specific purposes. (Note that the Station ID’s and broadcast hours of the aforementioned are calendared at the second part of this blog.)

Whatever it is, whatever it takes, and whatever it chooses to champion, each of these Pinoy Radio Programs are slowly burgeoning and shaping up into something that makes you, and me, and our entire community proud. For the moment and for lack of a formally registered name and organizational structure, Mr. Pimentel most interestingly chooses to call it a RADIO CELL. This only means that there are no positions to aim and battle for as in the sickening case of the PCC elections which transforms into a political abattoir as ambitions, illusions and delusions, secret agendas, and other conflicting personal motivations clash and the running parties proclaiming promises of sweet nothings if elected eventually “slaughter” one another in the mad scramble.

Contrarily so, the non-political orientation of this grouping is exactly what I like about the here-and-now quality and quintessential nature of this radio group. It’s utter lack of structure is precisely what makes for its own strength. In fact there is a word that best describes it – quodlibet. It is a Latin word literally, meaning “whatever” or literally, “what pleases.” As applied to an aggrupation of people with like minds and interests, it connotes something freewheeling. There is no set of officers, constitution, and by-laws so that what pulls us together is the commonality of vision and mission matched by the unselfish pooling of our own resources and creative reservoir. Needless to say, it’s “all for the love of” in view of the great service delivered to our immediate ethnic surrounds and specific target audiences. And of course, in the long run, it all redounds to the greater welfare of one nation or multicultural community to which we are part and parcel of.

However, in more ways than one, doing community radio broadcasting work is such an unappreciated if thankless job. To begin with, no one goes into it for the financial gain (unless you become as most-sought-after as the controversial Kyle & Jackie O tandem of commercial radio fame, that is). In reality, community board work is hardly ever compensated, mostly voluntary, and as such one incurs out-of-pocket expenses as well as shoulders the cost of buying airtime, especially if no advertising support crops up. In this regard, efforts must be geared towards informing potential sponsors and advertisers of the enormous powers of radio in selling goods, products and services – definitely much cheaper and farther reaching and yields more mileage plus psychic rewards gained than placing an ad in a community newspaper that are read only by those who expect to see their pictures there or read their names mentioned if not their own by-lines.

In the case of this RADIO CELL, the love for the work put in by each and every one in his/her own program is palpably felt and the dedication to the public/audience is quite remarkable. In terms of group undertaking, any member may put forward any form of collective endeavour and all others automatically close ranks for support. I felt and saw all these myself when the very enterprising couple Bless Salonga and Oliver Gadista invited me to the group to present my project proposal. What is more, no sooner than expected, I found myself counted into the group as I could not resist the invitation by Major Tom Baena in tandem with Racquel Pellero of Radyo Bandila. And why not, a great part of my student life and early years as a media man was sent in radio.

Broadway Tony and Westend Olivier award-winning Filipino A-1  global star, Leah Salonga  with Mars Cavestany, fellow 1994 Araw ng Maynila, Patnubay ng Kalinangan (Guardian of Culture) awardees, during the former's Sydney visit last year. With them is RJ Rosales, Sydney homegrown actor/musical theater talent now based in Singapore who played Jose Rizal in both radio and stage play.
Broadway Tony and Westend Olivier award-winning Filipino A-1 global star, Leah Salonga with Mars Cavestany, fellow 1994 Araw ng Maynila, Patnubay ng Kalinangan (Guardian of Culture) awardees, during the former's Sydney visit last year. With them is RJ Rosales, Sydney homegrown actor/musical theater talent now based in Singapore who played Jose Rizal in both radio and stage play.

[Wow, this is another occasion to hark back to and document one’s humble beginnings in yet another field though tightly linked up to all my other cross-cultural and inter-arts background. Thus, please allow me this timely digression, as I retrace not brag, my cumulative background and affinity with mass communication, radio being a major component of the so-called RTVF (radio-TV-film) tri-media as it was called then long before the advent of IT technology.

I first took up Radio-TV Journalism under Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) Extra Mural Studies in my college days, also the height of student activism when I was literally floating and shifting from one university and degree into another. From PLM I moved to UP at Los Baños and enrolled at Development Communications wherein Radio Scriptwriting and Programming was one of the subjects. It happened that I was far ahead of my classmates then because of my initial baptism of fire in theater via PETA since my high school. PETA is of course the Philippine Educational Theater Association, now world-renowned as the premiere theater company of the Philippines from its embryonic stage in the late 60’s as a pioneering radical people’s theater movement founded by the legendary visionary artist-leader Cecile Guidote. Apart from my incursion in all aspects of theater work, I was exposed at a very young age in the rudiments of radio/TV-film production as a run-around errand boy slowly building myself into being a well-rounded scriptwriter-director-actor thrown right into such beguiling and very exacting hands-on training under the most revered Fr. James Reuter who used to run famous religious radio-TV programs of yore such as “Sta. Zita and Mary Rose” then based and operating at the Xavier House in Herran, Sta. Ana. Add to this my valuable experience when PETA joined hands with Father Lagerway’s trail-blazing Social Communications Center complex at Stop and Shop in Sta. Mesa where I eventually blossomed as a comics-radio-TV talent-presenter, scriptwriter-producer all rolled into one. It was however in Channel 5, Pasong Tamo, Makati (long defunct after 1972 Martial Law but now revived by the Cojuanco’s) where PETA produced its first electronic broadcast program BALINTATAW (literally meaning, pupil of the eye) that I was to develop into a full-time TV scriptwriter/director trained by our over-all TV Director, the multi-award winning Lupita Concio (nee Kashiwahara, the Sister of Ninoy Aquino). To this batch belongs the future stalwarts, the likes of the late Lino Brocka and Joey Gosiengfiao, Elwood Perez, Nick Lizaso, Frank Rivera, Soxy Topacio etc. Come to think of it, these are all big fishes in the ocean of Philippine TV and cinema now, whilst I have remained but a small fry stuck in the academe and the non-commercial educational theater work. But I had no regrets, to each his /her own destiny, so they say!

I guess it was a rare and very definitive case of ‘learning by doing’ and at the same time getting paid for it, so much so that, I kept enrolling in this and that school and then being caught up in the thick of actual work to a point that my college degree dragged on and on. Time came when I woke up to the realization that I was already nearing my late twenties and I still had no college diploma tucked in my sleeves and a basic liberal course to crow about which was the “in thing” of my generation: explore, do anything you want, but for God’s sake finish an honest-to-goodness college education, first and foremost. In my case, from PLM, I transferred to UP at Los Bańos, ended up directing Upsilonian and Sigma Deltan UPLB campus stage productions and didn’t finish there but eventually landing at the State College and best teacher training institution in Asia, the Philippine Normal University taking up Bachelor of Science in Education major in English Literature and minor in Drama and Radio/TV/Journalism. As a student, I kick-started a Campus Radio Program that served as a testing ground for anchoring a radio talk show. At about the same time, I was also a working evening student formally employed in the daytime by the same SCC where I already had some initial training. By then, it has expanded into an international network renamed Communication Foundation for Asia where I became an in-house scriptwriter for the much-awarded “Panginorin” radio program. After that, I was thoroughly subsumed by the theater. It was only after the EDSA Revolution when my mentor-guru, PETA-founder Cecile Guidote (nee Alvarez), who had sought political asylum in the US after Martial Law and returned only to the Philippines after the restoration of democracy during the term of Cory Aquino that I reignited my involvement with radio.

Balintataw, after having been awarded one of the ten most unforgettable TV programs in the history of Philippine Television by STAR Awards, finally taped its last episode at PTV4 where it was revived from 1986 to 1992. Good shows never die so that shortly thereafter, Balintataw Radio resurfaced on the air at the most popular DZRH program. This time it was not only confined to dramatic anthology of both Filipino and foreign classics/literary masterpieces as well as new works/scripts depicting relevant issues like a living newspaper. Because you have more freedom and wider audience reach with radio, the format expanded to include a TALAKAYAN (Discussion Portion), Tabak at Sampaguita (Readings of Contemporary Poetry on Relevant Issues of Environment etc.), Interviews with a mix of guest stars, politicians, and government officials, and the serialized radio play renditions of famous Filipino and global short stories and radio versions of selected Palanca award winning plays (including my first Palanca award winning play, ISANG PALABAS, which featured the top dramatic stars of Philippine theater namely: Fides Cuyugan Asencio, Angie Ferro, Divina Cavestany, the late Joy Soler de Castro, Madeline Nicholas and Aurora Yumul, amongst the regular radio talent mainstays of Radyo Balintataw hosted by PETA Founder, RM Awardee, and National Artist Cecile Guidote Alvarez with Inquirer columnist Bel Cunanan and yours truly when I was still in Manila until I migrated in mid 90’s. But every time, I come home to Manila, by all means “hindi pwedeng hindi ako maisalang” (it’s impossible not to get me onboard).

When I got to Sydney, I was introduced to Richie Buenaventura who was then running the SBS Filipino Language Program and together we embarked on a long running series of original radio dramas written by her and dramaturged and directed by me using my pool of actors under FILIPINAS-PETALS amongst them Richie Buenaventura herself and her husband taking in minor roles, Lalaine Lozano and Chit Conway (as principal actresses) and Butch Mallary, RJ Rosales and his dad Ross (as the male leads), Eugene Benitez, Charito Nińo and many others whose names escape me now. It was called “MGA KWENTONG TNT” and it ran for almost 2 years and somehow discontinued due to my untimely departure when I undertook my 3-years APA-PhD scholarship in La Trobe University, Melbourne. Richie tried to pursue it on her own and she managed to record a script or two until it fizzled in thin air.

Whilst in Melbourne I was contacted by the SBS Filipino Program coordinator then in the person of Malou Logan and we came up with a serialized radio drama adaptation of Ricky Lee’s “Pitik-Bulag sa Buwan ng Pebrero,” about a Filipina victim of domestic violence and abuse in Australia. I hasten to add here an interesting footnote about the play “Her Son, Jose Rizal” by Philippine national artist for dance, Leonor Orosa Goquinco that kick-started Armando Reyes’ directorial debut last year and is now being restaged on Nov. 16-17 at Parramatta Townhall. It was I who first got the right to stage and do anything with the material from the playwright herself before she died – Leonor Orosa-Goquinco, to whom I owe so many of my rave reviews as a stage actor-director in Manila not to mention her most memorable, classic one whole broadsheet page interview-write up of me in Philippine Star when I was nominated for the Ten Oustanding Young Men which she was very much pushing for me to win though I lost by a mere one vote to the late fellow-playwright of mine, Rene Villanueva. I was later told that during the judges’ deliberation, the main clincher that made them decide not to award it to me in 1994 (my last qualifying year at age 40) was the simple reason that I had migrated to and adopted citizenship in Australia. Sayang na sayang. ( A big loss that was!). But the next thing I knew, I got a better reward through another nomination-turned-unanimous victory via the most prestigious “Patnubay ng Kalinangan Award”, then considered the second major award after the National Artist Award which is the “major-major” one of course. Anyway, to this day, I’m still looking for a copy of that collectible item and gem of a long feature article with glowing words written by a national artist at that is beyond me! Anyway, I had Richie translate it in Filipino to conform with Radio SBS’ policy but with Mrs. Goquinco’s “Go ahead, do anything with it” advisory. Straightaway we recorded it for radio so that Mrs. Goquinco would have the chance to listen to it even in her hospital bed. I gave Mr. Reyes the opportunity to direct that particular episode under my Supervision and it was the selfsame though more ingenue-like RJ Rosales who essayed the crème de la crème role of Rizal which he reprised live on stage in the integral English form.

So there you go folks, I have just written additional pages that I can just quote from for my now-being written autobiography, this segment focused on my wide-ranging experiences in “the art and medium of RADIO.”]

End of Part 1. Conclusion to follow soon.

Other post/s by Mars Cavestany

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