Round and Round the Radio Formats Go

The Rise of Bakya Programming in Philippine FM Radio

It used to be simpler. I grew up with FM radio, and during the 80s, Frequency Modulation in my opinion, was at its finest.

I'm sure the 60s and 70s were a lot of fun, but when I was growing up, a lot of us 80s Pinoy kids had our ears glued to FM because it was basically the only source of fresh music we had, especially so with the dawn of the second British music invasion and the rise of commercial rock. The American Top 40 hosted by the legendary Casey Kasem (syndicated and heard over the former 99.5 RT) was the definitive yardstick of what's hot and up there (still is, sans Kasem), sending us kids to record stores to buy the singles or albums which, back then were either in vinyl or cassette tape.

FM in the 80s also produced a good number of brilliant young deejays (Jeremiah Junior., Eric Cain, Peter Rabbit, the Triggerman, Joe D' Mango), in addition to the already established jocks in the scene like Howlin' Dave and Bob Magoo, to mention a few. Save for a few OPM songs, FM in the Philippines during the 80s could pass for being an exact clone of its US counterpart.

The 90s for me came and went but the FM scene basically stayed the same, pretty much Top 40 with some stations still sticking to specialized (Adult-Oriented Radio, Rock, and Alternative) formats, but with an interesting twist due to the rising commercial popularity of local bands led by the Eraserheads and Parokya ni Edgar.

Then, the advent of the digital revolution and the internet changed the FM landscape drastically. Having been back after so many years of working in AM news radio and the corporate scene, I found myself in the middle of this radio culture shift.

The emergence of MP3 players and podcasting drastically changed people's listening habits. Now, they could just download whatever music they want, load more than a thousand of their favorite songs and listen to them with virtually no interruptions. It practically beats listening to FM with all its stingers, radio ads, and deejay tattle.

This propelled a couple of FM stations in the US to shift to a new format called Jack FM (also called variety hits) where stations just play music using automation programming, basically doing away with deejays.

Manila-based FM stations however, responded quite differently to this revolution. Aware that the availability of such technologies have turned away a lot of their listeners (especially those in the A-B categories), quite a number of FM stations have shifted towards targeting the masa (or the common people).

Some stations even went as far as introducing all-tagalog spiels and stingers (some of which are done in poor taste, but that's just my opinion). I mean, I love the Filipino language but to listen to a canned stinger of someone shouting "direcho! direcho! direcho! (forward)" as if it has some educational value to it is really very alienating for someone like me who had listened to FM radio for quite sometime. I don't know how long this formula would work, but I found out that one station of this kind is now off the air.

This shift in FM formats also made quite a huge impact on deejays. Somebody told me that one very popular but-now-jobless jock was seen in a variety show as a contestant. It really is hard to fight for what you think an FM station should be in the midst of all these changes, but times are really tough right now. Though some of the established ones have gone to greener pastures (like producing concerts and marketing), it's really lamentable that we will not hear their voices anymore.

I'm quite sure a lot of changes will happen in the radio industry as technology advances. But in the meantime, let's just enjoy new FM while it lasts.


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