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75 years of public service, broadcasting, excellence

Tradition of Excellence - MBC Chair Fred J. Elizalde receive
MBC/DZRH’s tradition of excellence led by MBC Chair Fred J. Elizalde.

Decades have passed, times and administrations have changed, but the public service and unbiased reportage DZRH brings continues and will live on.

DZRH will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Tuesday at the Manila Hotel and on Friday, former and current employees of DZRH will gather for the grand homecoming.

As DZRH will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Tuesday, let’s take a look back at how the longest-running radio started and survived the hardships of all the years.

Before anything else, here’s how Susan Isorena-Arcega recounted her experience with DZRH in the past:

Hal Bowie w Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson  - for gallery of gr

Broadcasting pioneer

70 years ago, at exactly six o’clock in the morning, announcer Hal Bowie took his seat before a microphone in a little studio at the top of the Heacock Building in Escolta, and bid his unseen audience good morning.  Thus was born the fourth commercial radio station to operate in Manila.  In just a few years, with the entire Philippine archipelago caught in the maelstrom of the Second World War, the fledgling station – which took the call sign KZRH  –  would buck the challenge of history and remain as the only surviving radio station in the country.

Its auspicious beginnings as the mouthpiece of one of the largest department stores in the Pacific must have lain the groundwork for the station’s commercial viability all these years – a major factor in the survival of the so-called “stepchild of media arts.”

New as it was, those on the KZRH management team led by Bertrand Silen were not just armed with the technical know-how in radio operations, but likewise had fundamental marketing knowledge down pat.  They knew what radio listeners liked and disliked.

Music, skits, newscasts

Musical variety shows, comedy skits, and short newscasts were the order of the day.  Jazz and ballads became standard fare.  Together with American wit, the English language spread.  KZRH found itself as an advertising medium, with sponsors like Purico underwriting specific shows which carried their names.  Apart from 15-minute blocktime sold to advertisers, commercial spots mixing announcements with music were also produced.   KZRH found itself amidst lucrative times.

War and taking over

Then came the grim shadows of war.  The Japanese Imperial Army took over the sophisticated equipment, which eventually got blown sky-high by the Americans.  And while Silen’s staff – considered the best in the Far East – found themselves either in Bataan, at the internment camps of Santo Tomas and Los Banos, within the guerilla movement, or simply felled by enemy bullets, plans for the rebirth of KZRH upon liberation were kept alive.

Upon being released, Silen sought help from the National Broadcasting Company in New York to secure new transmitters, and with the Elizalde family financing the new 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 new Republic.

Soon after, the International Telecommunications Union adjusted the call letters of Philippine radio, and all allusions to the western United States through the letter K were removed.  Until today, all radio stations in the Philippines begin with the letter D.

Golden years

What followed in the next three decades is now collectively known as the golden years of Philippine radio.  Programming flourished and a new breed of radio personalities became cultural icons.  As the recording industry grew, the live orchestras of yore soon gave way to music on vinyl.  Cover versions and Disc Jockeys came into being.  Radio dramas hit an unprecedented boom, eventually translating to the celluloid screen.

Lina Flor’s immortal  Gulong ng Palad, which debuted in 1949, led a slew of soap operas that filled the airlanes in the mornings and afternoons.  Because they had the housewives and sometimes the rest of the domestic ménage as captive audiences, these dramatic serials were strongly supported by major advertisers whose sales messages got very close attention through each saga.  Radio dramas picked up on domestic relations, but also featured action, adventure, horror, and even murder-mysteries.  Appealing to the imagination as well as to real-life need, DZRH secretaries fondly remember some callers even insisting on speaking to Ginang Hukom herself.

Indeed, DZRH easily adopted the habit of setting trends and institutionalizing them.  Sportscasting dean Willie Hernandez, the network’s comptroller in the mid-fifties, lent his voice to sports coverages and in so doing, made legendary Filipino basketeers like Carlos Loyzaga, Francisco Rabat, and Luis Lorenzo household names.

The feisty commentator Rafael Yabut, also had his sterling years with DZRH.  Starting out as the station electrician, he rose through the ranks to become the station’s PR man.  Loyal fans kept glued to their radios when he hosted the game show Ruleta Musikal.  On the top-rating Tayo’y Mag-aliw, Yabut dwelt on government and politics, family values, trivia, and entertainment.

But it is easily Dely Magpayo who has been – up to this day – the most widely known personality behind the microphone at DZRH.  Her easy chatter, contagious laughter, and sparkling wit won her sponsors and hosts of listeners through her career’s work.   From the PMC-backed Tugtugin Natin to Himig Panghapunan in vintage years, and eventually the starkly simple Tiya Dely, which DZRH still airs today,  the lady and the station have remained synonymous for over 50 years.

Radio quiz shows also emanated from the DZRH studios.  In Spell-to-Win, household appliances were at stake for someone who could spell words like “bouillabaise”.   On Best of the Band, popular crooner Bimbo Danao tried to stump the audience with his original game format a-la “name that tune.”  And on Palmolive’s Knowledge Unlimited, even listeners contributed questions such as “what war took place in 1812?”

The Vicks Variety show opened doors for a new program format that addressed Tagalog-speaking audiences with pop-concert presentation of Philippine music.  Singer Jimmie Navarro who won the DZRH radio popularity poll, replaced Mystery Singer Cecil Lloyd and teamed up with Priscilla in performing a new romantic duet every week.   While listeners wrote to request old favorites, new compositions were also introduced to the public.

Letter-sending, has indeed, contributed greatly to the way DZRH developed over the years.  Ira Davis, who produced the long-running programs of Philippine Manufacturing Company, patiently read through thousands of letters that came in every week.  The notes were routed to management and gave them firsthand information on what sort of radio entertainment – even commercial copy – that listeners preferred.  And the advertisers took note of those market preferences.

In later years, DZRH received more immediate feedback — through the telephone, through pocket pagers, through mobile technology, and today, through cyberspace.   But the formula remains the same:   innovate . . .improve. . .listen. . .keep the pulse.    And decades hence, the station which survived the horrors of war is also surviving the competition.

JT interviews Pres Cory Aquino
Joe Taruc and the late former President Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino


DZRH as the flagship station of Manila Broadcasting Company is proud to be the purveyor of news as it should be delivered, adhering to the highest standards of broadcasting excellence in the country.  It continues to be a witness to Philippine history as it unfolds, and yet remains faithful to the mandate of fair and responsible journalism.  In 1986 it was the only station that aired nationwide a detailed account of the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos.  Three years later, DZRH reporters found themselves risking life and limb to keep the public abreast of the attempted coup d’etat, and manifesting its spirit of compassion to wounded rebel soldiers.

DZRH today boasts of veteran radioman Joe Taruc anchoring the DZRH team in defining the public affairs program genre from the Pinoy perspective.   Despite the seeming erosion of the morning news by the telemagazines, Taruc remains confident that nothing beats the immediacy of radio.

DZRH News Director Andy Vital, on the other hand, has taken new media by the horns for the station’s benefit.  Internet radio and live chats are used to maximize the station’s accessibility to audiences both here and abroad.  He has also encouraged popular DZRH announcers like Ruth Abao and Rey Sibayan to maintain individual blogs.  And with his iconic colleague “Lakay”  Deo Macalma  seemingly attuned to the secret lives of public figures and celebrities alike, vigilance in good governance through reports from his bubwits is still in keeping with the station’s mien for  popular entertainment.

Joe Taruc interviews FVR

But perhaps it is in the field of public service where DZRH has truly earned its merits.    Through Operation Tulong – the station’s socio-civic arm first launched in 1978 —  corporate social responsibility and anonymous Samaritans work hand in hand.   Armed with their credo of Serbisyong Bayan, DZRHresponds to the needs of the ordinary man-on-the-street with the same compassion and determination it devotes to massive disaster-relief operations, through networking support from advertisers, NGO’s, and government agencies.

Over a decade ago, the station embarked on a “One Nation, One Station” initiative, expanding its coverage to an unprecedented 97% of the Philippine archipelago.    To date, DZRH is the only station in the country that is on the air nationwide 24/7 on stereo-quality, simulcast via satellite to relay stations in key provincial cities.  Through all these, DZRH and the top brass at Manila Broadcasting Company have remained fully cognizant of their target listeners and have used this to master their programming thrust.

DZRH taps into the consciousness of the Pinoy, takes inherent socio-cultural phenomena like fiestas, raffles, and machismo sports. . . and actively makes them tick.    At the same time, through creative thinking by the staff and high-quality execution by their announcers, DZRH has translated traditional broadcasting techniques like talk-radio and soap operas into productive and impacting forms of integration or product placement that have become increasingly more efficient in moving brands across a complex media landscape.

But it is the way DZRH announcers today relate to their listeners that truly spells the difference.   It is a legacy handed down through generations of broadcasters who knew their audiences.   It is foresight brought about by the changing of the times.  It is a style acquired through personal interaction with the man-on-the-street.  And it is a mantle of leadership, new experiences, and empathy toward mankind brought about by having made it through seven solid decades.

Congratulations, DZRH – kaunaunahan sa Pilipinas!

Up until now, DZRH continues to provide public service to Filipinos who are in need, and those who yearn for information and will never cease to continue providing the Philippine nation of never-ending “paglilingkod.”

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