Wake-uppers and ‘croakers” on AM Radio

The Inbox

By  Winnie  Velasquez, VERA Files

From the Sixties to the Seventies, schoolchildren in the barrios rose at the crack of dawn as the cock crowed. They started their day thus because after a simple breakfast they made their way to school crossing rivers and trekking for miles to their classrooms which were located nearer the centers of town. Their city counterparts woke up to a different set of "croakers" from Monday to Friday.

Public schools in the city started their morning sessions with the flag ceremony at seven in the morning; private schools begun their day at 7:30. The wake-up call  then was at 5:30 to give them  time to bathe, have a full breakfast and be ready for school in less than an hour. Public schools were barely five to ten minutes from home, while their private counterparts were a little farther so they had to be at their gates at 6 a.m. to board the school bus. Those who took the family car had 30 more minutes to spare. School bells rung at 7 a.m., 15 minutes were allotted for formation with the head teacher making the roll call, checking if students were in full regulation uniform, their shoes shined, and hair neatly combed back.

For most city parents, getting the children up posed a different challenge.  Alarm clocks were mostly useless as older children punched the button and pleaded for five more minutes of snooze time. This often ended in disaster as no one voluntarily rose after five minutes so a more creative means to wake everyone had to be found.

Radio came in very handy.  Aside from being a ready source of news and commentaries, its volume turned up, it was a most effective medium to get everyone moving.  Most unforgettable then were the voices that roused them from sleep daily and brought the world into their homes in the morning.

There was Johnny de Leon and his sidekick with the monicker "Ngongo." In his singular baritone, Johnny intoned his program's title "Lundagin, Mo Baby" to lilting music, then as his voice faded away, Ngongo's fractured voice filled the airwaves with a long drawn-out "Mataan…aaaaaan, matamissss…" Along with La Yebana, Bataan Matamis -- the thin, dark brown, unfiltered cigaret was the staple "joint" the masses smoked. As soon as these twin voices lorded it over all the early morning sounds in the house, students knew it was time to get up.

Johnny de Leon, who had a huge following among the masses was the unchallenged top drawer on ABS-CBN radio. Aside from the daily news which he delivered in conversational Tagalog (Taglish was unheard of then), his two-hour program was heavy on public service bulletins and listeners called in freely with their complaints against government officials. He also gave advice to listeners on anything and everything and helped track down missing persons as his program broadcast nationwide reached even the remote barrios.

Rafael Yabut brought a different flavor to early morning radio. Known as the "Old Man of Philippine Broadcasting," where De Leon was folksy and mellow, Yabut was hard-hitting.  His program "Tayo'y Mag-Aliw" on DZRH tackled government and politics, had segments on family values, and dispensed entertainment news and trivia. Mang Paeng, as he was popularly known to his listeners, minced no words when lashing out at the venality of politicos and non-performing government functionaries.

But just these people hated Yabut, he was well-regarded in equal measure by his loyal followers because every morning he dished out a balanced menu that was peppered with surprises. Listeners stayed tuned until the last quarter because they would never know when a popular actor, matinee idol or a popular singer would drop in for a short chat with Mang Paeng and to answer their questions.  Yabut was nearly silenced by his enemies when driving his car one morning in 1968, he was fired upon at close range by two gun-welding men who alighted from a jeepney near the corner of San Marcelino street in Ermita, Manila.  His car radio was on so listeners heard the gunfire. A motorist driving by took him to the Philippine General Hospital. Yabut survived  the attack and a month later, he was back on the air.

Doroy Valencia was another mainstay on morning radio. But unlike De Leon and Yabut, he had command not only of radio but print as well. Aside from his morning program on DZMT which came on 30 minutes later than those of De Leon and Yabut, he had three more on different time slots. In his signature "croak" Ka Doroy dispensed a heady brew of news, hard-hitting commentaries on government and politics, and a sardonic take on just about anyone he chose to roast for the day. What kept listeners glued to this Batangueňos' broadcasts were his acerbic comments that were spiked like Bantangas barako coffee. But to a whole generation of students, he is best remembered for his opening lines delivered staccato and in his "patented" croak: "Ladies and gentlemen, how do you do? This is Teodoro Valencia greeting you all a pleasant good morning."

When students heard this crackling voice over the airwaves, they got up from bed and made a beeline for the bathroom. Another day has started, the radio is on… the city is on its feet and life goes on.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")