October 23, 1953 marked the first official telecast in the Philippines. But even before that date, academic experiments with the novel electronic medium had been conducted by Jose O. Nicolas, an engineering student of the University of Santo Tomas in 1950; and two years later, by the FEATI Institute of Technology.
Even before these academic experiments were conducted, James Lindenberg, an American engineer and the future “father of Philippine television,” already saw the potential of television in the country. Armed with surplus equipment and imported spare parts, Lindenberg began assembling transmitters and established the Bolinao Electronics Corporation or BEC on June 13, 1946. It was named after the hometown of his wife, Bolinao, Pangasinan.
In 1949, Lindenberg was the first to apply for a license in Congress to establish a television station. A year later, on June 14, 1950, his request was granted.
“We were told to go ahead,” he said. “It was much more simple in those days than it is now. Mr. Canon, who was head of the Radio Control Division, told us to go ahead.”
The scarcity of raw materials and strict import controls imposed in 1948 however, compelled Lindenberg to branch into radio broadcasting instead.
He said, “The import control people and the Central Bank were quite adamantly opposed to it on the grounds that the dollars spent on television would be better spent on other items.”
The efforts of James Lindenberg did not go to waste after all. His dream gradually became a reality when Judge Antonio Quirino, brother of President Elpidio Quirino entered the picture. Judge Quirino had been trying to get a license from Congress to set up television stations but he was unable to get one for political reasons.
The Congress probably thought that he would use such stations for campaigning for his brother who was then running for a second term in the presidential election of 1953. Denied by the Congress, the only alternative left for Quirino was to buy stocks from an existing corporation; that is, BEC.
In 1952, he bought seventy percent of BEC, gaining the controlling stock, and thus, acquiring the franchise indirectly. He changed the corporate name from BEC to ABS or Alto Broadcasting System after the names of its new owners, Aleli and Judge Antonio Quirino. James Lindenberg was still part owner, however and he served as the general manager of the station.
After closing deal, however, things did not progress smoothly. Like Lindenberg, Judge Quirino also faced numerous obstacles.
“The Central Bank did not grant me dollar credit because they said the venture was too risky,” he recalled.
Other people said the same thing and added that it would take at least three months just to make an atmospheric survey before one could even start installing the station. “Obviously,” Judge Quirino thought, “it was a tactic to delay the installation of the station so that my brother could not use it during the election campaign.” (KBP, 152)
Judge Quirino asked the help of his friend Marvin Gray whose family is a friend of General Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Through Gray, Quirino was able to appeal the cause of ABS and get assistance from RCA.
In 1953, Quirino introduced the first television station in the Philippines when he opened DZAQ (for the initials of Judge Antonio Quirino). DZAQ-TV Channel 3 began telecasting on October 23 of the same year but before that, television sets had to be imported and people had to be trained.
With the help of the Radio Corporation of America, four men underwent technical training in the United States:
- Arcadio “Cady” Carandang, who was in-charge of setting up a TV service company;
- Romualdo “Romy” Carballo, who oversaw the transmission aspect;
- Harry “Slim” Chaney, who acted as a spark plug for the whole operation, and
- Jose “Joe” Navarro, who learned filming techniques in television.
Judge Quirino initiated the importation of television sets but he did not have the money to buy the desired 120 sets. To solve this problem, he approached the owner of Joe’s Electric and proposed to him that in return for the P60,000 loan, he will be the first to have the right to sell television sets.
“With the telecast date approaching, Judge Quirino distributed the 120 television sets to prominent men, hotels, restaurants, [hospitals,] advertising agencies, and public plazas in order to reach as many viewers as possible.” (KBP, 153) He practically gave them away so that people could watch his political broadcasts.
Finally, by October 23, 1953, everything was ready, and the first telecast went on the air. The event was a garden party at the Quirino residence.
Carandang recalls, “A coaxial cable was extended from the transmitter site just across Sitio Alto and the switchers and camera controls were set up on a table.”
“Not to be missed by the camera was the President of the Philippines, whose presence on television that night convinced many that the establishment of TV was purely for political purposes.” (KBP, 153)
“Politics did eventually emerge as TV’s own godfather, as DZAQ was inevitably used as an information medium for the reelection bid of President Quirino.” (Pinoy, 65)
Despite the efforts of Judge Quirino in helping his sickly brother, Elpidio Quirino lost his reelection bid. The television station built by BEC and later used by ABS was equipped with nothing more than the basic necessities for operation. The studio was just a makeshift barn along Florentino Torres Street in Manila. With the transmitter acquired from RCA, the telecasts were received clearly not only in Manila but also in the neighboring provinces probably because there was not much interference for there was no other channel but DZAQ-TV3.
Aside from the transmitter, there were three cameras but one of these arrived “out of order” from RCA. Except for the engineers who were sent to the United States for training, most of the personnel of ABS learned television operation on the job. The lack of competent personnel required versatility from those who chose to work in television.