Friday, January 01, 2010

The Early Days

DZAQ-TV3 started out on a four-hour a day schedule, from six to ten in the evening. Although ABS was able to round up fifty-two advertisers for the premier telecast, selling spots for regular programming became difficult. This was because advertisers still felt that it was more cost efficient to buy radio ad spots, since radio reaches more homes than television did at that time.

At that time, television sets were expensive and television reception depended on electrical power that was not always available. “The high prices of sets were due partly to government taxation. Whereas radios and phonographs were taxed 7 per cent at the plants, television sets were taxed as high as 30 per cent.” (P-Lent, 96)

The cost of television sets was a major drawback for the newborn industry. “In the late 1950s, a TV set sold for around $600 or P1,200, a princely sum and the equivalent of a few month’s salary when the minimum wage was P4 a day and the exchange rate P2:$1. It cost less to buy an automobile.” (Pinoy, 65)

The programs being telecast at that time were mostly borrowed films from the foreign embassies, imported old cowboy movies, and actual coverage of a variety of events. These ran out so fast so stage plays from theater were transported to television. This paved the way for Father James Reuter, a Jesuit who was not only active in the academe as a drama coach but also had radio and television training in the United States. He produced the first play on television in 1953, less than a month after the first telecast. It was “Cyrano de Bergerac,” a full-length play that was three hours long.

Father Reuter recalls: “Nobody paid anybody. We didn’t pay them and they didn’t pay us…. I had enough entry into the schools so that all my talents were students.”

Father Reuter produced literary classics on television, which gave birth to a generation of performers known as “Reuter babies.”

Since everything was done live in the early days of studio production, performers were under tremendous pressure. The studio was a hothouse of bloopers and accidents waiting to happen; cameras entangled in wires were unable to track, and viewers’ imaginations were unnecessarily taxed as actors who had been previously murdered would forget they were on camera, get up, and stroll out of a scene. (Pinoy, 74)

In the beginning, locally produced shows were at a premium because of high production costs. American syndicates took advantage of the situation and sold mediocre serials to Philippine networks for as much as $125-$150 a show. On the other hand, “[a] locally produced, half-hour program cost $500 in 1959 -- a huge sum of money for any advertiser.” (P-Lent, 97)

To entice advertisers, “simulcasts” --- or simultaneous airing of a program over the radio and the television station --- were offered as a promotional gimmick. Many popular radio shows like “Tawag ng Tanghalan”; Kuwentong Kutsero” and “Student Canteen” started their life on TV this way. Their popularity grew as TV shows later on because their listeners had the added pleasure of seeing their favorite personalities in their own living rooms. (KBP, 155)

Forward Steps

Finally, the problem of prohibitive television set cost was solved with the establishment of such local outfits as Radiowealth, Carlsound and Rehco. These set up assembly plants which cut the prices of television sets by as much as one-half or two-thirds.

In 1955, Radiowealth, Inc. began manufacturing television sets. Radiowealth founder, Domingo M. Guevarra, made television sets available to as many families as possible. He began by distributing television sets on the market when he got exclusive distributorship for Motorola radio and television sets in 1946. Soon, he imported TV parts, assembled them in the Philippines and sold the branded product as Radiowealth-Motorola. He even sent his eldest son, Petronilo, abroad to study the manufacture of electronic components.

A New Lifestyle

Ownership of a television set became a status symbol. In those days, it was a spectacle to have a TV set delivered to one’s home. As the entire neighborhood watched, it took at least three men to carry the huge cabinet with the heavy tube that would bring magic into the household. Newly recovered from the trauma of World War II, the Filipino consumers were eager to treat themselves to something new and exciting. (Pinoy, 66)

The number of TV receivers per 1,000 Filipinos jumped from 3.5 in 1953 to 38 in 1960. In 1962, the television set was the most sellable appliance in urban areas, with the electric iron a far second…. By 1969, Radiowealth was making color tubes; by 1971, the Philippines, through Radiowealth, had become the third country in the world to manufacture color TV sets. (Pinoy, 79)
Television was called the new obsession of Filipinos and was blamed for making Filipinos lose much needed sleep and for putting them shamefully behind their electric bills. “It was also accused of breeding envy and discontent since most people could not afford a set.” (B-Lent, 178) It was blamed for everything, from the deterioration of family conversations to epileptic seizures in children.

In July 1967, the hysteria peaked. The United States Public Health Service reported that some 90,000 TV sets sold between September 1, 1966 and May 27, 1967 were actually leaking radiation and thus might pose a national health hazard. The appliances, identified as 18-, 20-, 22-, and 23-inch color sets with tube serial numbers 6EF4 and 6LO6, had been manufactured by the General Electric (GE) Company. (Pinoy, 86)

There was no doubt that television had changed the lifestyle of Filipinos. In its early days, televiewing was a community affair. “Entire barrios gathered around the set, enshrined in the home of some lucky native who benevolently kept doors and windows open.” (Pinoy, 86)

Filipinos had become so attached to their television sets that the only time one could expect reactions from televiewers was during commercials. Television now competes with the school, the home, and the church in influencing the Filipino people.


In 1958, two developments indicated that television could survive in spite of its problems. First of all, the high taxes previously imposed on canned television shows were removed. This made U.S. shows less expensive than live shows. Second, another network was set up in April of that year. This was the Chronicle Broadcasting Network, established as a radio medium in 1956 by businessmen Eugenio and Fernando Lopez. (P-Lent, 96)

In the same year, the Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN), owned by Lopez brothers, Eugenio Sr. and Fernando, bought ABS from Judge Antonio Quirino. Quirino was caught by surprise by the Lopezes’ interest. The price paid was reportedly many times more than what Quirino thought the channel was worth --- and more than what he thought the station would ever earn. (Pinoy, 66)

Eugenio “EƱing” Lopez Sr. called Judge Quirino to his house for breakfast and ABS was bought under a contract written on a table napkin. The Lopes brothers merged these two companies under the name Bolinao Electronics Corporation, the former name of ABS. Meanwhile, Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., the eldest son of Lopez Sr. had hands-on-education under two pioneers who were running ABS for Quirino: Slim Chaney and James Lindenberg.

With the establishment of DZXL-TV Channel 9 on April 19, 1958, the Lopez brothers controlled both television channels in the archipelago.

In those days, there was not that much money in TV, and not a lot of equipment which the company could initially afford. “Slim would tie together a transmitter with bamboo strips and rags,” recalled Lopez Jr. “It worked, and you didn’t argue.” (Pinoy, 54)

As ABS continued operating, Philippine television started to improve. “Evidence that the television audience was growing were the groups of people who crowded around the appliance shops whenever the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball games were aired.” (KPB, 155)

New Stations

Rapidly, other television stations jumped in. By the early 60s, these new [VHF] television stations opened:

  • DZBB-TV Channel 7, established on October 29, 1961 by the Republic Broadcasting System (RBS), owned by Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart;
  • DZTM-TV Channel 5, established in 1962 by the Associated Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), owned by the Roces family, the publisher of The Manila Times;
  • DZTV Channel 13 in 1977, run by Inter-Island Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), owned by Andres Soriano; and
  • DZRH-TV Channel 11 of Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC), owned by Manuel Elizalde.
  • Even the government-owned Philippine Broadcast Service launched its television station, Channel 10 in 1961. It was financed by government subsidy but had a short life because of channel frequency allocation.
When the other channels were established, competition became intense. The early stations cornered the American television film market. DZAQ-TV Channel 3 received National Broadcasting Company; DZBB-TV Channel 7 obtained American Broadcasting Company; and DZTV Channel 13, Columbia Broadcasting System.

In a struggle to get the best shows from abroad, these channels became victims of the American networks. Philippine channels were asked to pay $125-$150 for each half-hour U.S. show, and were allowed to show them once. (P-Lent, 97)

Economics of Television

If politics jumpstarted the Philippine television, soap kept the medium running. Procter and Gamble, the American manufacturing company that produced Ivory soap and Tide laundry detergent, nurtured broadcasting by introducing a revolutionary genre frothing with melodrama: the appropriately-named soap opera. (Pinoy, 66)

Sponsorship on television, at first, came only in the form of block timing, with companies buying chunks of time slots from the networks. Depending on their budget and their target audience, they dictated what time slot they wanted to bring in. Thus, programming and production were largely in the hands of advertisers; networks were merely the custodians of airtime. (Pinoy, 71)

Robert “Uncle Bob” Stewart was the first to sell “coop spots.” Sponsors or small businessmen could now buy portions of a program in the form of 60-second commercials. “He approached companies without the resources to buy block time and sponsor entire shows and offered them smaller, more affordable packages within programs. Thus he pioneered the concept of segment and portion buys that are so popular today.” (Pinoy, 57) “In the ultimate promotion, Stewart even threw himself in as a commercial talent for free, and his live endorsements became gems of spontaneous entertainment in themselves.” (Pinoy, 71)

Bob Stewart, the man behind RBS Channel 7 had a special place in the hearts of a generation of kids. “For children growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Uncle Bob’s Lucky Seven Club was the club to join in.” (Pinoy, 57)

In the beginning, the people who were creating Philippine TV had to make do with very little --- minuscule budgets, tiny studios, weak signals, and complicated cameras which technicians couldn’t even begin to operate. After all, the first TV production crews had been transplanted from radio. (Pinoy, 74)

“Mistakes were definitely the order of the day,” recalls Stewart. “We had two cameras, both of them second-hand. And since we had almost no experience in TV, we often had no idea which one was on the air!” The only way to learn television then was by trial and error. In fact, the best cameraman in ABS started out as the driver of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr.

Lack of finances was largely responsible for the poor quality of live television. There was not enough money to pay talent fees, to buy equipment and to train studio personnel. Another reason why live shows matured slowly was the prevalence of unqualified producers.

In 1960, the Philippine Association of National Advertisers acknowledged television as one of the most effective and potent media for advertising. In fact, it was only in the 60s that television commercials came into use. The first television advertising contract in the country was signed for Tawag ng Tanghalan, handled by J. Walter Thompson for Procter and Gamble.

As the television industry matured, lines were more firmly drawn between advertisers and network owners. Programmers now had to prove to advertisers that the station-produced programs were being watched. Thus was the ratings game born. (Pinoy, 74)

More Innovations

In 1961, instructional TV was first attempted by the National Science Development Board through a weekly course in physics, Continental Classroom. In the same year, Fr. James Reuter produced his three-times-a-week show, Education on TV over Channel 9. It featured Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J., lecturing on history and Fernando Zobel, discussing art.

Interest generated by public organizations, business firms, and educational institutions developed the National Science Development Board’s televised college course, “Physics in the Atomic Age,” in 1961.

Three years later, on July 1964, the Ateneo Center for Educational Television (ETV) began operation. It was a closed-circuit television project for elementary and high school students of six receiving schools including Ateneo de Manila University and Maryknoll College (now called Miriam College). The now defunct Center for ETV had its own studio and first-rate equipment. It was so advanced that even commercial stations like ABS-CBN occasionally borrowed cameras.

Changes, firsts, and favorites

On February 1, 1967, the corporate name of BEC was changed to ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation. This was the formal merger of ABS and CBN. Also, during this year, Radiowealth pioneered in the production of 19-, 21- and 25-inch models of color TV sets, which cost about two thousand five hundred pesos. Television was well on its way to becoming a mass communication tool. Moreover, it was favored by advertisers like Procter and Gamble, Philippine Refining Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Del Rosario Brothers and Caltex Philippines.

In 1969, Filipinos got to watch live the television coverage of the Apollo 11 historic landing. It was the first telecast via satellite in the country and the first in color. “Telecasts from the moon relayed back to earth were captured on Philippine TV sets by the satellite network. Three networks tied up for the project: Channels 5, 7, and 13.” (P-Lent, 106)

It was also in 1969 when Radio Philippines Network branched out into television with Channel 9 in Manila. It was RPN-9 who introduced the longest running and consistently rating sitcom, John en Marsha, which introduced the First Family of Philippine television, the Puruntongs. It was created by Ading Fernando and it starred Dolphy and Nida Blanca. John en Marsha is nationally recognized as one of the greatest Filipino sitcoms of all time. It had millions of loyal fans.

Among the top rated programs in 1966 were: The Nida-Nestor Show, Buhay Artista, and Pancho Loves Tita. Another local show that has had a prevailing top rating is Tawag ng Tanghalan, the amateur singing contest hosted by Lopito and Patsy. During the early years of television, it was a medium for the actor and the performer.

“By the late 60s, Filipinos were craving for steady doses of reality in the form of news and public affairs programs.” (Pinoy, 92) The news pioneers were The Big News on ABC Channel 5 and The World Tonight on ABS-CBN Channel 2. Jose Mari Velez of The Big News brought news broadcasting to new heights.