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[OPINION] In the service of the Filipino

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In October 1953, the late Vero Perfecto and I hosted the first local TV broadcast over DZAQ-TV Channel 3 (AQ for Antonio Quirino), the first commercial TV station in the Philippines. 

Our maiden broadcast was done at the residence of Judge Antonio Quirino on Guevara Street, San Juan, where a garden party was in progress. We had no program scripts, no studied preparations whatsoever. Vero and I agreed that we would just wing it and hoped that our errors and fluffs would be few and far between.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, we had many wrong cues but Vero was a master of improvisation and somehow I managed to ride along. Using only one black and white orthicon camera mounted on a tripod, our TV technician panned the camera from left to right all evening to show the more than 300 socialites gathered. Without a floor director to give us signals, our cameraman would pan back to Vero and me as we made one-liner jokes a la Bob Hope. We were quite hilarious.

It was a soft opening without any fanfare. There was no press conference or special program with dancing girls to mark the first official telecast the way new product launchings are done today. We had 10 national advertisers to sponsor the show even though there must have been only 200 black and white TV sets throughout the country at the time.

We capped the evening’s program with a children’s show and some classical kundiman songs rendered by a popular soprano whose name I cannot remember. We signed off at around 9:30 pm after inviting the guests and televiewers to "tune in again at 6 pm tomorrow for that classic movie The Count of Monte Cristo." I was afraid Judge Quirino would end the telecast with an appeal to reelect his brother, then-President Elpidio Quirino, but to his credit he did not do so.

In the next 6 months after that initial TV broadcast, the job of sustaining a four-hour daily program from 6 pm to 10 pm was absolutely chaotic. In the mornings I would call on the foreign embassies, oil companies, academic institutions, and film distributors to borrow 16mm black and white films and schedule these for the day’s programming. Many of the films were cartoons like Popeye the Sailor, Mickey Mouse, or Donald Duck. Sometimes I would schedule employee relations films like "Telephone Etiquette" or "How to Deal with Subordinates." Occasionally I would be lucky to borrow The Three Musketeers or The Great Dictator. In making the program lineup, I would use a mechanical film counter to determine how many minutes and seconds the film would run. 

Fast forward 

In June 1955, President Magsaysay granted the Manila Chronicle its broadcasting franchise, which led to the founding of the Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN) in September 1956. A year later in 1957, Alto Broadcasting System (ABS) and Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN) merged to become ABS-CBN.

In a conversation I had with Geny Lopez in 1957 after the ABS-CBN merger, he vowed that the new network would aim, first and foremost, “to be in the service of the Filipino.” 

What has ABS-CBN done in the service of the Filipino? This is the accusing, if not sarcastic, question many administration allies ask, including well-meaning friends from Facebook and the literary sector. (READ: [OPINION] The ABS-CBN hearings: A theater of the absurd)

To contemporary ears, “in the service of the Filipino” may sound like a standard corporate mission statement.  But as a public relations and advertising professional for most of my life, I know that, aside from providing valuable news, public service information, and grassroots entertainment, ABS-CBN, GMA-7, and other broadcasting firms have helped multinational companies sell billions of pesos worth of their products and services by advertising over radio-TV. This has benefited not only the multinational advertisers but the millions of Filipino consumers as well, by allowing an easier distribution of goods and services to satisfy a public need. (READ: [OPINION] Thoughts on press freedom, from an ABS-CBN employee)

Broadcast advertising: A boon to the economy

The total adspend in 2017 by the members of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Philippines (4A’s) amounted to P401.9 billion. That’s about 1% of our GDP and that’s just across the 3 media of TV, radio, and print, not yet counting the adspend in online and digital media.    

Of the P401.9 billion adspend, TV accounted for the lion’s share with 79.7%, followed by radio (17.2%) and print (3.1%). In other words, multinational companies such as Unilever, Procter and Gamble, and  Colgate Palmolive, and local companies including Jollibee Food Corp, RFM Ice Cream, United Laboratories, and others, spent about P390 billion in 2017 on ABS-CBN and other broadcast stations to disseminate information about their products and services throughout the Philippines.

Arguably, these huge consumer adspends benefited us consumers and the national economy as a whole because they gave people more information about products, which boost the competition, resulting in reduced prices across the board. In effect, ABS-CBN made purchasing easier for consumers by providing fact sheets about the place and availability of goods, the prices, points of superiority, and other relative merits. 

ABS-CBN teaches modern agriculture to farmers

On a personal level, I can vouch that ABS-CBN has productively helped teach modern agriculture to farmers by radio. From 1965 to 1970, as PR Communication head of Esso Standard Fertilizer and Agricultural Chemical Co. (ESFAC), I produced 24 weekly Tiyo Essong radio farm programs in 24 local radio stations throughout the Philippines, mostly over ABS-CBN, with ABS-CBN’s Ben Viduya as main anchor in Manila. 

Two persons managed each program: a content script writer who had to be an extension worker, and the radio staff announcer. In the Ilocos region, the script was in Ilocano; in the Cebuano areas, it was in Cebuano; it was Ilonggo for Panay island, and so forth. My staff worked closely with each provincial scriptwriter. We designed Tiyo Essong programs to align with the various cropping seasons. For instance, our program in Isabela would follow the cropping season for tobacco, and our program in rice areas would be designed likewise. Our objective was not to give the farmer a diploma but to give him fundamental, practical lessons through radio, including domestic economy, health practices, environment preservation, etc.

For general information about soil analysis, irrigation, and fertilizer and pesticides application, we had ready-made scripts for the writer. Tiyo Essong was not a farming school on the air; it was a let's-do-it-together farming procedure that was relevant in the province where the program was aired. We produced a Radio Farm Program Manual for each scriptwriter, and we met with the radio announcers once every 3 months to upgrade their skills on how to talk informally with the farmers. 

Thanks to ABS-CBN, our Tiyo Essong radio farm programs helped, over the years, to increase our national rice production from a mere 35 to 90 cavans per hectare. – Rappler.com

Charlie Agatep is the Chairman and CEO of Grupo Agatep, Inc. He is an ex-professor of Public Relations and Journalism at the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters.

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