By Anjo Bagaoisan
Zandro and Zhander were both outside the room when it happened.
It was a party—the 30th anniversary bash of DZMM last October 4 to be exact—and yet Zandro was working the remote TeleRadyo booth outside the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Pasay, interviewing Radyo Patrol veterans for a live broadcast.
“Bigla akong pinabalik ng PA [program associate], sabi kailangan ako sa loob. E hindi naman ako sasayaw! (A PA suddenly called me back to the ballroom, saying I was needed inside. But I wasn’t scheduled to dance!)” he said.
Inside, Zandro saw ABS-CBN Integrated News head Ging Reyes and his boss, DZMM news gathering chief Edwin Sevidal, standing on the stage. Knowing what it meant, he fought tears as he walked towards them.
He and Zhander already had an inkling of this early in the night, but decided not to expect much. They even thought it might not happen since the program was already ending then.
Zhander was taking pictures with work mates then. Someone opened the ballroom door and called out to him: “Hoy pumunta ka ng stage (Hey, go up the stage)!”
“Noong nakita ko na naglalakad si Zandro on stage, alam ko na (When I saw Zandro also going up, I knew).”
Zandro Ochona, Radyo Patrol 48, and Zhander Cayabyab, Radyo Patrol 49, finally got the numbers they’ve been waiting and working for for 5 years.
Getting that number, a.k.a. a call sign, is the dream of journalists who apply to become a Radyo Patrol, the tag for DZMM’s band of reporters. Zandro and Zhander are the latest to get theirs in a tradition begun and kept alive throughout the station’s 30 years.
It’s a unique version of the journalist’s rite of passage only possible with the specs of radio.
The stories of how these Radyo Patrol (RP) earned and received their numbers vary. But they are common in the reporters’ need to prove themselves as effective news gatherers and storytellers and the pride and responsibility they ultimately felt upon their initiation into an envied group.
And that number sticks, even beyond retirement.
“It’s just like when you’re in the NBA, when you retire from basketball, hina-hang yung jersey mo,” said Vic Lima, Radyo Patrol 3.
Vic moved to DZMM from ABS-CBN TV News in 1988 and has stayed with the station ever since. Even after leaving the field, he’s still addressed in the DZMM newsroom as “Tres”.
Anthony Taberna, Radyo Patrol 28, called the DZMM call sign a “badge of honor”.
“Para kang nanalo ng gold medal. Tapos parang sinagot ako ng nililigawan ko. Sobrang saya,” he said.
(It’s like you won a gold medal, and then the person you’re courting answers yes. Very happy.)
Dindo Amparo, Radyo Patrol 26, described it as the mark of an “exclusive and elite group” which he never forgot even as he moved to ABS-CBN television and even went abroad to head its Middle East bureau. He eventually got to lead ABS-CBN Integrated News Gathering, which now oversees both TV and radio teams.
For Dexter Ganibe, Radyo Patrol 45 and one of the more recent initiates, getting the number simply meant one had imbibed the DZMM battle cry of being “Una sa balita, una sa public service (first in news, first in public service).”
* * *
Radyo Patrol’s origins go way before DZMM’s launch in 1986, when ABS-CBN patriarch Eugenio Lopez Jr. dreamt of a news-based public service radio station with a roving group of reporters.
The concept was first implemented in ABS-CBN’s first AM station DZAQ, unceremoniously inaugurated with the blow-by-blow coverage of the collapse of the Ruby Tower in the earthquake of 1968.
Radyo Patrol was later transplanted to sister station DZXL, which had shifted to an all-talk, all-news format.
The patrol numbers then were attached to the mobile units used by the reporters—Land Cruisers fitted with a radio set and generator.
Orly Mercado, who headed the first Radyo Patrol, said they got four units for the original reporters: Mario Garcia, Cris Daluz, Ismael Reyes and Jun Ricafrente.
“Apat lang ang number noon tapos dahil number ‘yon ng mobile unit. Ang tao noon walang number. At relyebo yan. Ang aming equipment ay hindi gaanong kagaling pero it was the best during that particular time,” Orly said.
(There were only four numbers because these were the numbers of the mobile unit. The people had no numbers. And it was on rotation. Our equipment was not that good but it was the best during that particular time.)
With no mobile units after EDSA, the numbers for the revived Radyo Patrol under DZMM shifted to the radio handsets issued to reporters. And with it came the tradition of awarding those coveted call signs.
Claude Vitug, Radyo Patrol 2 and later head of DZMM news gathering before moving to ABS-CBN News, says the process is not easy.
“Hindi lang siya anim na buwan, pwedeng tumatagal na taon. Pwedeng nakakaere ka na, pero wala ka pang Radyo Patrol number. Under ka pa rin ng pagsubok, pagsubaybay, pagsiyasat ng mga kapwa mo reporter na isang araw, dalawang araw sa isang taon, eh magbobotohan para sasabihin kung magkakaroon ka ng numero o hindi, or kung magpapatuloy ka pa o hindi,” he said.
(It’s not just six months. It can last years. You may already be reporting on air, but still have no number. You are still being tested and observed by your fellow reporters until one day twice a year, they would vote if you would get your number or not, or if you would continue or not.)
* * *
Those two instances are DZMM’s Christmas party or the station’s anniversary, as when Zandro and Zhander got their numbers.
Sometimes, the call sign is given without fanfare.
“One day, they were calling out a number on the radio: ‘3-7, 3-7’,” said Radyo Patrol 37 Edwin Sevidal.
“I assumed that wasn’t me, so I didn’t answer. And then they called my name: ‘Edwin! Ayaw mo ba ng numero (Don’t you want a number)?’ Of course I did!”
Edwin, who now trains this generation’s RPs as the current head of DZMM news gathering, got his number a year after starting.
Whether it took one or five years, most Radyo Patrol look back to one or many defining news coverages that helped them earn their keep as reporters.
Henry Omaga Diaz, Radyo Patrol 14, applied to DZMM from Radio Veritas in 1991 and was immediately deployed to cover the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in his first week.
“Ilang linggo kaming natulog doon na practically na nag-settle, halos isang buwan. Baptism of fire. Dati, pag nakapag-report ka na, pwede ka na umuwi. Ngayon, bigla na lang, every 5, every 10 minutes, lalong-lalo na kapag may nangyayaring malaki sa lugar mo, kailangan nasa ere ka. Tatawagin ka na lang basta. Dun lang ako nashock. Ganito pala yun,” he said.
(We slept there for a few weeks and practically settled there for almost a month. Baptism of fire. Before [in Veritas], once you aired a report, you could go home. Now, every 5 or 10 minutes, you need to be on the air at one. They would suddenly call you. That shocked me. This was how they did it.)
Henry got his number just after his probationary period of six months. For him, it was like gaining knighthood and being dubbed ‘Sir’.
Junry Hidalgo’s call sign, Radyo Patrol 31, is doubly significant for him since he got it on December 31, 2000.
“Nakakatuwa kasi sa isang grupo ng mga reporter dito sa Maynila, tinanggap nila ang isang katulad ko na probinsyano (I was glad because a group of reporters in Manila accepted a provincial person like me),” he said.
The Lucena, Quezon native who says he became a reporter after buying a cheeseburger for his younger sibling got his number a day after covering the deadly Rizal Day bombings that killed 22 all over Metro Manila.
* * *
For others like Anthony Taberna, Dexter Ganibe and Radyo Patrol 42 Dennis Datu, it was not one but a succession of stories they broke that set the news agenda and was followed up by the rest of the media.
Dennis started as DZMM’s Batangas correspondent in 2006 when he was still in college and then moved to DZMM Manila just before graduating.
“Sabi kasi nila marami raw akong malalaking storya na ibinigay. Lagi daw may breaking news na ibibigay, nauuna. Pero iniisip ko pag binabalikan ko, parang normal na lang naman na nag-report ako dahil yun ang trabaho ko. ‘Di ko inakala na mahalaga pala–talagang binabantayan pa nila yung bawat pagre-report,” Dennis said.
(They said I contributed many major stories. I always had breaking news to deliver first. But when I think back on it, it just seemed normal that I had these reports because that was my job. I didn’t think it was that important—that every report was really being monitored.)
Being relentless in getting news and sticking with the story is just part of the blend Claude Vitug says they look for in a prospective Radyo Patrol.
“Ang tawag namin yung taginting sa ere. Yung parang ‘pag nagbukas ka ng sopdrinks, meron siyang fizz. Yung tunog Radyo Patrol.
“Kasama doon yung paano niya dine-describe ang isang storya. Paano niya dine-deliver on air. So marami siyang hinahanap kaming timpla, bukod doon sa character, yung integridad, yung dedikasyon sa trabaho,” he said.
(We call that resonance on the air. Like if you open a soft drink, there’s a fizz–the Radyo Patrol Sound. Part of that resonance we’re looking for is how they describe a story, how they deliver it on air. So we’re looking for a lot in the blend, aside from character, integrity and dedication to work.)
It’s largely a band of brothers, but there are also some women who have earned their numbers, like Radyo Patrol 16 Ruby Tayag, who has been assigned everywhere since 1990—except Mindanao. She was only there once for the signing of the peace agreement in 2015.
“Itinuring ka rin nilang parang lalaki. Kung ano iyong kino-cover nila, ganon din icocover sa iyo. Kasi sa Radyo Patrol naman per area, ‘di ba? Kahit anong pumutok doon sa lugar mo, sa iyo iyon,” she said.
(They also treated me like a man. Whatever they cover, I’ll also cover. It’s all per area anyway. Whatever news breaks in your area is yours to cover.)
Ruby, the last standing of only 4 female Radyo Patrol, now helps mentor 2 women hoping to get their own call signs–Raya Capulong and Angel Movido.
It doesn’t stop when they get that number. For newly-minted Radyo Patrol, the need to continuously prove themselves and improve only grows.
Jorge Cariño, Radyo Patrol 27, felt that when he got his call sign after a year on the field in 1995.
“Nadagdagan pa yung responsibilidad ko. Ang feeling ko wala na akong karapatang magkamali ngayon. Feeling ko lalo akong nawalan ng karapatan na ma-late, um-absent. Ang pakiramdam ko noon, kung sakaling may malaking problema ang bansang ito, we have to be there,” he said.
(My responsibilities grew. I felt I no longer had a right to make mistakes. I felt I lost my right to come in late or go absent. I felt then that if there was a big problem in the country, we have to be there.)
“Because it’s during the darkest hours that we get to shine.”
With interviews by ABS-CBN’s DocuCentral. Many thanks to Hera Sanchez and her team for allowing me access to their transcripts.
For the full DZMM story, watch the documentary “30/630 (Trenta/Sais-Trenta): Kuwento ng DZMM” on October 9, 2016, 11:30 pm. on ABS-CBN 2’s Sunday’s Best. It also plays October 10, 5 p.m. and October 15, 6 p.m. on DZMM TeleRadyo.