eK! is electronic Kabalen (eksite.com), a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

tec sanchez-tolosa
tec sanchez-tolosa I WAS in a Quezon City mall last Friday, on my usual bumming around-slacker mode. Yes, I give myself a healthy dose of such days; more so now, as I get older. There is a real palpable need for me to get out of my routines and shake off responsibility, to let my hair down (andyang kakuyad ku na buak). Malling is one of my favorite pastimes, whether or not I get to buy stuff while at it.

I took my time inside the mall's appliance store. There were refrigerators, air conditioners, gas ranges, washing machines, and stereo component systems, plasma television sets, DVD/CD/MP3 players and recorders— all lined up like beauty pageant candidates at their best poses presented for judging, or like little grade schoolers queuing for Monday morning inspection. These were the big items, and the display area was maynge, masala, and makapangaklak. My mental conditioning dictates that within minutes I find myself in a place where there is continuous loud music/noise/conversation, na sakit na ku buntuk. My muscles would tense and my eyes would feel like they were going to pop out any moment. This comes as a consequence of many years of exposure to my hypertensive mother's aversion to places and situations where something raucous or ear-splitting is happening. Hence, as a logical means of self-preservation, I had to stroll away from the store's high-end, high-decibel items, and chill out instead near the memory sticks, cellphones, and earphones. Safe.

There, beside the interesting small-sized electronic toys, were the AM/FM radios equipped with tape recorders. The basic garden variety. Hey, I thought, atin pa palang makanini. For the past few years, most people I knew would listen to songs and watch movies on digital formats. Ala na yatang magpa-tape, purus na la magpa-burn. Tuner functions come merely as a standard feature of average music or viewing systems, say on a bulky 5.1 4800-W set with central and surround speakers. (But these gadgets you can't and don't bring to bed.) What used to be to-die-for portable radio/tape recorders in the late 70's/early 80's have become a thing of the past.

It is a past that I know, and remember, well. At least in terms of the music and melodies, the memories and the meaning, that shaped it.

I was perhaps seven the first time that the radio entered my consciousness as a tool for communication and entertainment. Imagine this: A small apartment in the heart of Sampaloc; a thin, gangly Grade One Kapampangan kid under the care of a mid-fifties Kapampangan single woman; in the early years of martial law. No TV, no cable, no newspaper subscription, no telephone lines, no Internet. Life, as simple as it gets. I was "left" in the custody of my mother's maiden aunt, the same one who took care of her when she was orphaned at thirteen. Alaw, as we all called her, had a radio. The rectangular hard plastic type that ran on batteries. When they were low on energy, she would flip over the back pane— which I think was made of lawanit— to replace them with new ones. I'm not sure if there were any FM stations then, or if she simply did not listen to them. But I certainly remember waking up to the rhythm and words of "May bagong silang, may bago nang buhay..." and other trademark jingles of the New Society and the Green Revolution. Or the early morning news that began with Ngongo's call-out "Manaan manamis!," promoting a brand of cigarette. (Pardon me, it was the only name I knew of that guy, and 1973 was light years away from the era of politically correct terms.) I suppose Alaw had an easier time rousing me from sleep at six every morning with the radio turned on. Pavlovian conditioning from one who did not even know Pavlov.

Pretty soon I left Grade One and moved up the ladder of elementary success. Little by little I discovered the other secrets and delights of AM radio. These were shaped, of course, by Alaw's taste that perfectly matched her penchant for maman. It was a part of me I did not share with anyone from my school. It was probably natural at that age to fear being labelled "different" (the term "baduy" would be born some years later) by classmates who watched The Partridge Family, their eight-year old hearts smitten with then kasibul-sibulan a David Cassidy. I, on the other hand, maintaining the precarious balance that was to characterize my entire life's dual orientation, defined leisure by listening to Mga Mata Ni Angelita at 10 am, Simatar at 12 nn, and Mr. Lonely at 1:30. Once in a while, I tuned in to the poetic wisdom of Tiya Dely. But always, I fed my nightmares with the screams on the unforgettable Gabi ng Lagim.

Sometime later, in what was to be a turning point in my radio-enamored childhood, somebody whispered "FM"—and things were never the same again. It was like a whole new land to conquer. Or a black and white world turning full color. Words like "mellow" and "soft" (that before referred only to cotton candy and pillows, as far as I was concerned) wafted into my vocabulary, along with the songs that exemplified them. Then came "light rock" and "folk." (Good thing I never liked metal and hard rock: the images of guys in black leather, tongues sticking out, were things that in my Catholic school-bred twelve-year old mind bordered on the forbidden.) There was some appeal to Bonnie Tyler's soulful and throaty rendition of "If I Sing You a Love Song," same with Carly Simon's "The Spy Who Loved Me." Eric Clapton was of course wonderful with "Wonderful Tonight" as were the Commodores with "Still." Time and again, I wondered when I could sing "This Girl Has Turned into a Woman" without flinching. At least I got away with "Torn Between Two Lovers."

OPM became a mantra for us children of the Metropop era. It was mandatory for stations to play original Pilipino music; I remember it was an afternoon in Grade 6— I was writing my Math homework on a graphing notebook— when I first heard the strains of Freddie Aguilar's "Bulag, Pipi at Bingi." When the disc jockey mentioned the composer's name, I immediately reacted with "Atin palang lagyung Snaffu ne?" It was also the time of the twelve-year old Sharon Cuneta who held much appeal for many: for girls who wanted to be like her, Mommies who wanted their girls to be like her, and boys who wanted girls like her. Dinaya ku balugbug keng pamakiramdam at mengapayus keng pamagkantang "Mr. DJ," "Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko," "Hagkan," and "Mahal Kita, Mahal Mo Siya, Mahal Niya Ay Iba" (the quintessential love triangle anthem of our youthful broken hearts).

The family's first AM/FM radio with tape recorder was a gift from an aunt in the States, and it came with instructions: "Ini gamitan ye ban kayung makapag-voice tape kaku neng matamad kayung susulat." Not too many families then ventured in migration. It was often the case that only one or a few members of the family were abroad. Since there were not many phone lines in existence, the main avenues for pamangomusta were through letters and voice tapes sent by snail mail.

The tape recorder proved to be useful beyond that calling. Soon after FM became a basic necessity, I quickly learned the bisyu of sleeping with the radio beside me, like a security blanket or some beloved stuffed toy. It was alright that the lights be turned off at night, basta titigtig ya ing radyu ku. Ku. Already I had labelled it as mine. It became my companion through many nights, as I discovered the art of "taping." I kept myself awake till the wee hours of the morning, manabat kareng paboritung kanta a mas madalas dang patigtigan neng galing-aldo. Add to that, DJ's were less loquacious when it was dark; I truly hated having to retape an entire song just because the DJ blurted out some pa-cute, smart-alecky, pa-pogi line near the end. The controls I worked to wear and tear, as I pressed record-play, rewind, forward, editing song after song for my compilation. There were not too many recording stores then; the few ones in Raon charged three pesos per song. Pretty steep then. And so I did it my way: night after night I listened to, and recorded, my favorite songs. I knew them all by heart: the works of Barry, Bruce and Kenny, Lionel and Diana, Air Supply, Peter Cetera. Perhaps I annexed a song to every event, and kept some memory alive with a specific melody.

It was a romance with AM/FM that burned hot, but that eventually burned itself out. I was having a good time, but there were other things that waited to be done. Before I knew it— just like Peter Pan's Wendy— I had grown up and wandered away. The songs kept riding the airwaves even as I had stopped listening.

But like true love that never dies (cliché, cliché), the affair was rekindled that Friday afternoon at the mall. Some feelings you truly never outgrow. All you need is one look, and then you remember.

I am now the proud owner of a little 380-W radio/recorder that sings into in my ear at night.

[About the author. Tec Sanchez-Tolosa, MD is a full-blooded Kapampangan and a mother of three. A member of Pinoypoets since 2006, she is the author of the Kapampangan poetry collection "Ing Bie Kung Delanan, Ing Bie Kung Balikan (2006)." Some of her poems have been published in emanilapoetry and the online poetry journal Makata. While enrolled in her M.A. Creative Writing program, she was included in the anthology Sleepless in Manila. Tec is also a seasoned medical writer, with printed works in health publications and major dailies. She worked briefly with the ABS-CBN Foundation as a scriptwriter/researcher in the early stages of Sine'skwela. Raised in Manila and educated in St. Theresa's College during her formative years, she is a product of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where she graduated with a B.S. in Biology. She later became a Doctor of Medicine and trained in diseases of the skin, hair and nails. She is now a Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS) Board-certified Dermatology specialist with an active practice in San Fernando, Pampanga and Quezon City.]

-Posted: 1:22 AM 3/18/07 | More of this author on eK!

Roy Shelton writes...

It was a journey that I have not taken for many years. Reading Tec Sanchez Tolosa's essay on AM FM radio took me back to the 50's (much earlier than Tec's memories) to my first awareness of the magic of radio.

I was in the third grade at Lourdes Elementary School in Angeles living in our house on Jesus Street, I remember walking home cutting through a neighborhood where each house had their windows windows wide open and radios blaring "Ilaw ng tahanan" (every radio in the neighborhood on the same station), I would follow the story line all the way home.

I loved the advertising jingles of Purico (mantekang pantahanan) and Proctor and Gambles bar laundry soap. I can still sing the jingles.

On Tuesday evenings our maid and sitter and I would sidle to the radio to listen to the adventures of my hero, Kapitan Kidlat, and his trusty sidekick, Ramon. Whenever Kapitan Kidlat gets ready to chase the bad guys, he would take to the air (yes, Kapitan Kidlat can fly) and call out to Ramon, "kapit Ramon," (I imagined him clinging to Kapitan Kidlat's neck) and Ramon would answer "ready kap."

I still love the radio. I listen to music but most of the time I listen to NPR (National Public Radio) and relish the weekends when I can listen to the modern "radio stories."

Thanks Tec for the nudge to a pleasant radio journey.

-Posted/Via Email: 21 March 2007

The author Tec Sanchez-Tolosa replies...

Hello Roy. I thank you for reading my article. It is always a joy for a writer to know that somebody reads his work; more so when the reader shares and identifies with the experience.

It is equally interesting to read your narrative of events that– yes, I agree– are much earlier than mine.

There is comfort in the memories of the old times. The Kapampangans that we are, we share cultural bonds and collective mental imprints that transcend locations and years - such that in this day and age, thousands of miles apart, we can smile as we traverse another person's account of how things were before.

Do continue reading and visiting eK! Warmest regards.

-Posted/Via Email: 23 March 2007

post Publish your comments...