The raised voice, the fury: Nalzaro is still at it although, he says, his thrust is issue-based, not personality directed. Bañoc thinks the practice has long been abandoned, “if indeed it existed.”

Radio commentators are soldiers of the airwaves.

They come armed with opinions and ideas, and their mission is, with voices modulated or not, to infiltrate minds and hearts, and provoke thought on issues of the day.

When successful, their commentaries spark a revolution in the consciousness of listeners and foment in them ideas that depose the empire of apathy.  

To the actual subject of commentary — wayward public servants and others — a broadcaster’s words are bullets that wound the ego. “Toytoy,” “hanggaw,” “kuwanggol” and “amaw” are potent Cebuano adjectives, verbal bombs that form part of a wider arsenal of dark humor.  

But colonizers of the minds and emotions radio commentators are not. Their primary role is to present truths framed on their observation and insight of the current state of affairs.

The ultimate decision on whether to believe the commentator falls on the listener.

In Cebu, radio commentators employ different styles.

Broadcasters who are also lawyers can use their knowledge of the law in forming opinions. Those who are well-read use lessons of various histories to discuss societal problems. The street-smart, meanwhile, convey complex national and local issues in simple language.

In this article, veteran broadcast commentators Bobby Nalzaro and Lloyd Suarez of DySS, Jason Monteclar and Eric Manait of DyCM, and Atty. Ruphil Bañoc of DyHP, talk about the nature of their work and the challenges they face in a digital era.

They may have different voices and armed with different views, but democracy assures that their voices are heard. 

Has bombast gone from the local radio commentaries?

Bobby Nalzaro (Contributed Photo)

Nalzaro: Most AM radio programming format in news and public affairs are still adopting the so-called hard-hitting commentaries. One of the techniques in delivering a commentary is to raise your voice and be bombastic to emphasize a point and be more authoritative. But it is issue-oriented, not personality based. Maybe, some block-timers are still resorting to personality attack, but not much in station-produced programs because we are guided with our company policy.

Bañoc: Insofar as RMN (Radio Mindanao Network, DyHP’s mother company) is concerned, the practice has long ceased, if indeed it existed. We endeavor to bring our discussions to a higher level, focusing on issues. While the commentary may be straight to the point and sometimes hard-hitting, it will not go below the belt and beyond the limits of the law and ethics of broadcasting.

Monteclar: No. It is still here and it is boring. We can play angry on-air and not being a bore.  

Suarez: No. It is still existing since there are government personalities who are subjects of commentaries who also attack us. Some of them do not confront the issue at hand like Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña.

Manait: I guess not. Hard-hitting commentaries are still effective on-air. Although it depends on the program handler how he would present the issue to make it easier for the public. For me, I still prefer issue-based commentaries, not personality-based attacks.  

What have been the changes, if any, during the last few years?

Monteclar thinks live video streaming is “feeding the ego” of the radio commentator. Manait says the Facebook live helps in competing with social media. Bañoc says the talk show host is compelled by the changes to improve substance, professionalism and objectivity. Suarez the new climate augurs well for responsible journalism.

Bañoc: I believe the changes occurred in tri-media, not just radio. The changes is in terms of substance and how we now tackle issues with utmost professionalism and objectivity, bearing in mind that people can now express their opinions on social media.  

Jason Monteclar (Contributed Photo)

Monteclar: Local radio commentaries have found a new life passion: watching themselves on live video streaming. It’s something new. And it’s feeding our egos.

Nalzaro: In news and public affairs kind of programming, there is not much change because radio commentators are dealing with issues on daily basis. But you have to balance your presentation because you have several sets of listeners: the seniors and millennials; the professionals and your everyday people. And in view of the new technology, there are little changes in the program format, but it’s more on the technical aspects that support the entire program production.

Manait: There is a little change. Social media, however, is one of our great competitors. Apan Maka-FB Live na pod ka while doing your program. Ha-ha.

Suarez: In general, the basic elements and tenets of responsible journalism have been properly observed by us. That is being fair by getting the other side of the story. We also impose the sense of professionalism in our field.  

What are the “new” devices, changes in format that have been introduced? How about interaction with audience? Why have they been dropped by some commentators?

Some barriers between news and opinion have been struck down. Mixing news and “infomercials” with the commentary is the new trend, says Monteclar. “We can talk about a complex world event or some intricate state policy while selling coffee or a herbal diet supplement.”

Monteclar: Radiomen are themselves have become a platform. Mixing news and commentaries with infomercials is the new trend. We can talk about complex world events or discuss intricate state policies while selling morning coffee or herbal dietary supplement. And I am guilty of it. We are all merchants here. Others sell the truth while some sell products. And radiomen sell both.    

The problem with audience interaction is that it creates a false sense of listenership. Most commentators are definitely craving for audience interaction but for whatever reason when callers become scarce, then it becomes every radioman’s worst nightmare.  Therefore, it is wise to get rid of it before it becomes too addictive.

Suarez: In my case, I always allow interaction and read the opinions listeners send via text message. It may have been dropped by some commentators due to time constraints, to make way for commercials and advertisements queued for airing.  

Manait: Actually, I appreciate listeners who interact during my program, either by call or text. Gusto nako saw-an ang isyu and I guess sharing ideas is greater rather than ikaw ray magpamaayong laki. Sometimes, dili kalikayan magka-trokis sa opinion but still I respect them. I guess, programming in radio is just like politics. In addition, di gyod ko manginsulto og tigpaminaw.

Nalzaro: Again, in the advent of new technology like cellular phone, text messages, FB, Twitter and the social media etc., the feedback mechanism is very fast and on real time. Most of the news and commentary programs are now interactive. Listeners can interact to the programs through these platforms even if they are on the road and outside of their residences. If some commentators dropped this aspect maybe its because of commercial load. We have to prioritize the airing of commercials because that radio’s bread and butter. Interactive format is time consuming.

Bañoc: Aside from the traditional radio sets, our broadcast can also be accessed through the Internet and it can be heard live online. It cannot be said that interactions are dropped because we always do our best to get all the sides affected on a certain issue. As to the interaction with audience, we still have programs in the evening with time allocated for it so that people can also express their opinions on certain issues. These days interaction can come in many forms such as text messages. That is one way for us to get feedback from our audience.  

For you, what is the advantage and disadvantage of using “laugh out” breakers?

Most commentators use canned sound effects such as “laugh-out” breakers. They cite usefulness: as breaker (Nalzaro), emphasis on or support to the opinion (Suarez), “a caricature in print” (Bañoc), a “psychological device to convince themselves they’re interesting without the substance” (Monteclar). But they agree the device can be awkward and inappropriate If ill-timed and misplaced. Their lawyers may also advise that LOL immediately following a verbal attack helps to prove malice in any libel case that arises from the broadcast.

Eric Manait (Contributed Photo)

Nalzaro: Sound effects and other canned productions like laughter and jock shouts can compliment the entire program presentation. It gives a sort of a breaker from serious discussions of hottest issues of the day and make the program more relaxing.

Suarez: The advantages is it helps emphasize conclusions and opinion. But it sounds awkward when it is unnecessary and inappropriate.

Manait: Karon ra man ko ni adopt aning ‘laugh outs.’ During my Bombo Radyo days, we don’t use such kay gusto sa management nga bunal ras drum ang gamiton. He-he.  Right now, I use ‘laugh outs’ na and I think okey siya. Mogamit man lang ko og ‘laugh outs’ kun magpakatawa kos mga listeners but if serious issues na, seryoso pod ko.

Bañoc: It may be the radio’s version of caricature in print. The advantage is that aside from discussing the issue substantially, we also entertain our audience. It will make a heavy issue seem a little lighter and make it easier for audiences to absorb. It can make our audience awake also especially in the early morning programs. The disadvantage is when one accidentally uses the wrong stinger which is inappropriate to the topic discussed.  

Monteclar: Canned laughter is a psychological device used by most radiomen to convince themselves that they can still be interesting without the substance. If we cannot convince the public through content, then we confuse them with fake laughter. It’s actually a secret weapon we use to make ourselves contagious. You know, misery loves company.

How do you cope with criticisms of personal or political bias, being paid or on payroll of some politician, or outright vendetta against their target?

Bias? A commentary program is opinionated, meaning the commentator has bias. Bañoc says the opinion though must be based on facts and the truth. Nalzaro says listeners have the choice to accept or reject the commentator’s stand. On bias being influenced by pay-off or personal enmity? “What is important is the conscience is clear,” says Bañoc. They can “criticize me freely about anything as long as it is not the truth,” says Monteclar.

Manait: You know what, I respect block-timers nga gibayran og pulitiko, nya mag-program sa radio basta dili lang gyod mamersonal. Dili na lang ta magminaot, tanan nagkinahanglan og kwarta. Naa ra nimo kon imo bang tukbon ang paon nga makadaot or makaayo nimo. Ana lang.

Monteclar: When people start to agree with me sometimes I feel I must be wrong. We all know that  flattery can be worse than criticism. However, people can freely criticize me of anything as long as it is not the truth.

Lloyd Suarez

Suarez: On record, I am not being paid or under the payroll of politicians, but personal or political biases cannot be avoided. We are vulnerable to the personal vendetta and suspicion [of the subject of our commentaries] because, as program handlers, we often play the adversarial role. And how to cope with them? It has been my practice that I neither tackle political issues nor interview aspiring candidates before the election period set by the Comelec.  

Bañoc: This is a problem which is common to print, radio and TV. It is expected that there are personalities who would accuse you of bias. We cannot please everybody. What is important is that the conscience is clear. Also, the commentary program is an opinion program. There is bias. What is important is that the opinion is based on facts and the bias is anchored on truth.  

Nalzaro:   Commentators, like columnists, are really biased because we have to come up with our personal stand on a certain issue. Well, it’s the listeners’ discretion whether to be positive or negative about the commentator’s stand. That’s the essence of democracy. According to Voltaire; “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” On the accusation that commentators are on the “take,” well, as long as your conscience is clear, there is no problem about it. That’s their perception.