Live blog: A day listening to 107.5 Win Radio

[Live blog is now up and running after the cut.] A little past midnight on 8 November 2010, a crowd of people massed outside the NU 107 studios in Ortigas, to listen to Chris Cruise introduce the very last song on the respected rock station: the Eraserheads’ “Ang Huling El Bimbo”. (Or, if you’ll trust the smartasses, the last song was actually the Philippine national anthem.) The following day, every alternative music fan’s fear was realized: NU 107 was going the masa route. Three and a half years later, Win Radio is a ubiquitous presence – I always hear it in stores and on public transportation, despite the fact that it’s not the buzziest of radio stations. Arguably it’s a bigger success than NU ever was, but then again, I’m saying this from a businessman’s perspective, and not a music fan. So, today, we’ll do one of our live blogs again, listening to one thing for a whole day – although not as much as our previous live blogs, just so we can square in to the good bits – trying to answer the question: what makes Win Radio tick? [NB]

07.05: Well, good morning. Let’s set this day up for background. I’m nursing a bit of a headache after a long trip back home last night. I’m running late for work because I was told at the last minute that I’ll have to go there alone. (I’m typing this in a long line for a shuttle.) And the mobile phone I usually use to listen to the radio for these live blogs won’t work, for some reason. So, no, today isn’t going any well. Thank heavens the blog is still on, for Win Radio has a proper live stream. Again, a proper audio stream, not a UStream channel.

07.17: A couple of ads. A baby saying “Win Radio!” four times. A couple more ads. That baby again. Talk about drilling in the brand. Anyway, we’re in the middle of Rhiko Mambo’s morning show. I haven’t heard much yet, because, again, I was fumbling for a stream.

07.29: I’m making a mental note of how many local songs I’m hearing. I heard two in this hour so far. There were also two foreign tracks, which leads me to ask: did Glee ever do a cover of “Titanium”? I should know, but I don’t. Not anymore.

07.43: Rhiko is on – first time I heard him this hour, and he’s doing an info bit on heatstroke. The surprising thing about Win Radio is how it tries to be formally topical – he’s citing tweets from the DOH right now – unlike other masa stations, focused solely on entertainment. Of course he can’t resist throwing in a couple of sound effects while telling is that getting heatstroke is dangerous.

That said, does he have his fingers on the wrong fader? The live stream is fading in and out (as opposed to buffering) and it’s making listening to the talky bits – the most important part of this whole blog – much more harder than it should be. Dammit, phone.

07.52: Since when was Passenger’s “Let Her Go” masa station material? Not that I’m saying it shouldn’t be, but I’m just surprised to hear this song here, of all places.

07.58: That’s four local songs this hour. Or five. I might’ve not counted one earlier.

08.14: The vehicle I’m in is tuned in to Energy FM and it just played “Let Her Go” too. I definitely missed the boat on that one.

08.18: The stream is buffering a hell lot now, which means I can’t make a proper connection between a traffic report (we hear less of that nowadays) and John Lennon’s “Imagine”, which followed it. But I’m sure I could make one out.

08.30: The music just went from one end of masa – gloopy ballads about heartbreak – to the other end: classic rock. John Lennon was followed by Cat Stevens, Eagles, and now, Queen’s “I Want To Break Free”. And I’m stuck in traffic now, which makes the song very appropriate.

Also, I want to break free from this stream. WMA streams buffer a hell lot despite a decent connection, and here we are.

08.41: Turns out I have some big office things to do, so the live blog might be as jittery as this stream. Nobody told me this would happen!

08.45: Rhiko asks his texters to spell everything out, because someone just texted that he’s from “Ros Batangas”. I’m pretty sure there’s no town there called Rosario. He’s got the same problem. There’s a girl with him now – midmorning host Lara A. – and they’re reading out greetings and the fader is still in the wrong place.

09.02: The Cranberries is a band you wouldn’t expect to hear on a masa station, but here you go. Must be a leftover from the NU 107 library. I think it’s still over there at the Win Radio studios. I mean, I just assume that.

09.15: That work-related interruption was shorter than expected. Lara A., who we heard from earlier today, is now on board. I’d say more but my stream is buffering again. But here’s some good news: the phone is now working! So that means no more unnecessary fading in and out. Or not. It died again. But at least there’s still a sliver of hope or something?

09.38: It’s been twenty minutes since my last update and I haven’t heard Lara speak. I remind myself that this is a masa station standard. Only the so-called “class” stations have the urge to shoehorn breaks between songs with features.

09.40: In between two ads (again) is a weird piece of production, anchored by an AM-style “gewwwwwwd morning!” only subverted in the end by having the “morning!” part said like a normal person would. And then, one ad. And then, that kid plugging the radio station’s website, And then, another ad.

09.45: Lara finally speaks. Apparently her segment is called Gabay ni Nanay – another anachronism by masa standards, because this definitely sounds like a morning talk show you’d usually see on TV. When every other masa station is bent on being funny or dramatic, this one is being all, “alam mo ba?” Right now she talks about the beginning of school, and then a bit of weather talk, particularly the uncertainty of weather. It was raining hard yesterday, after all.

“Kapag nakita mong kulay pula ‘yung ulap, ibig sabihin daw n’un, uulan,” she says, and it’s followed by the sound of a kid going “yaaaaaay!” That’s some sly humor right there.

09.53: Now, Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights”, a song I haven’t heard in a while. Although, yes, I know I have written about it. There’s something oddly interesting about Win Radio’s music policy. Sure, there are the typical suspects, but there’s also something, uhh, classy about everything I’ve heard today. It sounds a bit random and messy sometimes, I’ll admit, but it still sounds classy. Or maybe I’m just feeling receptive today. If I did this blog on a different day I would’ve been all furious, perhaps.

10.13: Once again, David Cook’s “Always Be My Baby” plays, and I feel some deep-seated anger inside, because, well, will any radio station here play another David Cook song, please?

10.31: Perhaps disappointingly, I haven’t heard anything other than a bunch of songs and your typical joke segment (which is always hit-or-miss, anywhere) in the past hour. Stations designed for background listening – it never translates well to a live blog like this. You end up wondering if anybody is still there. But perhaps that is part of the appeal of Win Radio: the fact that it just sits there while you do your thing. Not that I hate it. Not that I advocate radio stations that just go on and on and on. I just don’t like listening to something and feeling, you know, alone, like in an hour-long hold tape.

10.40: Lara returns with more news bits, now talking about rising oil prices (which strikes me as more for fathers than mothers) and slow sales of school supplies in Divisoria (which, well, appeals more to mothers). Again, the urge to do sound effects in between everything makes this a weird listen. “Stressful!” “Very bad!” “Cockadoodledoo!” Granted, it makes things less formal, but it just feels so busy and cheap. Rhiko didn’t go this far when I listened to him this morning. Anyway, it was a four-minute content bit, and then, it’s back to the music.

10.43: Contrary to what I said earlier, there is a town in Batangas called Rosario. I feel extra stupid because I was in the town of San Juan this weekend, and it’s beside Rosario.

10.56: “Ano sa Tagalog ang ‘because of you I feel no shame’? ‘Dahil sa’yo, naging walang hiya ako’!” Speaking of hit-or-miss joke segments…

11.02: Now, a sudden change of mood: Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care”. Reminds me of Win Radio’s thing, a year or so back, of playing Psy’s “Gangnam Style” at high noon flat. Also, I think this is a four-hour DJ-less stretch, so yep, I think Lara’s show just ended. Or I missed her say goodbye.

11.08: It’s weird hearing the relatively intense “Sexy And I Know It” followed by that kid saying “Win Radio!” four times.

11.21: Apparently Win Radio has a singing competition. I heard a plug featuring two contestants this week, and they’re, well, middling. The guy’s overdramatic. The girl’s got some weird enunciations. But more importantly, I actually think this would work on radio… if the whole singing thing was done live. Oh, apparently one of those two will go to the next round in a couple of hours time. Talk about timing, Niko.

11.36: I still don’t know who sang the rock-tinged version of “Titanium” Win Radio played this morning. They’re certainly playing the original version now.

That said, “Titanium” on DWNU-FM? Hell would freeze over if it was 2009.

12.13: Just came off lunch, so I have no idea if they still play “Gangnam Style” smack in the middle of lunch hour. But now they’re playing a weird, trumped-up version of “My Baby Shot Me Down” that’s not this one. Wait, it’s David Guetta. Well, that makes sense. Pop music, I really am out of your loop. But again, David Guetta on DWNU-FM?

12.18: And it’s quickly followed by “The Flame” as covered by Six Part Invention. Win Radio loves its car crash segues (this is the fourth today, I think, a high-energy dance tune followed by a somber ballad) and its lame Filipino covers of scratchy ballads. Granted, every masa station love this sort of song, but then again, you wonder why local music isn’t doing so well? Because all we seem to do are covers.

12.25: “Honey, anong binabasa mo at pinagpapawisan ka?” “Horror story!” “Anong pangalan?” “Mga utang natin!” It’s a good joke, I’ll say.

12.48: I now remember why I generally dislike radio stations going on automation.

13.11: I’m getting bored. It feels to me that Win Radio is taking “background listening” far too seriously.

It’s a problem Easy Rock also faces, but to be fair, that’s exactly what they’re ought to do. Which leads me to this: am I just expecting Win Radio to be like every other masa station, or am I expecting Win Radio to be a little different than the others? I have some evidence pointing towards the latter, if you ask me, but right now, it feels like the station is in between both modes. I don’t know what it’s ought to do. Well, except for being, well, “background listening”.

13.28: When I was mapping out this live blog – and I was planning to do this as early as January – I was expecting to be annoyed by that kid that says “Win Radio!” four times in a row. In theory, I should be annoyed at how that audio clip is now used on the station: with weird backing tracks – a chugging train one time, that “ahahahaha!” horn you often hear on jeepneys in another. Right now, I’m annoyed at how bored I’ve become – and not in the “I have a short attention span” sense, which I have grappled with in my other live blogs. I just feel so bored.

As I type that, Lara comes back on. Apparently she’s also handling the On Request program – your typical romance-tinged dedications program – and I feel a little better, knowing she’s still there, talking about dealing with a cold. Was she around the last hour? Did I miss her talk? Was I that bored? Anyway, in between all these stings, she reads text messages that all say “I love you” in one way or another.

13.59: Now, that kid that says “Win Radio!” accompanied by the sound of… are those falling bombs?

14.04: When Lara says that the station is “winner na winner sa katatawanan” I feel like she just lied to my face, expecting me to let it slip. I’m not writing this out of some deep hatred for masa stations – I like some of them, and even if I don’t, I can tell that they put some effort on how their output sounds. Win Radio feels very low-stakes, very half-arsed, very much like a placeholder for something better. And no, rock fans, that something better is not necessarily NU 107’s comeback.

14.17: This song playing right now immediately reminded me of Michael V.’s “Sinaktan Mo Ang Puso Ko”, only to realize that this song is a Michael V. song too. I’d rather hear his take on “Mas Mahal Na Kita Ngayon” than whoever’s singing right now – too serious. That said, I never thought I’d hear an obvious novelty song on the radio at this point in time. We’re long past “Otso-Otso” now, right?

14.23: I always attributed Win Radio’s surprising ubiquity to the fact that the 107.5 signal is very strong. It was always the case since its days as NU 107. If the flip was solely because the station wasn’t making any money – and, frankly, I don’t think it was losing money, considering the community of musicians and music lovers that formed around it, so to speak – then, arguably, a more mainstream format would do the signal very well.

But right now, as I type this, from the 19th floor of an office building in Ortigas – the Win Radio studios is a twenty-minute walk away – I’m getting interference from another radio station. That says little, though. Win Radio’s signal is still generally strong, and it’s the only station that overpowered Magic in my experience (as recorded here). Must be a weird atmosphere thing.

14.26: Lara talks about letting go of the one you love. Lovely build-up, ruined by yet another sound effect.

14.55: Masa stations can yield some pleasant songs – by my definition; yours will differ – but the whole idea of putting these songs alongside tired ballads, and tired covers of said ballads, just ruins it. I’m pretty sure this is a Yano song playing right now. Another one from the NU 107 library? And it’s followed by an old song with a killer saxophone intro. A ballad, but a killer saxophone intro. Yep, it’s all just my definition. Yours will differ.

14.59: This joke segment – I’ve seen this on Facebook. You’ve seen the one about the maid who speaks good English and always makes her bosses’ noses bleed? The one where she was finally commanded to not speak in English, only to speak in very deep Tagalog? That one.

15.02: “Mabuti pa ang chicken, may breast. Eh ikaw?” Johnny Mo’s now on board. Please don’t fade into the background like Lara did.

15.13: I’m surprised to report that this is the first time I’ve heard “Pusong Bato” today. In fact, I don’t think I heard Win Radio repeat a single song today. Maybe tonight, but still.

15.25: Johnny Mo goes a bit topical onus by making something out of Noynoy Aquino buying a Quarter Pounder with some of his cabinet members, complete with a description of the burger’s toppings. (Somebody reported on those toppings in depth? Really?) Then he segues into a bit of a reminisce on all of the burger stalls around the University Belt. (“Yung mga nasa fastfood? Boom panes ‘yan.”) At least you know he’s there, in the moment, talking to you. That’s better.

15.39: Now they repeat a song – but I first heard this song at around seven in the morning today. It’s this song from the Diary ng Panget soundtrack. Pleasant, but forgettable, save for the school test metaphor they use. That said, it should fit on some of the non-masa pop stations – but they wouldn’t touch this, right? Because it’s a very masa thing? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

15.51: I’d write about this selfie-themed song from Davey Langit that’s playing right now, but he uses “‘pag may time” on his lyrics and I am instantly turned off. But cute lyrics, cute despite the potential for annoyance: “ang pagiging maganda ay pogi, it ain’t a crime.”

16.31: Now, a news bulletin of sorts. It’s a bit more straightforward affair: a conversational read, no obvious set-up for a punchline, no chuckling sound effects. (There’s an applause sound effect though, but it’s used sparingly.) They also do this in the mornings – Rhiko Mambo’s shift starts at five in the morning, and I remember hearing him doing the headlines at around ten past six, and it was a similarly semi-formal affair.

This is something I found interesting about Win: the fact that a significant amount of their on-air content being news. That, considering that most of the masa stations in Manila are backed by reasonable news operations. (Win is backed by UNTV’s news operation, but unlike the station’s early days – and perhaps because UNTV now has an AM outfit – that connection isn’t made clear now.) The closest we have to this – and something that’s more formal – is Star FM’s 7.00 newscast. I always wondered why our masa stations don’t go this route, considering their resources.

16.50: Yep, songs are starting to rotate now. Roughly six hours. Not bad, Win Radio. Not bad.

17.10: You know, if this station spoke in English and ditched the talking baby, the detractors would probably consider adding this to their presets. Music-wise it doesn’t really rely on your typical masa station’s go-to songs. Right now they’re playing Simply Red’s “Stars”, which sounds more WRocK than WKC, if you think about it. And yet, to me, it works. It doesn’t dilute the mainstream feel of the whole thing, but it keeps things interesting – and I say this as a guy who listens occasionally to Love Radio.

17.23: Or maybe it’s because I actually have some of the songs Johnny Mo (who has, unfortunately, faded into the background now) is playing now, in my attempt to have a playlist that sounds like what I call a “classier masa station”. You know me. That said, Win Radio still feels a bit half-arsed. I still have this niggling feeling that it could be better.

17.28: “The roads are slippery when the driver is wet.” It’s all in your mind, Niko.

17.34: Oh, right, this time of the day is usually reserved for so-called FRC programming on masa stations – that time when the playlist goes a little more rock and roll than usual. That might explain why I, surprisingly, like the playlist this hour.

17.45: The “Win Radio!” kid, now accompanied by the sound of a man breaking a car’s windows in an attempt to rob it. I don’t know if the station’s sense of humor is just that twisted, or what.

18.26: The vehicle I’m in is tuned in to Win Radio, which sort of proves my claim earlier. My mobile phone isn’t coping though: it’s receiving several radio stations at one time – right now I’m hearing Yes FM stabbing in – so there’s that. It’s definitely my phone. And the atmosphere.

18.40: Now, the Rolling Stones. And I think Johnny just said goodbye. Anyway, the next guy on board is Justin Kiss, a guy who began his radio career as Justin Ray on 103.5 Max FM. Yep, it was him, King DJ Logan and Marf together. He went masa when Max flipped to Wow, and now he’s here. I don’t expect to hear much of him though. I mean, that’s what Win Radio does anyway.

19.14: There’s something charmingly ramshackle about Justin Kiss’ opening link. Or maybe it’s because it sounds awfully familiar. Or maybe I just liked the long pause after his “good evening”, followed by him declaring, “kinain ko microphone. Gutom, eh!”

19.29: Yeng Constantino has good songs but the fact that she won a reality show means half of our radio stations won’t pick her up. I’ve heard little of her songs – only really got a good listen today; “Jeepney Love Story” is playing right now – and I think she’s being terribly underserved despite being widely known to a mainstream audience.

19.58: I haven’t counted the number of local tracks per hour like I mentioned this morning, mostly because sometimes I couldn’t tell if the track is a local one, even if it’s just a cover of another song. But again, this past hour proves masa stations play a lot more local tracks than the so-called class ones. I think Justin (who has, well, faded from view again) has just played six in a row. Right now, Mike Hanopol.

20.36: We never quite found out who won Win Radio’s singing contest this week, huh? It’s weird how that got dropped.

20.38: It only just occurred to me now that they identify themselves as “tayo ay 107.5 Win Radio”. Sure, it does translate to “we are…” but that usually ends up being “kami ang…” and it’s a nifty, if not clunky, bit of inclusion. Wrapping up in a few.

21.02: But after fourteen hours of listening, I take away two things. One, Win Radio is doing some interesting things, making sure it’s different from the competition – and it’s a hard one, considering there are a lot of masa stations on Manila airwaves. Two, it’s not quite doing those things enough: I got a radio station with an interesting playlist and some sparks of good on-air content, but not enough of the drive to send all those to its limits.

In a way, I shouldn’t be surprised. The fear among NU 107 fans was that an adventurous format would give way to a very safe one. Masa formats tend to be reliable cash cows: the idea is, you sit back and the money will come. It doesn’t always work – the best masa stations inevitably are the ones that keep watch over their sound and tweak it, like iFM and Love Radio. Win Radio seems to want to do things differently, but for one reason or another, it isn’t. Its hands are tied. Maybe it’s not earning enough? Maybe the plan is to not be as buzzy? It certainly feels like a missed opportunity, and that, ultimately, is the biggest fault I can see.

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