Rappler 10th anniversary

Rappler at 10: The leap to Live Jam

Wyatt Ong
Rappler at 10: The leap to Live Jam

Rappler at 10.

You just do your best with what you have. You have to dare to set the spotlight on your product, even if it means illuminating its imperfections.

We are publishing a series of essays from Rappler employees, old and new, as part of our commemoration of Rappler’s 10th year anniversary in January 2022.

CALIFORNIA – Three weeks into my job at Rappler, I had my first breakdown. 

It was January 2014. A huge celebrity scandal had erupted, and I, the brand new lifestyle and entertainment editor, had missed it like an idiot. 

“Everyone’s going way too fast,” I told a sympathetic friend in between crying jags. “I can’t catch up.” 

My boss, Glenda Gloria, tried to stitch me back together. “Catch the next one,” she told me firmly. 

We did, eventually, catch a big one. In 2016, I got an email asking if we’d be interested in interviewing Ebe Dancel, Johnoy Danao, and Bullet Dumas ahead of their concert. I asked if they’d be interested in performing instead, fully expecting to get a no. 

FIRST OF MANY. I was grateful to be in the room where this happened. All of us knew their performance of ‘Burnout’ was special. Taken on the very first Rappler Live Jam in 2016. Photo courtesy of Wyatt Ong/Rappler

We got a yes. Suddenly, Ebe, Johnoy, and Bullet were coming to Rappler, and I had no idea what to do. I had never staged any kind of show. I wasn’t a music expert. But I knew that passing up this chance would be a very big mistake. 

The very first Live Jam was not the smoothest, from a production standpoint. We had no time to rent wired microphones, so the artists had to sing into the lapel mics we used for serious newsroom interviews. Ebe’s high note in “Bawa’t Daan” was so powerful it made his mic glitch temporarily. Off-cam, someone audibly coughed 41 seconds into the finale, a rearrangement of the Sugarfree classic “Burnout.” THUD, went a piece of equipment, as it tumbled to the ground (you can still hear it here). Despite all that, we all knew some special alchemy was transforming the room. 

The Rappler newsroom never goes completely quiet. People always asked me why the journalists in the background never sat still to watch the show. But any Rappler, and any journo for that matter, will tell you that crazy things happen in the newsroom; you can’t stop to gawk at everything, or you’ll never do anything. But by the time Ebe hit the bridge, and Bullet and Johnoy joined in on the harmony, I could sense the energy shifting, even under the permanent drone of activity. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of Rappler’s co-founders who was then our investigative editor, Chay Hofileña, always so focused, perk up from her seat directly behind Ebe. The newsroom was listening.

The three artists, each with his own unique vocal color, created a new journey for an old song. Most breakup songs feel like the end of a chapter, but this one felt like the last page of a book you’ll never give away. It felt like it cost something, emotionally, to make something that sad and that resonant. It was a front-row seat to a heart not quite done breaking. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. 

At the end, I asked Ebe, Johnoy, and Bullet to sign the empty glass wall near the set. Ebe signed his name in huge letters, because the whole space was available. We called it a day.  

In the next days, I would wake up to news that we’d crossed a million views on Facebook. 

I called our entertainment reporter, Vern, in a panic. “Don’t let another week go by without booking someone else. Let’s find someone totally different, but just as magical.” We booked BP Valenzuela, and Rappler Live Jam, as you may know it today, was born. 

Small but mighty production team

Our audience may not know it, but pre-pandemic, the Live Jam set really was smack in the middle of a working newsroom that never stopped rolling. The multimedia production team, a small but mighty unit, found a way to set up Live Jam in a snap, broadcast live, and dismantle it just as quickly in time for whatever segment they had to produce next, sometimes just minutes apart. 

We had no money for sets, so we used the barstools in the company pantry (sorry, guys). And we most certainly had no money for things like Christmas decorations for our holiday Live Jam, so I stole my mom’s decorations for that purpose (sorry, Mom). 

There were a lot of things we didn’t have, but there was one thing that we did. We had a show. 

PNE. Rappler team photo with Parokya ni Edgar taken after their Live Jam episode, October 2016. Over 20,000 people tuned in to watch this episode live. Rappler photo

Cheats. Moonstar 88. Our first host, Zach Lucero, returned with Imago. Gary V. Callalily. Clara Benin. Rappler Live Jam gained steam. Barbie Almalbis, Kitchie Nadal, and Aia de Leon. Ang Bandang Shirley. Joey Ayala, whom I timidly approached for a picture. The Moffatts, a group whose poster I owned as a tween. Sponge Cola. Autotelic. Ben & Ben

We celebrated all day when we booked Parokya ni Edgar for a nighttime Jam, forgetting that we’d have to put everyone at work through a full-throttle sound check in the middle of Wednesday. Can you imagine trying to work while yelling over a full drum rehearsal? I was terrified we’d get a noise complaint from the neighbors, the mall below us, or my co-workers. But not a single soul complained. 

DIFFERENT ANGLE. A look behind the scenes of our PnE Live Jam, which I co-hosted with our reporter, Vernise Tantuco. Video journalist Jeff Digma joins us in this photo. Rappler photo

That night, 20,000 people tuned in live to see PnE play at Rappler. I remember turning to my co-host Vern and mouthing, “Is this real?”

It was. The thing is, no one ever really knows if something will touch a nerve, propelling it into the spotlight. There was no way to guess that “Burnout” would go viral, that Live Jam could go beyond one show, or two. 

Dare set the spotlight

You just do your best with what you have. You have to dare to set the spotlight on your product, even if it means illuminating its imperfections. You start seeing the breakneck pace as a tantalizing buffet of second chances. You borrow confidence from people who came before you. 

When Maria won the Nobel prize, I told her – you and the senior editors made us braver than we were. You made us better. That was true for my intrepid colleagues, out there changing the world with their reporting. And it was true for me, a young editor trying to plant her feet in sand that never seemed to stop shifting.

LJ WALL. Barbie Almalbis signs the Live Jam wall after her Live Jam with Kitchie Nadal and Aia de Leon. Photo by Leanne Jazul/Rappler

The empty wall that Ebe, Johnoy and Bullet so graciously signed in June 2016 is now a multi-colored space filled every square inch with autographs from future Live Jam guests. Sometimes I’ll see a clip from a newer Rappler interview and spot the neon wall behind it. I remember a time that felt supercharged with potential. I thank the universe that I was a part of it. And I’ll keep my eye out for the next thing that a Rappler I will never know and will never meet will bring forward into the world. – Rappler.com

Formerly Rappler’s lifestyle/entertainment editor, Wyatt Ong is the creator of Rappler Live Jam and MonBrain Comics. Her work can be found in Bustle, The Grief Diaries, and Urban Ivy. She is currently based in the Bay Area, California.