Goodbye TeleRadyo, but DZMM 630 to rise from the dead

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Goodbye TeleRadyo, but DZMM 630 to rise from the dead

MEDIA GIANT. In this file photo, media groups mark the first anniversary of ABS-CBN's shutdown on May 5, 2021.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(UPDATED) ABS-CBN's former radio DZMM 630 will be resurrected by the joint venture company between the Lopezes and House Speaker Martin Romualdez's Prime Media Holdings

MANILA, Philippines – Although ABS-CBN’s news channel TeleRadyo will cease operations in just over four weeks, a new news channel is forthcoming with its old radio call sign and frequency, DZMM 630 kHz, under the joint venture company between the Lopez-led media firm and House Speaker Martin Romualdez’s Prime Media Holdings Incorporated (Prime Media). 

Sources told Rappler that TeleRadyo‘s 68 personnel, 40 of whom are regular employees, will be affected by the closure that was announced on Tuesday, May 23, but they will be considered for hiring by the joint venture company that ABS-CBN and Prime Media will be forming. 

Prime Media now has a nationwide broadcast franchise via its subsidiary, Philippine Collective Media Corporation (PCMC), which Romualdez put up back in 2008. Sources said it will be using DZMM’s previous frequency, 630 kHz in the AM band, which ABS-CBN lost after the National Telecommunications Commission ordered it to halt broadcast operations in May 2020 following the expiration of its franchise. 

“After June 30, TeleRadyo will say goodbye but DZMM will return on AM radio reaching millions of Filipinos once more,” said TV Patrol anchor and ANC Headstart host Karen Davila in a tweet.

The 630 kHz frequency is considered prime since it is at the lower end of the frequency spectrum, ABS-CBN being the country’s pioneer in broadcasting. Frequencies at the lower end can be powered to reach a wider audience, which was DZMM’s edge when it still had this frequency.

Prime Media can also use its other frequencies to put up multiple channels via digital broadcast, just as ABS-CBN did with its TV Plus “black box,” using a blocktime arrangement with Amcara Broadcasting Network.

ABS-CBN’s Channel 2 frequency is no longer available since this was already awarded to Manny Villar’s Advanced Media Broadcasting System.

However, in a disclosure on May 29 or five days after this article was published, Prime Media said its joint venture with ABS-CBN is only for radio, not television, for now, at least. 

Prime Holdings expansion

The joint venture deal is a major development for Prime Media’s goal of expanding its media footprint.

PCMC was established in 2008 by then-Leyte 1st District Representative Romualdez in Tacloban, where it still operates FMR or Favorite Music Radio. Twelve years later, or in 2020, Congress amended its franchise from regional to national, allowing it to air beyond the Eastern Visayas (Tacloban, Ormoc, Borongan, Calbayog, Catbalogan) region. The amended franchise also allowed it to go into digital television.

PCMC now has FMR radio stations in Baguio, Cagayan, Occidental Mindoro, Catanduanes, Bacolod, Camiguin, Dipolog, Zamboanga Sibugay, Butuan, Davao del Norte, Iligan, Isabela, and Davao de Oro.

Prime Holdings had disclosed in June 2022 that it would also hit the airwaves of Cebu, Pampanga, Mindoro, Romblon, Puerto Princesa, Nueva Vizcaya, Sorsogon, Iloilo, Bohol, Siargao, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Cotabato, Quezon, and Albay by end of 2022.

“Prime Media plans to expand its media platform with the acquisition of additional frequencies for both free tv and radio. The company intends to work with independent content providers for programs to air,” Prime Media had said in a June 23, 2022 press statement.

FMR Philippines, PCMC’s news and entertainment station, is available on Cignal TV Channel 317.

ABS-CBN content, TeleRadyo talents

Since its amended franchise now includes digital television, Prime Media may choose to blocktime ABS-CBN’s principal news program, TV Patrol, now hosted by Davila, Noli “Kabayan” de Castro, Henry Omaga Diaz, and Bernadette Sembrano.

TV Patrol, formerly the Philippines’ number one news program, is one of the major shows of ABS-CBN that generates advertising revenues, but its reach was drastically reduced when its free-to-air operation was shut down in 2020. It can now only be accessed through its digital platforms, and through the limited reach of Brother Eddie Villanueva’s A2Z channel and through various cable TV stations. 

ABS-CBN also has a rich library of entertainment content which can be tapped by the joint venture. ABS-CBN’s popular entertainment shows, however, are already available on TV5, A2Z, as well as digital platforms.

But it won’t be a walk in the park for the news channel under the new Lopez-Romualdez joint venture company. 

Following the loss of its broadcast franchise over three years ago, many of TeleRadyo’s popular talents who made it among the top AM radio stations in the country left ABS-CBN, including Ted Failon, Jun Banaag, Vic De Leon Lima, Anthony Taberna, Gerry Baja, and disc jockey (DJ) Toni Aquino. 

Failon, a former TV Patrol anchor, now has a show with his former DZMM co-anchor, DJ Chacha, on Radyo5; Banaag now has a radio and television show on Radyo5 and TV5; Lima has transferred to radio DWIZ; Anthony Taberna joined Elizalde’s DZRH and Villar’s All TV; Aquino now hosts the popular afternoon drama on GMA’s radio DZBB, Sumasapuso

Most of the current anchors of TeleRadyo’s shows are the reporters and news presenters of ABS-CBN, including De Castro, Tony Velasquez, Karmina Constantino, Alvin Elchico, and Doris Bigornia. It remains to be seen whether they would agree to be part of a resurrected DZMM.

Labor concerns

After the closure was announced on Tuesday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) National Directorate expressed “sadness” and “rage” that the effects of the lower house’s denial of ABS-CBN new franchise “were still being felt.” It also urged ABS-CBN to assist those who will be displaced. The House of Representatives rejected a new franchise for ABS-CBN in July 2020.

“As ABS-CBN prepares to wind down operations of TeleRadyo, which has for years been a daily companion for many and a vital source of news and information for many more, we hope that the company will give its media workers affected by these corporate decisions the assistance and support they will need in the transition,” the NUJP National Directorate said. 

“They should not be abandoned now as the network seeks ways forward from the franchise troubles that it has been weathering since 2020,” it added. 

The NUJP’s ABS-CBN chapter also issued a similar statement as it urged ABS-CBN management to ensure that TeleRadyo staff are “given the commensurate benefits due them,” and “they are also assisted in looking for employment within or outside ABS-CBN.” 

Sources said ABS-CBN management gave this assurance during a general assembly that was held on Tuesday afternoon after the unexpected news was disclosed at the Philippine Stock Exchange by ABS-CBN and Prime Media.

News independence

What will be closely watched will be the news programs of ABS-CBN, given that the tie-up is with a high-profile politician who could be a candidate in the 2028 national elections. Free TV and radio are important platforms for candidates who want to reach the masses, especially with political advertisements.

A number of media organizations and media observers expressed hope that the tie-up with the Romualdez firm will not affect the “independence” of ABS-CBN’s news reportage. 

UP College of Mass Communications Associate Professor Danilo Arao, for instance, said it was “unfortunate” that ABS-CBN’s partnership is with a “company closely linked with the House Speaker.” 

“While it may need fresh funds to sustain operations, this partnership, controversial as it is, should not affect editorial independence,” he said. 

“For the sake of Philippine media and in order not to tarnish its rich history, ABS-CBN should either rise to the occasion or terminate this partnership with Prime Media Holdings.”

Aside from urging ABS-CBN management to assist the workers who will be displaced, NUJP ABS-CBN chapter’s executive committee also said, “We likewise seek assurance that ABS-CBN News will remain independent and committed to reporting only the truth.”

In its press statement on Tuesday, ABS-CBN said the deal with Prime Media “is also a way to continue providing accurate and balanced news and information to the country.” – Rappler.com

(Disclosure: The author is a former editor-in-chief of ABS-CBN News, the general news website of ABS-CBN.)

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.