November 13th, 2010

breaking bad, heisenberg

My Home of NU Rock

“Hey. You shaved,” Trish the DJ tells me as I enter the booth the day before NU107’s closing. I’d had a full beard for about a year, you see, and now I was clean shaven.

“Yeah. I don’t know why. I woke up this morning and I felt I had to do something, anything. To commemorate the passing. You ever feel that? “

“Oh, you mean like this?” I look to the left corner and see Jay, another DJ, seated, leaning forward on his office chair, getting his back tattooed.

This is why I love NU 107.

I’d been part of NU before it was even born. My mother, in her teens, was a big fan of radio stations like 99.5 RT and she would befriend many of the DJs. Before they got married, she told my father Atom Henares that it was her dream to own a radio station. For 6 years nothing was mentioned, and my mother dismissed it as just another one of her pipe dreams. Then one day he came to her and said that he was ready. She contacted one of her DJ friends, Mike Pedero, and with Atom the two built NU107. I remember my father telling me that we were going to have a radio station, and I was quite excited even though I was a 7 year old whose knowledge of music was limited to Menudo. At that age I’d eat anything up without care for labels or genres. We’d listen to the test broadcasts and I instantly had my favorites, among them Sting’s “Englishman in New York” and R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. I pride myself in having good taste back then, despite what Erwin Romulo might say. One day Cris Cruise, the station manager finally went on the air. These were his words:

“NU107 is DWNU FM at 107.5 Megahertz in Makati. A member of the KBP, this is NU107. We are signing on.”

The radio station people were wondering about for months finally had a name. Soon after the phone went off the hook, filled with people who had no intention aside from telling the DJs that they were doing a good job.

One of my favorite early memories of NU107 was singing along with my dad and my 4 year old sister Cristalle to her favorite song, The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays”. She’d perk up whenever she’d hear the opening piano roll, getting ready to “shoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoooot the whole day down!” We had a radio station, and for a 7-year old that was the coolest thing in the world. Come to think of it, at the age of 30 I still think it’s the coolest thing in the world.

As I got older I kind of rebelled, spending my allowance on cassette tapes of MC Hammer and Wilson Philips instead of rock n’ roll. My love for rock returned when I was a high school freshman. I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but it was Soul Asylum and 4 Non-Blondes who turned me back onto rock. At the time NU was focusing more on classic rock, but I soon managed to convince my dad to close in on the new stuff. Soon after NU started playing music by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, The Gin Blossoms, Eraserheads and Rivermaya on a regular basis. At the age of 13 I was helping program a radio station, and I was ecstatic.

The summer after freshman year I started working at NU. I answered phones, took down requests, jotted down votes for the countdown. I’d hack into the playlist program and change the names of songs, turning The Breed’s “Black Mercedes Benz” into “Charlie is a Piggy”. Everyone hated me, and I remember that one of the DJs, Roxy, had to sit me down and give me a piece of her mind.

The people from that batch of NU—Claire, Cris, Francis, Roxy, Janet, Charlie, Wicket, Marcelline, Camille and Myrene, were the ones closest to me. And I feel, in a weird way, that I was raised by the village (or station, to be more apt). When I had my first prom I didn’t look to my parents to get dressed up, I went straight to the lovely ladies of NU. I’d visit Myrene every day to tell her stories about the high school teacher I was stalking, and Wicket scanned her photo and enlarged it for me (I was a weird kid). I even confessed my love to someone once, in NU107. She was a DJ who I’d gotten very close to and would visit every day. Thing is, she was always with her best friend. One day I thought, “screw this. I’m confessing, even if her best friend’s around.” And so I did it -- a major confession by an 18-year old in the DJ booth in between commercial breaks and a 40 minute rockathon. I was rejected, only to find out later that she was actually in a relationship with the aforementioned best friend. Who was a girl.

And then there were the shows. Zach and Joey never failed to make me laugh with their on-air antics. Francis Reyes gave the band I managed, Ciudad, the thrill of our lives when he first played us on “In The Raw”. Myrene changed my life forever with her radio show, “Not Radio”. I remember tuning in because I wanted to hear her debut the new Pearl Jam, and instead I found a wealth of new, different music by bands like the Pixies, Sleater-Kinney, Guided by Voices and Pavement. Until now I call Myrene my unofficial mother, and I dedicated my first movie to her and Diego, thanking them for making me who I am today.

Speaking of Diego, we soon had our own radio show as well, the aptly titled “Let’s Fun”. It was supposed to be a music show, but it ended up being the most insane thing on public radio. We staged a fake interview with Silverchair, where we’d ask Daniel Johns questions like “are you into young boys?” and then play recordings of him saying “yes”. We called up Gami Ogenta’s G Spot, asking the operator if this was all a scam. She answered “hindi naman siguro, sir”, but sure enough a few months later it was exposed as such. We played songs with titles like “Premature Ejaculation”, “Hermaphrodite”, “Gay Bar”, “I Like Bukkakke” and “Detachable Penis”. We had a contest where listeners had to guess whether the singer had a penis or no penis. Our co-host Mikey taped the security guard at his call center having phone sex, and we sent it out for everyone to hear. That time in my life, it was pure joy.

To me NU107 was about the people—these great, crazy characters who thought outside the box and were doing what they loved for a minimum amount of pay. It was also about the music. It is an absolute gift to be a kid growing up in the unreal world that is the Philippine rock scene. I remember coming from C.A.T. (Cadet Army Training) at 16 and heading out to interview Parokya ni Edgar. In the halls of Strata 200 I met Raimund Marasigan for the first time and I was too starstruck to have a conversation with him. Binky Lampano would make fun of me for being the kid who’d just hang around the station. I would sing along to Lisa Loeb for most of my sophomore year of high school and a few months later I was standing three feet away from her in the NU booth. The Philippine rock scene was going through the most major changes it had ever gone through, and I found myself right smack in the middle of it.

If there was anything that measured how deep my relationship with the station was, it was the Rock Awards. I was merely a guest at the first ever Rock Awards in 1994, held in the very tiny Music Hall in Anapolis. Then, in 2000, I actually became the writer. In the years after I’d co-write, present and serve as production assistant. Direk Kokoy had to do work abroad in 2007, and I couldn’t believe that I actually found myself in the role of director. The years that followed I was co-producer, until this year, where I finally found the most enjoyable role – performer. It was for the pre-show, yes, but why complain?

There are so many other things, enough to fill a book. UNTV. Tado and Erning. Strange Brew and Manic Pop Thrill. Our personal vendetta against Vengeance in The Morning. That time there was a major flood and we were all stranded in the station from 7pm until 7am the next day. Alternativity and the most embarrassing moment of my life. Pontri and his Pontri-isms. Going on air for the first time in my life as a ten-year old, my first words being “I’m getting drunk here”. 23 years isn’t easy to fit into 2000 words, and I don’t want to trivialize things that meant the world to me.

For the longest time people were asking me to take over. I was being bullheaded about that because I wanted to prove I could make my own career first. Early this year I finally decided to officially join the station, under the position of creative director. I helped Francis program songs, worked on a new logo with Inksurge, and launched a new DJ search called Jockoff. But it was too late. A few months after I was informed that NU107 would be changing formats.

You only get a Home of New Rock once in a lifetime. What NU107 did can never be duplicated, not even by NU itself if it ever comes back. We’re too different these days, with our iPods and internet radio and music downloading. There was a time, however, when there was a common culture between all of us. There was a time when everyone from the teenage Povedan on her way to school to the taxi driver who grew up on the Juan de la Cruz band would listen to Zach and Joey in the morning. There was a time when we’d press our ‘redial’ button incessantly to 6360099, trying to get our request through. There was a time when we’d sit in front of the radio, fingers ready by the ‘rec’ and ‘play’ buttons, waiting for that new Gin Blossoms song to play on air. It almost feels apt that NU died when it did, because it came with the death of our generation’s radio culture.

The final week of NU107 was the most touching and powerful thing I’ve ever heard on the airwaves. The current roster of DJs, consisting of Trish, Joystick Jay, Roanna, Cyrus the Virus, Shannen, April, Evee, Kim, Francis Brew and, of course, Pontri, was one of the strongest we’ve ever had, and they each said their goodbyes during the week-- many emotional and filled with tears, some strong and unwavering. A number of NU alumni returned, among them Charlie Y, Dylan, Andy Banandy, Roxy and Myrene. Captain Eddie said goodbye to The Crossroads after 17 years. “Ballad of The Times” held a massive New Wave party as everyone drunkenly waved on the webcam. Gang Badoy and Rock Ed Radio, the show that proved FM radio could make a difference, bid a fond farewell. Two tearjerking reunion episodes of Zach and Joey were aired. Since Joey was based in the States, the first time they went on air was the first time the two had spoken in years, and it felt like eavesdropping on the first hour as the two caught up with each other. Bands and artists like Up Dharma Down, Greyhoundz, Out of Body Special, Sugar Free’s Ebe Dancel, Pochoy Labog, Archipelago, Chicosci, Sponge Cola, Twisted Halo and the Itchyworms all came out to play. Some people said that all that was lacking were Zesto and some cheap pastries and it would be a wake. I like to see it more as a reunion.

NU’s last day brought in the most important part of NU107—the listeners. When I arrived at 7:30pm I had to wade through a sea of people, all of them thankful for what NU brought them and sad that it had to go away. Many major rockstars came to pay tribute, but the biggest stars that day were the jocks. On the way to the booth people were asking for autographs and pictures with their favorite DJ’s—those who took them through the music, those who introduced them to their favorite bands. I never left the booth, but I hear thousands of people stood outside, singing along one last time to their favorite songs, lighting candles and celebrating the place that gave them such great music. It was like Empire Records, except a lot better. And real, of course.

Each DJ said their last goodbyes, until finally Cris Cruise, who was the station manager from the very beginning went on to do the final sign off.

“It’s a minute before 12. NU107 is DWNU FM at 107.5 Megahertz in Pasig. Once the loudest and proudest member of the KBP. This has been NU107, the Philippines‘ one and only home of new rock. This is NU107, we are signing off.”

People outside started screaming, some were cheering. Behind me I could hear Andy repeat “oh my God. Oh my God. This is it.” Francis went “wooh!” It finally dawned on me. NU107 was now history, and I started crying.


After that there was a lot of hugging, and thank yous. Pictures were taken, stuff was signed. Listeners asked me what happened and I, in total daze, answered that I had no idea. A major chapter of my life, one that lasted 23 years, had finally come to an end. On the way home I listened to the 107.5 frequency for 30 minutes. I hoped that Francis would suddenly come in saying that this was all a joke, or that U2 would start playing, broadcasting from a phantom transmission,but there was nothing. Only the deafening sound of hiss, static and silence.