Friday, August 24, 2007

X Radio: The Other Thing Out There

All we hear is radio ga ga,
Radio blah blah.
Radio, what's new?
Radio, someone still loves you!
- Queen, “Radio Ga Ga ”

Like the music it is playing, the new 92.3 xFM radio station quietly launched into the airwaves and trickled into homes, offices and cars, few of them at first. Then slowly more people started tuning in, and writing and talking about it, mostly in the Internet and in blogs. The new management team is optimistic. The newly-installed CEO and president of the radio station owned by the National Broadcasting Corporation, Raymund Miranda, credits this to the music and its being different.
The mass media veteran, who worked with the channels GMA 7 and Disney, said that about 16 out of about 20 radio stations are playing the same kind of music, without differentiation. Pop music and talk radio, which put emphasis on personality, dominate the airwaves. This sameness leads to the decrease in radio patronage.
“Radio listening is declining,” he said. “It means there is an audience out there that is not being served by radio. It’s not because of MP3 and the Internet…It is because of the sameness of programming. They want things that are not being played.”
In an effort to curve this trend, NBC brought in a new management team, appointing them on Jan. 1 this year. On April 8, Easter Sunday, the former Joey station was transformed and launched as X FM with a sound that is “refreshing” and “new.”
“We are given the opportunity to offer something new in terms of music and format,” Miranda related. “And we want to bring radio back to basics, which is good music, good programming. Most importantly, [we want to] make radio again a music authority.”
By being a music authority, he meant being “able to offer music that is not accessible in the market widely.”
Miranda said, “to show people that there are other things out there, we arrived at this format. We call it ‘down-tempo.’ Under it, there are chill-out, trip-hop, house, etc.”
The term is an over-arching one, comprising several music genres or being called by other names. Aside from what Miranda mentioned, down-tempo music can include electronica, new jazz, ambient and lounge.
“It is relaxing music that you keep there all the time. You can work to it, sleep to it, relax to it, entertain to it,” he explained.
This type of music, he further explained, is not really new and not alien to Filipino ears. “It sounds refreshing, but in truth, this music has been around for a long, long time. It's been around for over 25 years in various forms,” he said. “There is no present form, and that’s why it continues to have survived over the years. It is constantly evolving and in mutation.”
Down-tempo can be heard on elevators and malls. It can be heard in movies like American Beauty and Cruel Intentions, and TV series like House, Grey’s Anatomy and 4400.
“People have been listening to this music all over the place,” said Miranda. “Clubs, bars, TV, commercials, ring tones—everywhere but never in one single place on FM in Mega Manila…until today.”
Miranda remembered a crucial incident that made decide on the music: he bought a cell phone and the ring tones were chill-out. “How mainstream can you get?” he exclaimed.
Aside from this, the music is his personal choice. In fact, many of the tracks being played come from his personal library.
Miranda said 90 percent of their music is sourced from overseas. They import their CDs from the United Kingdom , the United States, Japan and around Southeast Asia . They often order online, the Internet being a singular important factor in changing the landscape of music and patronage. “We’re using technology to bring the music here,” he said.
Among these, the station is also playing local acts.
“Together with this mix, we’ve also added a bit of house and indie,” says X FM's managing director Al Torres. “A lot of great Filipino artists have been performing this music over the years, and we’re pleased that they’ve been supportive of the station.”
In the beginning, there was a concern if the new format would click to the Filipinos. But ever since, Miranda always believed in an audience out there for it.
“We found a pent-up demand among listeners who had deserted the FM band,” he said. “They wanted a unique sound. They wanted to listen to music again, and they were again looking to radio to be the music expert it used to be in the past.”
There was also concern about the new format being too “sosyal”, but Miranda pooh-poohed the idea, asking what is masa and mass culture. He thinks that is a nebulous grouping that no one can actually define, and if it really exists. He said that he heard a taxi tuned in to X FM. “Music preference is not influenced by the income bracket,” he concluded. “X FM is about conveying emotion, a feeling.”
What they considered in the beginning is the age grouping and the challenges it presented. They pegged the demographic at 18 to 39 years old, but this is more as handle for advertisers than anything else, Miranda said.
“The challenge is do I grow with my audience?” he said. “We stick to the 18 to 39 age group.” With that constant, the music will be variable, thus the one meaning of X in the station name, as they adjust to the taste of the audience as time goes. “X will be changing. The sound will be different from one year to another,” he added.
With evolving taste of listeners, the new radio station promises to be there to cater to it. The station embraces change, Miranda said, exhorting not to be afraid of it. Clearly, he wants to make a mark in radio history by being different, a practice that is not new. There are milestones in recent radio history, which he calls inflection points, that changed the landscape of music listening because of innovative programming.
“RT came around late ‘70s with Top 40s. Then naging masa ng konti ang FM with Smile Radio,” he recounted. “In the late ‘80s, Citilite became a big thing. Then in the mid-90s, there was NU 107. After that pare-pareho na.” Miranda thinks this is a right time for another inflection point, and timing plays a crucial role in radio.
As much as it moves with the times, X FM is a bit ahead of it.
“The great tennis players will always hit the ball at the peak of the arc. Jimmy Connors will always hit the ball on its way up. Mas mabilis ang response niya,” Miranda explained. “That is what we’re trying to do in X FM. We’re not waiting for a peak and riding on that peak. We’re seeing this crest rising. That’s why one of our taglines is ‘culture on the rise.’ It’s not a culture that exists but a culture that’s arriving. ‘Yun ‘yung Jimmy Connors swing. We’re aiming for it on its way up. That’s really how you’ll spot what’s next.”
And we will listen.

One can tune in to 92.3 X FM on the radio, or listen online via xSTREAM at

Published in The Daily Tribune, 18 August 2007, page 12.

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