12 Nov 2021
by brian.hioe | News, Interview
Electric Soul’s Brian Hioe spoke with Manila Community Radio about how they started, current projects, and how they have dealt with challenges during COVID. Check it out!
Brian Hioe: Could you talk a bit about the origins of Manila Community Radio (MCR)?
Jorge Wieneke V: We were all people that were mingling in the scene already. Sean and I were always collaborating on things prior to MCR. We met each other through the community, through the scene--I’ve played for his shows, he’s played for my shows, we seek each other’s help and creative consultancy on a lot of things. So we’ve been longtime friends in the scene.
Sean and Jorge talking about creating MCR. - Photo credit: Javier Pimentel.
Anton is part of the BuwanBuwan Collective as well, so I met him through BuwanBuwan. But we always had this idea of collaborating, not just on the radio. The radio was one of the projects that was in the works pre-COVID, but we never really got to work on the idea until everyone got together.
Our other partners from UNKNWN and Ikigai Radio, they’re also people we met. And a lot of groups that work together in the scene with us. So it’s a lot of different groups coming together to unite on this sort of idea.
Sean Bautista: We started July 2020, which was last year. It was just a means for us, as different groups in the scene, to create a safe space for sharing and discovering music. As Jorge said earlier, we’re comprised of BuwanBuwan Collective, which is Jorge and Anton’s collective, Transit Records, which is a small record label that I run, Ikigai Radio, which YouTube be this YouTube platform video series, and UNKNWN, which is an event organizing group that throws raves here in the Philippines.
During the start of COVID, we were all promoting different activations in separate channels, so it all came to a point where we realized that we were saturating and coloring the online space with separate streams and listening parties etc. Instead of scattering the events among local listeners, it made more sense for us to come together and for this cross-pollination of different scenes to take place. That’s how we naturally gravitated towards each other.
I echo what Jorge said earlier, we were always just hanging out after shows and talking about how there were different Internet radio stations in Southeast Asia or Europe and America, of course, so we wanted that for ourselves. It was timely when COVID happened, it just sped up the urgency for a platform like this to exist. I think even my first encounter with Internet radio was Jorge’s NTS (London-based Internet radio station) shows, so that opened up the possibility of creating something like MCR.
JW: I think we had talks about it whenever I’d be touring around or when I’d be invited to do guest shows abroad. It opened my eyes to thinking about what something that we could do for the Philippines and for Manila that we can learn from, that can be unique for our own context.
These were things that Sean and I always talked about, even loosely, even when we weren’t thinking about making one yet, we’d always just bounce ideas off of each other. What if we made this or “Oh, I went to Taipei, and there was this community radio there, and in Hong Kong.” It really snowballed into something during the pandemic.
BH: What would you say the different things you do individually as part of the radio are, as a team.
JW: We have different departments, such as programming, audio/tech, focusing on the broadcasts, we have marketing and promotions. In the beginning, it was very loose--like anything, we didn’t have too much structure. But we learned to gravitate toward having more systems, which is better now. We have people that handle the bookings, all of us have many roles, but we have our role assignments as well. That’s scheduling programming, broadcasting, audio/tech, marketing, and promotions.
BH: What are the key moments that you’d point to in MCR’s history that sort of shapes your way of doing things?
JW: When Paolo from Ikigai Radio, just had this idea of creating a format and template form for people that want to submit for all the broadcasts. In the past, we’d get tons and tons of emails, but now we have forms and a set system, so it’s very easy.
On the flip side, it can be intimidating for broadcasters, it’s such a long email. But for us, it’s very formulaic. You just click stuff, fill it out, and it’s all there. It’s easier for us.
For me, that really defined things, that we won’t have to type the same email a million times. It made things easier, so we could focus on other things. We could improve the other areas of the website.
In addition, one of our recent partners rebranded the whole radio. I feel like prior to that, we were all doing it on our own, and we had to divide the attention and the effort. Having someone who is actually focused on it changed it for us, someone who is devoted to making it look good and communicating all of our values in the way that we’re branding it. That was really monumental for the radio.
A lot of our community engagements, such as being able to throw parties for the LGBTQ community, to spread awareness, aim to really push it as a safe space.
SB: I agree with what Jorge mentioned. One of our core values is inclusivity. And the idea that it can be a shared space by different collectives and groups. One of the special things we did this year was a whole month of Pride activation. I feel like that is a key point, because not only did we platform and champion voices for many underrepresented LGBTQ+ artists, but we were able to use it as a way to fundraiser for queer organizations. We partnered with organizations so we could fundraise for them through what we do at MCR.
I think it’s pivotal because not only do we make equal opportunities for folks to pitch shows on the platform, but even within our programming theme now, we actively look out for and seek talent that may be overlooked or underrepresented.
JW: I also think that the culture of active listening on the radio, we noticed that there’s been a rise of people who actively come out and hop on the site, and listen to radio shows together. It’s something that, in the beginning, I personally had fears that people might not be used to listening to radio online.
But people get excited about it, and there are people who come together in this sense. There’s a culture of coming together and listening to online radio in the Philippines, where I feel like it opens new doors for us and other broadcasters, as well as bridges how we were hoping to connect with people from different countries. Having broadcasters from all over the world is nice for us and others to share that sort of space.
BH: Would you say that’s your core value? Creating a safe space that is inclusive, which previously didn’t exist.
How would you understand yourself as relating to the broader scene in Manila and the Philippines, in that sense? You mentioned working together in the past and deciding to create something new.
JW: Not to toot our own horn, but in the history of the scene, a lot of past generations have tried to come together and get together around an idea. But it’s always something that doesn’t work together in the end. And I feel like it’s one of the visions that even the OGs or the elder communities acknowledge as something that we managed to come together and share, I feel like that’s something to really be proud of on our end.
Because we’re merging a lot of generations and subcultures into one, and presenting it on a platform that anyone can access. It’s easy to access, it’s easy to reach out and become part of it, and the community actually has a partnership in it. We very much listen to people. And it’s easy to get on the show, you just submit a form.
I also feel like it opened a lot of doors for us to collaborate with each other. Because a lot of us existed and coexisted in the scene, but not a lot of us actually worked this close to each other. So understanding each other’s vision and synching up. In some ways, our visions are closer to each other now, we have a stronger understanding of each other and our common goal. Before, we were all working in the scene separately, but now even though we are working on our own collective visions, we’re sort of synched up in a way, I feel.
SB: I think that captures it perfectly. Whereas before, we’d have different niches, different club nights, and people don’t tend to support each other because they’re busy doing their own thing. Now that we have MCR we have a shared vision of what we want to achieve and where we want to go. And the act of solidarity is a very big thing that I feel didn’t exist before MCR.
JW: I also feel like there’s sort of a shared learning process that I’ve realized when I started working with everyone this closely. Actively seeking out equal representation for everyone in everything we do. That’s something that has stuck with me forever now, after working with everyone.
Being able to learn. And feeding off of each other’s principles and things that are important to each collective. Because each group and each partner that’s involved has something that they bring to the table. What they value. I think that’s something that we keep learning, it’s a good thing that we can learn from each other.
BH: I guess to switch gears a bit, what would you say some of the challenges has been? Because keeping up momentum is difficult and doing anything is tough.
JW: I think a lot of people think it’s easy, since from outside they think, “Wow, they’re working so well with each other.” In reality, we do butt heads sometimes.
It’s healthy to have disagreements, that also strengthens how we work, and that’s how the machinery or the platform gets to self-check. When there are problems. It’s healthy for us to be able to discuss differences in vision. Because it’s not always perfect. That’s what I like about us, we embrace everything, and we learn how to talk it out.
There are differences sometimes in the way that things are handled. Even making mistakes at the start. As they say, you have to break some eggs to make a good omelet. We had some struggles in the early parts of conceptualizing systems. It just led to us becoming stronger, better, and even more solid as a team. Learning to listen to each other, learning to deal with each other. Sometimes we lose our temper, sometimes we get emotional. But we all know how to adjust to each other already.
Even the friendship has gotten deeper. And the workflow has gotten so much smoother. We know now if someone says something, they’re not mad, they’re just saying what needs to be said.
It’s really like coming together with lots of labels and groups. We’re all used to doing things on our own. There are a lot of strong personalities in Manila Community Radio. How do you learn to manage that? That was the struggle at first. But now it’s balanced. We know when to talk, when to let someone lead, and also learn when to delegate. That was also a challenge for a lot of us at first.
SB: Another challenge is that it’s a not-for-profit organization. So given the absence of physical events, local musicians really struggle to do what they usually do. Artists, including within the MCR family, have had to take multiple jobs through this pandemic. It gets difficult to work on MCR given that we have a lot on our plates right now.
Consider donating MCR here.
But I think at the end of the day, it’s not losing sight of what really matters. Creating a safe space to explore and come together. It’s not the space to profit off of, but the values in us being able to come together.
JW: I agree. There were a lot of challenges at the start of it, getting people to broadcast on this show. People found it intimidating at first. But it also played to our advantage that it was a blank slate. So it was up to us to determine what kind of space it was. Or how people could look at it as a place that’s inviting and welcoming and a safe space for people to express themselves.
But Sean mentioned the challenge also of how we keep going, because not a lot of people in the Philippines understand the value of it. So to the idea of investing in it, through Patreon or all of these fundraising ideas we do, the business model of it is really tough.
Because it’s a non-profit organization. Being able to juggle that with all of our other stuff, all of us are either in school or working full-time, or having multiple jobs. Those are challenges. So far, I think we’ve managed to figure out a way where everyone is able to make a contribution. Despite the challenges.
BH: Could you talk a bit about the challenges during COVID? Because you also started during COVID.
Anton Ventura: I can recall numerous broadcasters politely declining the invitations we sent them due to situations related to COVID. We could see how everyone would prioritize their physical and mental health over broadcasts, as the preparations for all the show information and the recording may take a long time for them to accomplish. As much as possible, we don’t want to pressure them into broadcasting, but rather be able to make them recognize that they are worthy of hosting shows on our platform. We also don’t have a physical set-up such as online radio stations like Hong Kong Community Radio (HKCR) and NTS, due to poor restrictions planning implemented by the government. Related to restricitions, the team has never physically met and all our alignment meetings are held through Discord.
BH: I’m curious how MCR balances visuals and audio. That’s a question I’m always interested in asking online radios. What are the key platforms that MCR uses?
JW: We usually broadcast via Airtime Pro. We used to use Mixlr, then we switched to AirTime Pro. This is very convenient for us, because all we need to do is schedule everything, and it automatically plays everything on the time it’s supposed to. That took a lot of stress out of our broadcasters. So we definitely love Airtime Pro for that.
For our visual side, we use Twitch. And for a lot of us, we already had experience using OBS and streaming and using Twitch. So we work on that. And we embed it on our website.
For archiving, it’s really MixCloud. We feel MixCloud works well with what we do. We already have some workflow with these platforms, so we stick to those three.
MCR mix by obese.dogma777 / egroj wine
SB: We’re working with a local graphic design studio, which is doing this whole design conference. Because of this, some of our MCR broadcasters are doing sets during their conference. They’re going to do their conference on Gathertown.
We’re on those platforms as well, to create a more interpersonal approach, rather than static listening or viewing. We’re keen on exploring video games also. But for now, it’s just through AirTime Pro and Twitch for video, playing back that on MixCloud, and playback for our video on YouTube.
BH: What projects are you currently working on? Anything you’d like to share with us?
JW: We’re working on expanding the shows to virtual events, like what Sean mentioned, we’re trying to do more activations on video games or virtual spaces, where people can immerse themselves.
Recently, we collaborated with local design studio And a Half for their Social Problems are Design Problems (SPDP) conference. They set up a virtual space on Gather (www.gather.town) where we had something close to an in-person gig – only in an 8-bit space!
Physical events in the Philippines are still not a good idea because of the pandemic, so we’re trying to figure out how to make it fun or up a notch.
SB: We have an exciting project with the First United Building in the Philippines. It’s a heritage building in one of the world’s oldest Chinatowns. The First United Building is an old art deco building that has been retrofitted to be a creative space for young and up-and-coming talent. It has a cafe, a retail space, it’s an events venue, as well as an architecture and design studio. We’re putting together a special whole day broadcast to commemorate their anniversary. Which is on October 23rd. They’re celebrating over ninety years of being this art deco structure.
We’re putting up a satellite booth inside the cafe. Apart from having DJs perform, which is what we usually do, we also plan on doing a virtual tour of the building and having a panel discussion among the different tenants there. That’s in the close future, as one of the exciting things we’re working on.
JW: We’ve had a bunch of other projects that we weren’t able to roll out because of how busy we were, but we have some exchange programs that we wanted to do. We’ve also been trying to figure out proper residency programs for MCR. But a lot of those are still in the pipeline still.
BH: Similar question then. What would you say future plans are in terms of more general direction, rather than specific projects?
JW: We’re hoping to have exchange programs with other online radio platforms as well. Down the line, if the pandemic does come to a stop, what would we be looking forward to, Sean?
SB: Having a space for all of our broadcasters to share music would be great, for people to come together. That’s really important, having a physical space. From a programming point of view, we agree that there’s still so much untapped potential. The moniker is Manila Community Radio, but we’d love to go beyond the region and explore, as well as platform more artists from the fringes of the scene.
We want to decentralize the music scene here and give equal opportunity to talent in other places and underrepresented communities. A tour might be great for MCR, so we can interact with communities outside of just Manila. And exchanges are super exciting. Because not only do we want to amplify the voices of local talent by supporting them within our ecosystem, but we want to bridge them to the rest of the world and vice-versa.
JW: We also want to give an opening for people in other parts of the world to come in and conduct cultural exchange with us.
BH: Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
JW: Well, the whole journey has been a surprise. At the start of it, we didn’t really expect anything. We just wanted to get on this together and see what happened. It’s very nice to see that there’s something coming out of what we were casually discussing.
To see how much joy it gives people during a difficult time. It’s really nice. And to see what other doors it opens up for everyone involved and who loves the platform. I hope that other people look at it and realize, “Oh, you can create things for people to link on, for people to look forward to.” That if the platform doesn’t exist, it’s possible to create something. It’s just us having fun.