Even before the pandemic stopped the world, erstwhile radio station MOR 101.9 FM Manila had started pivoting, conceptualizing and developing content to serve to its listeners, says Eric Francis Galang a.k.a. DJ China Heart.
The MOR Manila and MOR Regional shows “Good Time ‘To,” “Be the Bida, For Life!,” “Sayaw Ta!,” “S.L.R.” and “Dear MOR,” which were launched as part of MOR Entertainment (MORe) in early 2021, found landing spots in Kumu, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify. MOR itself became MORe, the “new media radio station.”
At the center of the MORe universe was “Dear MOR” hosted by Popoy and Bea, which was transformed into “Dear MOR The Podcast.” Galang, who is also MOR Digital’s lead, describes “Dear MOR The Podcast” as a “game changer” that united the radio-centric generation and the new, much younger audience. In fact, in the span of a few months, “Dear MOR The Podcast” has become one of ABS-CBN’s most inspiring post-shutdown success stories.
As early as 2019, producer Mark Marcos had already broached the idea of creating a podcast on Spotify and other podcast apps. Galang recalls he had reservations about the move, believing that MOR’s core market is different from the one that consumes Spotify content. At the same time, the podcast was still a nascent medium in the country, with Spotify itself just starting its own aggressive push after acquiring a couple of podcast companies.
But events conspired to hasten “Dear MOR’s” entry into the podcast realm. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MOR Manila jocks were divided into two groups—one would stream from home, while the other would continue to broadcast from the FM booth in the office; “Dear MOR” was placed in the second group. In other words, Galang underscores, it was business as usual for “Dear MOR.”
When the National Telecommunications Commission’s shutdown order came in May, the team was able to shift with relative ease as, for the past year or so, it had had cameras set up in the FM booth that allowed it to stream audio and video similar to the DZMM TeleRadyo setup. This further helped “Dear MOR” solidify its following, especially among OFWs.
“The show continued to air live from the FM booth, but this time exclusively for the online audience via the live stream on our website and on Facebook Live,” Galang notes.
It was at this point that old episodes of “Dear MOR” that were available on the MOR YouTube channel were repurposed and finally uploaded on Spotify as podcasts. Marcos, the producer originally behind the idea, was installed as “Dear MOR The Podcast” producer.
Every week, Marcos and two writers hold a story conference to decide which among the letters that fans send via “private messaging” on Facebook will get the “Dear MOR” treatment. The writers then flesh out and storify the messages.
“We mostly receive stories about infidelity, love triangles and marital problems. There have been stories about sensitive matters like mental health and suicide,” Galang shares, stressing that they don’t shy away from dealing with touchy topics.
“It’s just a matter of how we can make the stories tasteful no matter how heavy they may be,” he adds.
Pre-pandemic, stories were recorded at ABS-CBN’s iPost postproduction unit. Once a week, the actors or “dramatistas”—they rotate a pool of six dramatistas—would go to the iPost studio to record one week’s worth of stories.
During the lockdowns, however, the dramatistas would individually record their parts at home and send the files to the program producer. The producer forwards the material to the editor, who then puts the episodes together. This makeshift arrangement allowed the team to come up with three stories a week, which are streamed live on Facebook every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Spotify, listeners can expect an average of two uploads a week.
Training’ in digital
“To say it’s a challenge is a huge understatement,” Galang laughs when asked about their pandemic setup.
“We had to make do with the equipment that were handy and ready to be brought home from the office. Our streams also rely on how good—or bad—the internet connection is, so it’s sometimes hard to do a full program stream without encountering glitches and signal hangs. Our ‘Dear MOR’ dramatistas sometimes encounter issues with their home setups.
“But the ‘training’ we had doing all-digital programming when the pandemic started gave us a big lift. The bigger challenge actually is how to entice our former clients and advertisers on radio to start placing ads again, this time online,” he states.
With Marcos, Galang offers a bird’s eye view of “Dear MOR The Podcast” and its almost 300 episodes.
For first-time listeners, they suggest “Dear MOR: Tinadhana (The Aly Story),” “Dear MOR: Happy (The Mai Story),” “Dear MOR: Happier (The Mond Story),” “Dear MOR: Happiest (The TJ Story)” and “Dear MOR: Masaya (The Makoy Story)” as “great gateways for anyone who wants to listen to audio dramas.”
According to them, the most challenging episode to record was the “Dear MOR: Happy, Happier and Happiest Trilogy”: “To be able to talk to all the people involved in this one story was challenging. We really wanted to give each episode justice for the people who are the focus of the episode.”
“Dear MOR: Tinadhana (The Aly Story)” uploaded in January 2022 is the most popular, with its theme of second chances enticing fans to listen to the episode over and over again.
The “Dear MOR: Hotness Overload” specials feature stories with adult themes, but these are crucial to the overall arc of the stories. Galang and Marcos say of their most controversial installments: “It may sound strange to some, but once you finish one episode you’ll realize the valuable lesson it was trying to convey to you all along.”
The MOR Digital lead’s personal favorite? “The ‘Dear MOR: Marino’ episode, for sure. It is not often that the letters being sent to us have a story within a story and it resonated with me a lot,” he notes.
“Dear MOR The Podcast” is currently being listened to in 83 countries and has drawn more than 42,000 unique listeners. It has notched 5.2 million all-time plays or streams and is on course to breach the 8 million mark by the second quarter of the year. The program has the highest listenership and audience among ABS-CBN-produced podcasts and is among the country’s top local podcasts.
“‘Dear MOR’ is widely accepted by Filipinos worldwide because it reflects real life stories. That’s why we have always called it ‘mga kwento ng totoong buhay,’” Galang explains the allure of the show. “Radio dramas have started to come out one after the other, trying to emulate or copy ‘Dear MOR’ but none has made an impact the way ‘Dear MOR’ has.”