Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love is On the Air

A RADIO listener calls to air her worst fear. In her husband’s pockets, she says, she’s been finding table napkins with the cellphone numbers of women who, she discovered, work in entertainment joints. What is she to do?

A night watchman sobs unabashedly on the phone, talking about his unrequited love for a woman who has rejected his affections. Alone in the dark, lovelorn and forlorn, the young man pours out his heart, grateful for the listening ear.

From the United Kingdom, a Filipino nanny calls to say she has received a text message of endearment from her husband. Oh, but the message was not meant for her, she found out, but for someone else. “Wrong send!” she cries.
A distraught mother calls to say she is about to end her life and her three children’s. For almost two hours, the riveting real-life drama unfolds on air on the popular “Dr. Love Radio Show,” and listeners who are tuned in participate directly and indirectly in preventing a tragedy from happening.
Hosted by Brother Jun Banaag O.P., Dr. Love Radio Show (DLRS) airs from 10 p.m. to midnight from Monday to Friday on DZMM (630 khz). But since DZMM airs as a “teleradyo,” listeners can not only tune in to DLRS on the radio, but also watch it on cable television.

Brother Jun is “Dr. Love,” and callers address him either way, like he is their close friend or trusted confidante. Juanito Banaag in real life (he is not a Junior, he clarifies), Brother Jun is a veteran radio broadcaster and disc jockey with decades of experience in radio. The title “Brother” and the O.P. after his name have to do with his being a lay member of the Dominican Order (O.P. for Order of Preachers). He is a husband, father and grandfather who, because of his own past experiences, is right at home in the love department.

DLRS is a two-hour counseling program with people calling in to air their problems for Brother Jun/Dr. Love to address. Listeners may also send text messages. In between are breaking news aired live from all over the country, and songs of yesteryears.

Incidentally, another two-hour Dr. Love program (1 to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday), also hosted by Brother Jun, began airing last month but this is entirely devoted to music of a bygone era and without the counseling component. Audience response has been amazing, a sign that many people pine for the hit tunes of yesteryears that bring people back to their youth.

Seven hours later, at 10 p.m., Bro. Jun is back on air and segues into counseling mode, with the same music menu and breaking news. In between calls, there is the song refrain, “Dr. Love, give me Dr. Love, you’re the one I have been dreaming of…” while a red heart throbs onscreen. Sometimes, one hears a few bars of “Somewhere in Time” from the mushy movie of the same title. Kitschy sounds, indeed, for a veteran DJ who has a vast repertoire of vintage love tunes.

When the calls and text messages start to come in, Brother Jun is in his element. “There are more female callers than male callers,” he says. “DLRS was initially for the young, those having LQs (lovers’ quarrels), and then it evolved. Now we deal with marital and family problems, infidelity among them. Priests tell me that these are issues that they cannot tackle fully in the confessional.”

Calls come from all over the country and abroad, some from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Many send greetings, others have life-threatening problems, like that of “Janice” who thought that ending her children’s life and her own was her only option. (We wrote about this in detail in our Nov. 4, 2010 Human Face column. The piece’s title was “Miracle, Live on Dr. Love Radio Show.”)

Although Brother Jun says he received some negative feedback on how he handled this problem – he focused on the sick children who were themselves emergency cases instead of the suicidal Janice – the fact is, Janice momentarily forgot her dark intentions. A horde of listeners, many of them taxi drivers who drove to the hospital to lend her support, became part of the unfolding drama. (Janice and her errant husband are now undergoing counseling.)

Then there was the case of a man who also wanted to kill himself because his wife had left him. “We were able to convince him not to do it,” Brother Jun says. And there was a battered maid who was kept like a prisoner by her employer, and on whose behalf a neighbor called Dr. Love. The program, with the help of taxi drivers, field reporters, neighbors, the police and barangay officials, came to her rescue.

Because Brother Jun has a network of good-hearted contacts, he is able to refer cases to them, some on the spot as in the case of Janice, which got an undersecretary of health heading for the hospital in the dead of night to attend to her case.

Oh, but he has received death threats, too, says Brother Jun, although they are few and far between. “There was this police officer who sent a message that said, ‘P...i…mo, itutumba kita (You, s.o.b., I will put you down).’ This was because his mistress had called the program and I advised her to break off with him, and she did.”

Brother Jun’s in-your-face counseling style has some counselees taking a direct hit. But take it or leave it. He does not mince words and even resorts to name-calling, but with a smile. “Yung kambing mong asawa,” (Your goat of a husband) or “Kuneho ka (You, rabbit, you),” he castigates a man with multiple partners. And he can be sassy as well, almost vulgar at times. To a woman weighed down by the outcome of an illicit affair: “Bakit mo kasi ibinaba ang panty mo? (But why did you pull down your panty?)”

To female callers who feign being virginal but are playing with fire, Brother Jun cannot resist delivering the coup d’grace: “Hija, naisuko mo na ba ang Bataan?” (colloquial for “Have you given up your virginity?”) Opo (yes), Dr. Love, the caller confesses. Brother Jun does not instantly call down fire and brimstone but he can deliver a mouthful to stress the consequences of an illicit liaison.

“Sa madaling salita, kabit ka, (In short, you are a mistress),” he says unequivocably to a kept woman. Fortunately, Brother Jun’s sense of humor and naughty asides more than make up for his sometimes merciless assaults. He can be funny, and many of his fans tune in not because they have problems but because they are entertained.

Brother Jun, one finds out, was not born yesterday. He is as human as his callers. Soon turning 60, he often openly admits on air that he’s “been there, done that,” that he was himself a prodigal husband for 10 years. Admission, he says, is one way of showing his contrition. Now a full-fledged lay Dominican, Brother Jun and his wife Lourdes are also involved in church ministries. He is a much sought after preacher and speaker, not just because of his speaking voice but because of the wisdom he imparts.

“We underwent eight years of spiritual formation,” he says. Like their religious counterparts, lay aspirants to the Dominican Order such as the Banaag couple have to pass through several stages – postulancy, novitiate, temporary and perpetual vows. Brother Jun is vice provincial of the lay Dominicans in the Philippines.
Brother Jun studied theater arts at the Far Eastern University and was drawn into radio broadcasting while he was still in college. His stints in different radio stations are too many to mention, but his last one before moving to ABS-CBN’s DZMM was on Radio Veritas, where “Dr. Love” had its beginnings.

In tackling the cases he encounters on air, Bro. Jun hews close to the official teachings of the Catholic Church. He makes his stand on extramarital sex, abortion, divorce. He urges battered spouses to get out of the union if the abusive partner does not show signs of reform. A wife should be able to prove to her incorrigible philandering husband that she and the children can strike it out on their own. And sex education? “I tried doing that in one program in the past,” he says. Alas, people from the prude sector of society raised a howl.
The problems are varied, colorful, puzzling, shocking, even hilarious. But most if not all have to do with relationships—in the family, at work, with neighbors and even strangers (e.g., courtship via text or email and the danger it could pose). Issues of health, money and religious beliefs thicken the heady mix. The youngest caller, he remembers, was an eight-year-old whose mother was suffering from a kidney ailment.

Brother Jun ends his program with the next day’s gospel reading and strains of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu.” DLRS, he is pleased to say, has received two citations from the Catholic Mass Media Awards. But even more rewarding are the feedback and assurance from listeners.

“This program is not a job,” Brother Jun/Dr. Love muses. “This is an apostolate.” •