LIKE a badge of honor, he shows off his scar from the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing.
Eddie Ilarde, broadcaster and politician, lifts his pants to reveal a deep gash on his right leg. ?I almost completely lost my leg,? he says. ?It was just reattached. Until now, there?s a steel rod in there. And when it?s cold or raining, my leg hurts and I walk with a limp.?
But the tragedy catapulted the radio man into the national arena. With five other candidates of the Liberal Party, Ilarde was elected senator that year.
It was a circuitous journey to the august halls of the Senate for the Camarines Sur native. ?We were dirt poor,? he recalls.
His parents, Emilio and Agapita, were both schoolteachers. The young Ilarde also took an interest in teaching, but he also knew instinctively that media would be a potent tool for educating the masses.
?I always wanted to be a radio announcer,? says Ilarde, who took up Journalism at the Far Eastern University. At age 21, he was taken in as trainee at dzBB.
?Out of 3,000 who auditioned, only two got in,? he looks back. The eager beaver reported for work in the old RBS (Republic Broadcasting System, precursor of GMA 7) station at the Calvo building along Escolta.
?But I made a mistake on-air and was sacked. I was fired before I was even hired,? he says, laughing. Luckily, he was taken in by Ray Oliver of dzRH.
He considers Oliver and Ric Tierro as his mentors. ?I worked as all-around utusan for P500 a month,? he remembers. ?In the old days, you went through an initiation ? start from the bottom and work your way up. You had to learn the ropes. You couldn?t just sit next to a turntable and call yourself an announcer.?
That was 1953.
The first time his voice was heard on the radio, it was for the 12 o?clock station break. ?I was sweating bullets,? he admits. ?I was so excited; I arrived at the studio at 8 a.m.? His line: ?This is MBC, the Manila Broadcasting Company, dzRH. This is the voice of the Philippines. The time at the tone is 12 high noon.?
He recounts: ?You have to time it well. When you said ?12 high noon,? it should be exactly 11:59:55, to allot five seconds for the beep.?
After that auspicious debut, Oliver called Ilarde to his office and gave the neophyte a pat on the back. ?That was a good job, Eddie. But did you have to shout??
Still, his enthusiasm yielded results. Soon enough, the ?station break? announcer earned his own program, ?A Date with the Stars,? where he played records of Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, and Frank Sinatra.
In 1955, he was pirated by the newly opened CBN (Chronicle Broadcasting Network) and worked alongside another legend, the late great Tiya Dely Magpayo. They had a radio show, ?Si Dely at Si Eddie,? on dzXL.
It was while in dzXL that he came up with the concept of ?Student Canteen.? Originally, the noontime radio show, hosted by singer Priscilla, was called ?CBN Canteen.?
?It was held at the CBN canteen at the old Chronicle Building on Aduana,? Ilarde says. ?But Priscilla got married and was replaced by Leila Benitez.?
Ilarde, then the show?s live commercial announcer, noticed that students from nearby schools like Letran would troop to the radio booth to gawk at Benitez.
?I suggested that we hold the show live in the canteen again and invite students as audience members,? he says. It clicked.
When CBN merged with ABS (or Alto Broadcasting System) in 1957, ?Student Canteen? the radio lunchtime sensation crossed over to television, with Benitez, Ilarde, Bobby Ledesma, and Pepe Pimentel as hosts and Amado Pascual as pianist.
Ilarde left ABS-CBN in 1965 and later moved, with Benitez, to Channel 11 with their show, ?Darigold Jamboree.?
In 1972, martial law was declared and a new chapter in broadcasting was written ? with Ilarde among its foremost authors.
He and Ledesma saw the need to re-launch ?Student Canteen? on GMA 7 in 1975. ?It was the show?s ?second generation.? But Leila was already in the US,? says Ilarde. The search for a new female host produced Coney Reyes, then a fresh Maryknoll graduate.
?I?m proud that we discovered Coney,? he says. ?She epitomized the youth of that era. She?s intelligent and talented.?
Ilarde also pushed to center stage another would-be broadcasting icon, the late Helen Vela.
?She was a singing contestant on the first ?Student Canteen? in the 1960s,? Ilarde relates. ?She was set to go into music. I told her: ?As a singer, you can be a better announcer.?? She heeded his advice.
In the mid-1970s, he hired Vela as co-host on ?Suwerte sa Siyete,? a game show aired before ?Student Canteen.?
He joined GMA 7 as block-time producer for Program Philippines. ?We pioneered with shows like the first teleserye, ?Yagit,? and the first drama anthology, ?Kahapon Lamang,?? he says.
?Kahapon Lamang? is also the title of his long-running radio show which spawned the popular catch phrases ?Napakasakit, Kuya Eddie? and ?Mabalos (Thank you).?
When he started ?Kahapon Lamang,? the radio show, in 1955, he admits, he was ill-equipped to dispense advice to the lovelorn. ?The original concept was that I would only play love songs. But before long, listeners started writing in their love stories as they requested for their theme songs.?
To qualify as on-air counselor, he did research. ?I was still young, giving advice based on the experiences of other listeners. So I read books and studied psychology,? he says.
His mentors Oliver and Tierro inculcated in him the importance of preparing for the job. ?I?m old school,? he says. ?Before going on air, we made sure that we thoroughly studied the subject matter. We didn?t just sit there and talked nonsense. We read books and newspapers.?
He still puts this training to good use, hosting ?Kahapon Lamang, the Second 50 Years? on dzBB, every Saturday, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Although the father of 6 and grandfather of 11 claims that he is already retired, he still juggles numerous projects. He recently launched a CD of standards ?Famous Singers Vol. 1? (with the likes of Edward Hagedorn and Homobono Adaza as vocalists) and authored ?The Book of Seniors.?
Two more books are in the works, he says: ?One on the Maharlika and another on the golden age of radio and television.?
Apart from the rights and welfare of ?older people,? he has also taken up rice gardening. These days, he is kept busy with a 500 square-meter rice paddy in Alfonso, Cavite. He recently harvested ?one and a half sacks of rice. I don?t have to line up at the NFA (National Food Authority) anymore.?
Yes, it?s harvest time for Ilarde. As far as he is concerned, his greatest accomplishment in broadcasting is that he helped discover and develop hosts like Reyes, Vela, Jacquilou Blanco, and Chiqui Hollmann, and singers like Janet Basco, Marco Sison, and the late Ike Lozada.
If he wins in the lotto, he jests, he may revive his classic lunchtime show, combining old reliables like Blanco and Hollmann with new favorites like Piolo Pascual and Marian Rivera. The title? ?Student Canteen: Reloaded,? he quips, with a hearty laugh.