His first radio broadcast in 1953 was a landmark moment for Eddie Ilarde —especially since it felt like triumph over great difficulty, having come after 31 failed auditions. He was so excited that even while the scheduled broadcast was at 12 noon, he was ready at the station as early as 7am. “Nandoon ako sa studio, nakatingin sa relo,” he recalled in an interview with Business Mirror in 2018.
Hailing from Iriga, Camarines Sur, the 19-year-old Eddie had a thick Bicolano accent, which became obvious the moment he spoke Tagalog. Veteran DZRH announcer Ray Oliver (a.k.a., Ramon Oliveros Decolongon) must have been intrigued by that distinct quality and recommended the probinsyano to a part-time announcer position at DZRH, the flagship station of the Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC).
At DZRH, he played the music of Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, and Frank Sinatra on the program A Dare with the Stars. The old-timers were naturally peeved that a newbie had gotten himself some MBC airtime. Who does this bagong salta think he is? But the post did not give the young broadcaster any reason to throw his weight around. “I would wipe the floor and pick up the cigarette butts they [announcers] left on the floor,” Eddie recalled of those times. “Talagang ganun ang buhay. Back then, his usual outfits consisted of hand-me-down maong pants and sneakers—which meant “you were poor.” But the clothes didn’t make this man—once he’s seated under the big clock at the DZRH-MBC announcer’s booth, he felt like a king.
“This is MBC, the Manila Broadcasting Company, DZRH, the voice of the Philippines. The time at the tone brought to you by RCA is…12 high noon,” went his opening spiel.
Eddie’s humble beginnings
Born August 25, 1934, Edgar Ubalde Ilarde was the second eldest in a brood of four boys. His parents were both public school teachers but his father was killed during the Second World War.
Even at a young age, Eddie knew he was gifted with a distinctive voice that could launch his dreams. “I would have been a singer had I not made it as an announcer,” he once admitted.
But even before he could take advantage of his potentially career-making gift, Eddie knew the value of hard work. He was an exemplary student, graduating with honors from the Iriga Central High School. In college, in order to finish his Journalism degree at the Far Eastern University (FEU), he worked as a newspaper boy and as a bootblack or shoe shine boy.
Of course, he knew he had to brush up on his Tagalog if he wanted to carve a career in broadcasting. And he did so by reading Bulaklak and Liwayway, two magazines which he sold at Central Market while shining shoes on the side.
Slowly carving his niche
Finding his place in the competitive world of broadcasting was not easy. He first got his break as a regular guest at the famous 50s radio announcer Paeng Yabut‘s Tayo’y Mag-aliw—the first live show on radio complete with a live audience and guests.
The year 1955 marked Eddie’s move to Chronicle Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) DZXL to host Si Dely at si Eddie with the legendary Tiya Dely Magpayo.
It was also in the same year when he firmly established his place in the broadcasting industry through his program Kahapon Lamang. The show featured a dramatization of true-to-life stories annotated by Eddie, made even more poignant with the accompanying popular love songs.
He was only playing old songs in the beginning, until listeners started intimating their love problems and asking for advice.
“A listener would write, ‘Alam ’nyo Kuya Eddie, iniwan ako ng aking kasintahan. Ano ang dapat kong gawin?’ Without prodding, they would write and ask for my advice. And so I gave them homespun advice, nothing highfalutin. I speak their language,” he told Business Mirror.
The show became super popular, such that “if you walk in a callejón,” according to Eddie, “that narrow passageway adjacent to the main road, if you walk a hundred meters, you will be able to finish Kahapon Lamang without missing a dialogue.” Simply because no single house on that stretch of street is not tuned into the Eddie Ilarde show.
Crossing over to TV
At CBN, Ilarde served as the station’s live commercial announcer on the noontime show CBN Canteen, where students comprised most of the studio audience. He eventually convinced the station to hold the show in the studio’s canteen, renaming the show Student Canteen—which would become one of the biggest noontime show brands in Philippine TV history.
In 1957, when CBN merged with Alto Broadcasting System (ABS), which operated the first television station in the Philippines, DZAQ TV Channel 3, Student Canteen crossed over to television with Ilarde, Leila Benitez, Bobby Ledesma, and Pepe Pimentel as hosts and Amado Pascual as pianist. Ilarde and Benitez, however, would transfer to Channel 11 to host Darigold Jamboree, 1964-1972.
Eddie’s success on the small screen would go beyond mere hosting. On Channel 7, he would host Suwerte sa Siyete, but also he would create the public service program Kapwa Ko Mahal Ko, and produce Yagit, an afternoon soap about the lives of child scavengers. Yagit would become a giant hit, and inspire a movie spinoff. And then there was also his anthology and public service-oriented program Kahapon Lamang (1976-86).
People called him Kuya Eddie, especially his fans who sought and listened to his advice. His shows are the reason “Dear Kuya Eddie” and “Mabalos”—which means ‘thank you’ in his native Bicolano—are bywords in Filipino popular culture.
The song Kahapon Lamang, popularized by Sharon Cuneta, and Napakasakit, Kuya Eddie by Roel Cortez were actually inspired by Ilarde’s advice programs.
Taking the plunge on politics
While enjoying a rich radio and TV career, Ilarde also successfully dabbled in politics. He ran as an independent candidate and won as top councilor of Pasay City in 1963. He also served as a legislator in the First District of Rizal and had been known as the “Father of the Police Reform Act” (1966).
He lost in his first senatorial bid in 1969, but took a shot again in 1971 after surviving the bombing in Plaza Miranda. In his second bid, he ranked No. 4 in the Senate slate even without campaigning, as a result of the damage of the carnage to his leg. In 1978, he aligned himself with Ferdinand Marcos and won a seat in the Interim Batasang Pambansa as an assemblyman for Metro Manila and served until 1984. He is also the creator of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and was a staunch environmental warrior.
In more recent years, Ilarde dedicated his time in championing the rights of the elderly through Golden Eagles Society International, said to be the biggest organization of senior citizens in the country with at least 3,000 members. The group is pushing for the creation of the Commission for the Elderly to address the dignity and welfare of senior citizens.
His private life
On top of all his professional achievements and distinctions, Ilarde is loving father to his seven children (with wife Sylvia Berenger Arrastia) and a doting lolo to his eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
”I've always felt that if you were to look up the phrase ‘You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy,’ they should surely show a picture of my father,” wrote Eddie’s son Dino on Facebook. “For it was his humble beginnings in tiny Iriga City that kept him firmly grounded throughout his career in show business and politics, two fields where temptation and venality tend to reign supreme. His focus always remained on leaving a legacy that would make his family proud. In that, he succeeded beyond even his own expectations.”
Daughter Liza Ilarde describes Eddie as a typical father from his generation of men. “Although he was a disciplinarian who expected a lot from us academically, he also had a liberal side that allowed each of us to develop our distinct personalities,” she says.
Liza says her dad, having grown up poor, instilled in his children the values of hard work. “He taught us to respect everyone, from the humble street sweeper to the most powerful politicians,” adds Liza.
The broadcaster and former senator died on August 4, which is 21 days shy of his 86th birthday, August 25. He died at 11:40 a.m. in his residence in Makati City.
Perhaps like so many of his fans, Liza says what she’ll miss most about his dad are his stories. “During parties and family get-togethers, people naturally gravitated towards my dad. He always had anecdotes about the old days, from when he was courting my mom to his encounters with celebrities, often times peppered with green jokes.”
Kuya Eddie may have left the mortal world, but his voice, his example and wise words will remain in the hearts of those whose lives he had touched.
Images courtesy of Ilarde family
Movie poster from Video 48 Blog