“If you want the best, MY DAUGHTER IS THE BEST!” Honest and unabashed. A line that would most likely come from any proud parent. Only, it’s not everyday that a father would muster guts to send an SMS to a radio station declaring his daughter worthy of a Radio Jock stint. But one man did. And his daughter couldn’t be more grateful…
Her voice would be heard Sundays to Thursdays counting down 20 of the most requested songs for the day on 104.4 Virgin Radio Dubai. A well-known international brand, Virgin Radio has welcomed individuals of various nationalities and accents. And Louise Serrano-Da Costa, a.k.a Louie of Hot 20 Countdown, was the lone Filipino who made it to the fold of radio jocks. How she made it in Virgin Radio was a stroke of both fate and faith—a fate of a woman who had to discover her true potential and the faith of her parents who believed in her all along.
A NEWBIE IN MANILA
Louise practically grew up in the UAE. “I loved it!” She exclaimed. “It was great because the Filipino community back then was so small, so it’s a tight knit. Although we didn’t have everything the kids are enjoying now at that time… We didn’t have Ski Dubai. We didn’t have all these malls. Deira City Center opened when I was already in high school. It was fun!” She recalls that the only chance a child would have friends back then was in school. Lucky for her, she has her big brother to keep her company when she was at home. That was why she was in such apprehension to go back to the Philippines. “I didn’t know anybody there except for my relatives… Initially, when I was graduating from UIPS (United International Private School), I wanted to take up college in either US or UK. (But) it was a standard thing that once you graduate here, you have to go back to the Philippines.” Louise hoped to follow his father’s footsteps and study at De La Salle University-Manila, but due to conflicts in admission, she settled instead with an exclusive school nearby, St. Scholastica’s College.
It took a while for her to adjust in her new environment—new school, new classmates and virtually, a whole new country. Riding the jeepney, conversing in Tagalog, living with her grandparents and immersing into the new culture were just some of the things she had to get used to. “It was really hard at first. I didn’t have friends at the beginning. There was really nothing that we can talk about. There was nothing that we have in common at all. So I ended up staying in the library. There was some form of culture shock and language barrier,” she adds. However, lots of tagalong lines would slip during the whole interview, leaving no trace of the non-Filipino speaking girl who went to the Philippines for college. Her dream of becoming a La Sallian was eventually exchanged by her pride for being a Kulasa. She relished her thesis days in Batanes where she and her group mates mixed research with adventure as they studied the effects of media to the culture of the Ivatans. She commends to this day her Chemistry professor who made her appreciate science at a great extent. And she realized that her professors were truly competitive. Looking back, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
‘DJ’ TO ‘RJ’
In the Philippines, we are fond of calling the ‘pilots of the airwaves’ DJs. But here, they are accustomed to call themselves RJs, as in Radio Jockeys. Louise had the rare privilege to be called both. For months after concluding her Mass Communications degree, she had done various TV and radio auditions. On the fourth month, she got an advice from an unlikely source—the lady who got the job she applied for in a radio station. “She was nice enough to tell me that since I’m starting out, I might want to get an experience first in broadcasting. I should try Trapik.Com because she worked there before.” So she did, and thanks to her degree and ‘twang’, she finally broke into the media arena. After a year, she began taking newscasting duties with another radio station. Her shift would begin as early as 6 AM and end at 8 PM. Lunchbreaks weren’t really meant for ‘lunch’ as she’d hurriedly head to her newscasting job at the same building. There even came a time when she literally fell asleep in the elevator due to exhaustion. Eventually she left Trapik.Com and went full time with CityLite 88.3. But things haven’t started to pay off just yet… “I was fired!” That was basically because the whole station had to reformat. But when she reapplied, she was back on track once again. This gave birth to Jam 88.3. And Louise was one of its pioneer DJs. In 2007, Louise would leave the station after four long years—then already a wife and a mother seeking for greener pastures and ready for a homecoming—but not without a heavy heart. Bonds were forged throughout this time making the move impossibly easy.
Fast forward to May 2008, Louise was given the extraordinary break of becoming a freelancer at Virgin Radio. Yes, that was after her father’s brave message to the then Hot 20 Countdown mainstay. The latter took notice and actually called in to suggest that she may send her demo to the station. The ball continued to roll. Soon she met with the team and passed her live demo. She took over weekend spots as well as the occasional countdown on weekdays. It was something she didn’t expect, more so didn’t know how exactly works. She took on the brave face and pulled it off. By the time she became a regular at the prime 7 to 10 PM spot, ‘RJ Louie’ has already gained support from her peers, as well as training. She says if there’s anything she got out from her freelance experience, it was that Virgin Radio trained her to be better… A usual working day would begin an hour and a half prior to her show. This window is for preparation as she is likewise the one who tallies the votes, research for her segments and do just about anything that has to be done on Hot 20. At first, she would get emails asking her where she’s from. So she decided to cap every show with her signature ‘Paalam’. This move was highly favored by the management. This made her Filipino listeners feel like they have someone who can relate to them, making them feel less homesick. Louise also took it to herself to announce Filipino community-related projects. At the height of flood-relief drives in Dubai, she informed her listeners of the when, what, where and how of the Hakbang Buhay (Walk for Life) Campaign.
APPRECIATING THE ‘OFW’
When asked what she did from November 2007 until May 2008, she replied: “I was looking for a job!” The opportunity that was the reason why they left the Philippines in the first place didn’t materialize. So her husband took another offer while she was left with little options. Although a radio jock back in the country, she thought that she wouldn’t stand a chance to lead the same career here. Why, growing up in Dubai hearing only western jocks on the radio doesn’t really give one much assurance. And so like many risk-takers who braved this land, she got to experience ‘visa runs’. She’d go back and forth Dubai and Manila. One of her ‘exits’ was even to the island of Kish. This served as an eye opener for her. She began to perceive in retrospect the sacrifice of her parents just to give them a bright future. And she realizes what kind of honor an OFW deserves. “Coming back here really humbled me. Since I grew up here, I can say that I was confident. I didn’t appreciate before the term OFW. But now whenever I encounter this term, I know that this is somebody who really went through a lot just to help the family,” she shares with utmost sincerity. She confides that her job helps her to stay young—an advantage for her as she can easily relate to her four-year-old tot and be the youthful wife to her husband. She eyes a lot of things in the future—a TV break eventually would be one of them. Quite ambitious, one might say. But she now possesses a ‘no-guts-no-glory’ attitude that was inspired by her father. She encourages the rest of us to shake our inhibitions off. “Don’t think that just because we are Filipinos, we cannot step up and say ‘I CAN DO IT!’” On hindsight, we ought to consider her advice. After all, SHE ACTUALLY DID IT.
by Dominique Pechuela-Famador