Carlos “Bobong” Velez: the soft-spoken giant of Philippine sports broadcasting

June 14, 2017

by: Noel Zarate

(Photo by Noel Zarate)
(Photo by Noel Zarate)

 

You know you’re getting old in the industry when three of your mentors have moved on to the Great Beyond while you’re still in the trenches doing what they have helped equip you to do.

In my case, Butch Maniego, Ronnie Nathanielsz and now Carlos “Bobong” Velez—the man whose vision for sports broadcasting has left its imprint in today’s coverages—have all bid us farewell but have done their share in revolutionizing Philippine sportscasting to the level of greatness it enjoys today.

For Velez (Mr. Bobong or CAV to us alumni of Vintage Television) his passing was especially painful, not only because he was one of the Ninongs at my wedding (like Nathanielsz) but also because—like many others before and after me—he took a chance on a virtual unknown and more than twenty years later, I am still in the industry; now as a senior sportscaster. I have taken the lead from Velez in terms of trusting that the newbies who arrive at the scene will, in due time, shine and prove that they deserve to be in our little fraternity (or sorority) of people who live the dream of getting paid to just talk about the sports action they witness.

I am a sportscaster today because two decades ago Velez said I could be one.

Prior to Vintage Enterprises, Inc. (VEI), the PBA was experiencing an upsurge in its following and the broadcasts—then done tirelessly and efficiently by Dick Ildefonso and the late Emy Arcilla—helped introduce local professional basketball to a growing fanbase in the archipelago.

When the league decided to award the broadcast rights to VEI in 1982, instant innovations to how the games were presented on television were felt and it took a while for audiences who got used to the succinct play-by-play style of Ildefonso and the crisp, stats driven analysis of Arcilla to absorb the barbs of Steve Kattan, the moniker-laden blasts of Pinggoy Pengson and the coloful annotations of renowned boxing commentator Joe Cantada (who claimed to know very little about basketball when he first came on). That’s how vivid it became.

The deep, informative and sometimes offbeat analysis of “Dr. J” Andy Jao, Joaqui Trillo and Quinito Henson had viewers gaining a new perspective for the game, while Norman Black—then still an active PBA player—taught the nuances of basketball in his “Burlington At The Half” segment. That’s how intricate it became.

On the court, eventual PBA Commissioner Jun Bernardino shared the sideline duties with former Cebuano actor Romy Kintanar as the original “Man On The Ball” as it was called. That’s how diverse it became.

Eventually, the pool expanded when radio icons Ed Picson, Sev Sarmenta and Maniego (then a respected writer) came on board, while the likes of Bill Velasco, Chino Trinidad and later on Anthony Suntay inherited the half time show.

Terms like “Honey Shot” (referring to the image-capturing of the beautiful faces in the venue), “Listen In” (referring to the cameras closing in on a team’s huddle during a timeout) and the “Ambush Interview” (with the courtside people getting to talk to a player or a coach just before they could head to the locker rooms for the halftime break) became a standard under Vintage while features about players (on and off the court) became part of what fans anticipated from every PBA coverage. This helped turn Robert Jaworski into a god, Alvin Patrimonio into a super-superstar and Benjie Paras into the game-changer he became as the PBA’s first ever Rookie-MVP (the media influence was overwhelming).

In 1993, Velez approved an idea to do the PBA broadcasts in the vernacular—which did not sit well with many that had gotten used to the norm of all-English commentary, but was (as CAV was always known for) an eventual stroke of genius.

This elevated the PBA Radio panel to the mainstream with Maniego, Mon Liboro (who is now the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology), Bob Novales, Randy Sacdalan and Rado Dimalibot bringing the action closer to the Filipino in our very own language.

The distaff were also added into the mix at that time with the likes of Ronith Ang, Kathy De Leon, Ana Amigo and later youngsters such as Ria Tanjuatco and Jannelle So coming in to liven up the coverage.

Velez had successfully turned the PBA into a total entertainment and information package and enjoyed a solid run until the end of the 1999 season when VEI merged with VIVA Television. In 2003, Vintage closed shop and not long after that, the PBA coverage was up for bids and has bounced around from several networks until finally finding its home today with TV5.

I had the pleasure of going through the process of auditioning for my dream job in 1997.

Prior to that, I had a few stints in the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) as courtside reporter and eventually a panelist, but didn’t get renewed when the league chose a new broadcast partner in 1996.

So when word got out that there was an opening for PBA Radio, I auditioned.

The final panel had Velez and Nathanielsz and I was so nervous that I stuttered towards the end. But then a week later, Maniego called me up and said Velez saw potential and hired me.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Velez took more than his fair share of gambles on would be broadcasting diamonds-in-the-rough. He was responsible for training a handful of broadcasting greats who still make an impact in the industry today, including Sarmenta, Jao, Henson, Suntay and the younger stalwarts such as Tanjuatco (now known as Ria Trillo, wife of Meralco assistant coach Luigi), TJ Manotoc, Chiqui Roa-Puno and Ryan Gregorio.

At Vintage, Velez nurtured a culture of giving wherein everyone had a chance to make a difference. His pool of TV directors such as Dong Capinpuyan (Sports5), Abet Ramos (ABS-CBN Sports), Lee Japa (CNN Philippines), and Erick Tam (formerly of Solar) went on to be the leaders of their respective networks on the production end. It was always done the Vintage way. The Bobong Velez way: innovative, creative, daring and always thinking of the audience first while still fostering camaraderie, teamwork and fun.

We would have those spontaneous get-togethers after all of us had moved on to different networks at the turn of the millennium and all affiliations were dropped when all the Vintage people shared the same space for those parties. We were and always will be “Vintage Babies”—Velez products.

Sadly, the new generation of talented and equally driven sportscasters of today never got to experience this phenomenon, but those of us who were part of Vintage somehow still impart to them the wisdom Velez bestowed on all of us.

Personally, I always think of ways of how to communicate the way I was honed under his tutelage; how to push the envelope without going overboard and how to educate and entertain the audience without being overbearing. I still stumble at times, but Velez gave us that leeway; that slack to fumble and recover.

Bobong Velez was the father figure to all of us; soft-spoken, generous and nurturing. He never berated those that would screw up. He would always find ways for all of us to improve.

One of our former producers Diana Sayson (now a high ranking producer at ABS-CBN Sports), said it best in just one sentence:

“He was not our boss. He was our leader.”

Rest in peace, CAV.

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