Leonardo Ramos Avila III was just 18 years old when he became a Disc jockey for DXUM in 1975. The radio stint proved to be young man’s watershed that would eventually redefine his career as one of Davao’s top FM DJ leading to a successful career in local City politics.
Leo Avila adopted Happy L.A as his radio moniker and his radio program was named Pinoy Rock and Rhythm, playing mostly rock and roll and folk. The program attracted many local musicians who would give demos of their original songs.
“Pero pag-pakinggan ko parang ni-record sa banyo.” (When I listened to it. it sounded like it was recorded in the bathroom.) Happy L.A. said. He then got an idea, gathering different bands with original materials they set out to record their songs just to get the quality fit for radio airing. And thus began the golden age of the Davao music scene.
We began recording, “there were times when we would record for three straight days.” Said Happy L.A., recording were set-up in Student Center (then located along Claveria), UM Technical School in Bangoy where they would set up for a live outdoor recording sessions, Yamaha-Yupangco building which had a 24-track recording studio. The recording was an ex-deal as Yamaha would get free plugging in Happy LA’s program. Then there was DEMS Recording studio, a well-equipped recording studio in Matina run by a Non-Government Organization.”
In the late 70s his was the most listened radio program. “I remember the program would be at 6 to 6:30 p.m. when people would relax at their homes or be with their friends drinking tuba. Life was simple then. They would just listen to the radio and relax.” Happy L.A. said.
And aside from recorded materials, musicians would drop by and jam on the program live, he recounts seeing Joey Ayala, Bong Durias, Eric Dalisay and Popong Landero as among those artists who would drop by at his program. The music those days were of folk and rock and roll, influence by Seals and Crofts, Crosby Stills and Neil Young.
Happy L.A. remembers a young boy, the son of Bong Durias who would tag along at the station. “ang liit-liit pa siya nuon. Pero ngayon ang laki na.” Literally and figuratively, Happy L.A. was describing Jay Durias of South Border.
Aside from recording, Happy L.A ventured into producing concerts and gigs. During those days two bands would stand out developing some sort of musical rivalry, these were the JBM band (which later became Sticky Stones) and the Aldaba band. Happy L.A managed the Sticky Stones and remembers the popularity of the two bands and the well attended concerts.
“During a concert at the then Davao Y Gym we headlined the face-off between the JBM and Aldaba bands, there were so many people during the event that the gate to the gymnasium was destroyed.” He recalled. Aptly named Pinoy Rock and Rhythm concerts, the organizers would eventually tie up with schools to conduct school tours (Pinoy Rock and Rhythm School tour) and would visit other nearby cities and provinces (Pinoy Rock and Rhythm on the road).
However the DXUM partnership ended when the station reformatted favoring a more mellow pop sound. The station was sending signals that Pinoy Rock and Rhythm was out of place with the station’s new Mellow Fever format. The unhappy Happy L.A. left and accepted the longstanding offer of DXXL.
“In 1980 I got married (to Lorelyn Trinidad), it was a change of priorities na rin. Datiwhen I was in DXUM I was still single.” Happy L.A. said. With higher pay and added responsibilities to his job he gave up being the band manager of Sticky Stones though he continued to be the band’s adviser until they disbanded in the early 80s.
In the early 1980s peace and order deteriorated in the City and the local performing scene was temporarily silent. But his love for Rock and roll and the local musicians never waned. Despite being in a Top 100 format radio station, Happy L.A would still inject music of local bands though not as often as his DXUM days. “Sundays nalang sila ma-feature. He recalls the tagline “Flying High on a Sunday” which describes the Sunday format of DXXL.”
When peace returned to the City, Happy L.A organized concerts featuring local musicians. “Those were the Araw ng Dabaw concerts, the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga (MAD) events.” The anti-drug concerts were held in PTA grounds (now the People’s Park), Uyanguren Avenue and the newly opened Sandawa avenue.
Happy L.A fondly recalls the Sandawa MAD concert; “there was a very huge crowd, we even managed to get Mayor Duterte to go to the stage and deliver a message, when the Mayor went to the stage, he saw a very young boy sporting an earring and the Mayor admonished the boy right in front of the stage.” Happy L.A. recalls amusingly, remembering his young DJ/rocker days when he was sporting earrings and wearing torn jeans.
But Happy L.A was not a believer of a dirty rock lifestyle. “I shun drugs, even as a band manager it was a big no, no for my band to perform when they are high on drugs. You must play for the audience and not for yourself, when you play for the audience you must be responsible.” He said.
In 1988, Happy L.A has become a household name as one of Davao City’s top FM radio personalities; during the 1988 local elections he took a gamble and ran for a seat in the City Council where he eventually won.
In 1991, now Councilor Avila left DXXL and transferred to DXBM (now Love Radio). In 1999, together with Ernie Ortonio of Polyfusion Studios he produced a compilation of songs from different local musicians; the compilation was named Durian Jam.
Featuring a slew of rock songs, romantic ballads and upbeat ditties which are all original compositions (Happy L.A. recalls Panacan Barangay Captain Dante Apostol as the drummer of the Apostol band which was part of the Durian Jam album) the album was in keeping with his philosophy of promoting local music. “The only way for a musician to be known was for the local talents to compose your own songs.” He said.