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Prince Albert enlivens Q-C airwaves


Contributed

Prince Albert, the Cyberseductor of KALA-FM, is pictured (wearing hat) with Vanilla Ice. The radio personality has a growing audience in the Quad-Cities.

Almost four years ago, Albert To-ong could barely speak English.

Now the ``twenty-something'' Filipino is communicating fluently with a growing audience -- as one of the hippest DJs in the Quad-Cities.

You may know To-ong better by his alter-ego, Prince Albert, the Cyberseductor of KALA-FM (88.5 and 105.5).

As the Prince, he's the jumpy, joyous host of Music to Drive By -- a slice of urban and street music from 6-8:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

But it hasn't been too long a stretch from the time when this gregarious, chatty soul was as silent as Chaplin.

``I moved here in December of 1992, and from the first time I was here I could hardly speak English at all,'' he said. ``People would say, `So, your name is Albert?' I'd be like, `Yeah.' They'd say, `How old are you?' I'd be like, `Uh, yeah?'|''

He laughs, recalling his first days as a student at Scott Community College. ``I was really quiet. I was afraid to make mistakes. But I found out that if I didn't say anything, I'd never learn. I need to talk to learn the language, so I just did it.''

Another shock for him was adjusting to another lifestyle. In the Philippines, his family wealth (they own a large peanut factory which, incidentally, supplies the peanuts to Davenport's Mac's Tavern among other places) provided him with a rather pampered existence.

``We had maids and stuff who would lay out our clothes in the morning, make our meals, do laundry, take care of everything,'' he said. ``If I ever needed money or anything, I'd just ask my father.

``When I came here it was totally different -- I had to find jobs to make money and I had to take care of myself ... the first time I ever washed dishes was when I moved here,'' he said. ``But I like that. I'm different now -- I know the value of money and working for it more.''

He's changed, he says, and a lot of that growth has come from his early struggles to fit in and accomplish his goals.

By early 1994 he felt comfortable with what has become his third language -- after Chinese and Spanish -- and had transferred to St. Ambrose University, where he graduated with a double major in TV/radio production and public relations/advertising and a double minor in computer graphics and business. He also began to think about hitting the DJ booth.

``I always loved anything having to do with communications, talking to people, and I always loved music,'' he said. ``That's what attracted me to KALA.''

In 1995 he debuted with Euroblast, the Sound of the Future, a show devoted to import discs primarily from Europe. A year later that morphed into Club 88 (so named because of the 88 keys on a piano, and the station's frequency), and he became the ``cyberseductor.''

``I wanted a name that sounded more like the future,'' he said, ``future, cyber ... and the seductor came from me trying to pull people in, seduce the audience into staying tuned.''

As for the ``Prince'' tag, Albert spends a few minutes giggling and hinting at a greater story before finally revealing that indeed it is tied in to the infamous tobacconist prank phone call gag, ``Do you have Prince Albert in a can?'' (The punch line being of course, ``Then let him out!'')

Whatever you call it, To-ong's shows have people talking. His Friday slot is one of the highest-rated shifts on KALA, and its cutting-edge mix (``I always try to keep it fresh; I'm playing what you would hear in dance clubs if you went to New York City,'' he said) has a lot of high-profile fans.

``He takes chances and plays music that you won't hear on commercial radio,'' said Roberto Nache, a DJ on Planet 93.5 and host of that station's weekly new music show ``Lunar Rotation.'' ``And he's quite a likable person. People of all genders and colors know and respect him for his openness to music.''

To-ong is no stranger to the public eye, either. In the Philippines, he was part of a famous dance troupe with members of his family (``Coca Cola and Pepsi would sponsor us,'' he said) and became a choreographer, working with artists like Lea Salonga, best known for her role in ``Miss Saigon.'' His brother is still an entertainer, working in Japan. But the limelight just wasn't Albert's bag.

``I try to maintain a low-key personality,'' he said. ``I'm different on the radio, I'm more outgoing. That's why I don't like to hang out at bars; I don't like having people recognize me.

``I like what I'm doing,'' he said. ``It's a lot of work sometimes, it takes a lot of calling and pestering record companies to get new music. But I want the show to be as fresh as possible.''

-- By Sean Leary (February 9, 1998)

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