Art of Radio Hawaii ©
by David Ricquish
Just the word ‘Hawaii’ conjures up every possible classic tropical image. It’s not surprising therefore, that a variety of Hawaiiana images have been used by Hawaiian radio stations in their commercial letterhead and logo designs.
This is only a taste of the Art of Radio Hawaii ©. It concentrates mainly on the period 1945-1980’s and on AM broadcasters. The opening image of Diamond Head is from a color promotional sticker affixed to a postcard issued by Hawaii’s first radio station, KGU. It’s worth reproducing the entire card here, because you’ll notice that local times are given for listeners across the USA, and in New Zealand.
In his book ‘Hawaii Recalls – selling Romance to America’, DeSoto Brown says:
“Hawaii was well served by radio. Ordinary people of the 1920’s and 30’s were exposed for the first time to the sounds of the world’s faraway places [like Hawaii] and they liked it. The programs they heard from paradise typically included lovely Hawaiian music, the haunting native language being spoken, and lots of evocative descriptions of the many beauties of the isles. Radio’s strong point has always been that it demands the use of the listener’s imagination to picture what it’s talking about, and this worked very much in favor of Hawaii as the announcer told of being right on the beach at Waikiki with the warm waves lapping the sand almost at the base of the stage itself, the blue skies above, and the trade winds in the palm trees overhead. There’s no question that the nights spent dreaming by the radio as it spoke of paradise and played soft tunes of the islands inspired many to make the trip to alohaland to see all this for themselves. The utilization of predominately live entertainment on both local and national radio shows also provided steady and secure employment for musicians, thus keeping that segment of the arts lively and healthy.”
“The most influential and longest-lived Hawaiian radio program was ‘Hawaii Calls’, run by the tireless Webley Edwards. It was broadcast from the islands from 1935 to 1975 and was heard over hundreds of stations at the height of its success.” (1)
Placing Hawaii on the map was a feature of several early examples of radio art. During WWII, the US government established a ‘Voice of America’ shortwave station to broadcast news and information programs from the islands to American forces in the Pacific and to listeners in Australia and New Zealand. The station was KRHO Honolulu and from this illustration you can clearly see the ‘radio waves’ beamed to the west.
Here are some examples of map designs from several early broadcasters in the Territory of Hawaii, before statehood in 1959. The first is from the 1940’s and was issued by KIPA Hilo on the Big Isle of Hawaii, a member station of the Aloha Network that also included KTOH Lihue [Kauai], KHON Honolulu [Oahu] and KMVI Wailuku [Maui].
Although based at Kaneohe [near Honolulu], KANI of the Windward Broadcasting Company used its logo to promote coverage of all the islands, as this example from 1954 shows.
Less ambitious with its coverage claims, was KAHU “The Voice of Rural Oahu” from Waipahu. Operated by the Rural Broadcasting Company, KAHU was proud to announce it had ‘Coverage Where Coverage Counts’ from its location just outside Honolulu City.
“The Voice of the Orchid Isle” was the local claim for KILA, another Hilo station, and a small map of the island of Hawaii and an orchid appeared as part of their larger coverage map. Jim Jaeger was owner and operator of KILA which ‘programmed its cream time for the people who understand and enjoy the Japanese language”.
Finally in this series of map designs, is a combination of the outline of Diamond Head and a map of the Hawaiian islands from KPOA Honolulu, ‘Flagship Station of the Inter-Island Network’ that used 5000 watts of power at ‘650 on all of Hawaii’s dials’ to claim territory wide coverage.
Surprisingly, relatively few Hawaiian hula girls appeared in station artwork. Even, KULA ‘Hawaii’s most powerful radio station” in Honolulu, the one station that might have been expected to have an image in keeping with its call-sign, could only manage a sedate rendition of its call letters on its early letterhead.
However, in the same year, KULA also issued a far more attractive piece in the form of this postcard sent to listeners outside Hawaii. This was much more into the rhythm of the KULA call-sign.
A much more exuberant hula girl appears on a promotional piece from Waipahu’s KAHU in 1952, celebrating increased sales and audiences. This obviously very happy young lady is clearly enjoying ‘The Swing to KAHU’ shown by the sales graph alongside. GM Arthur Sedgwick wrote “Incidentally we have had many reports of the fine reception in Samoa of our late Saturday night Samoan program”, so the swing even reached halfway across the South Pacific.
Another station featured both the hula girl and the traditional lei flower garland. Located at the Kailua Shopping Center in Kailua, about 30 minutes from Honolulu, KLEI on 1240 AM began broadcasting in August 1960, and it’s very first logo placed special attention on the ‘LEI’ aspect of its call sign.
Meanwhile, KPOA added the hula girl to its collection when it issued this hand drawn postcard in 1954, featuring a wonderful selection of tropical images – the happy hula girl, the palm tree, the little grass shack, another outline of Diamond Head and a broadcasting tower.
Finally, another hula girl appears on material from KCCN Honolulu in 1971. At this time, KCCN billed itself as ‘The World’s Number 1 Hawaiian Radio Station’ and claimed to be ‘All Hawaiian All The Time”. It’s not clear how many other radio stations in the world that KCCN was comparing itself with, but nevertheless, it was a claim the station took seriously for several decades as part of the ‘Hawaiian Renaissance’ period.
I spent a day at KCCN in the early 1980’s, sitting in with ‘The Skylark’ during her show. I then joined the KCCN outside broadcast team at the Kamehameha Day celebrations where the DJ’s phrase ‘they’re bringing on the cherry-picker to lei the king’ burned itself into my mind.
Perhaps the most powerful of all images has to be that of ‘The Seal of Pele’ appearing on a listener card from Radio Station KHBC Hilo in 1952. At first glance the card has nothing special about it. Look closely at the handprint ‘burned’ into the bottom right of the card. Yes, ‘The Seal of Pele – Hawaiian Goddess of Fire’. The use of the Hawaiian language on promotional material from a Hawaiian radio station in the early 1950’s is also unusual.
American radio stations frequently included images of their studio buildings on their letterhead in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It was a matter of pride for local businessmen to demonstrate a solid foundation to this business of broadcasting through the air. This was in the days when studios were owned in the communities they served and when open access for all was preferred to an anonymous room in an office tower guarded by a security card and security guard.
KHON of the Aloha Broadcasting Company had a fine building in Honolulu, as did its companion station KIPA in Hilo. The design is typical of the period.
Another example of a business like building of the period is that of KPOA Honolulu, whilst the KTOH Lihue [Kauai] studio building is far more ‘tropical’ in design, surrounded by waving palm trees – as befitting owner ‘The Garden Island Publishing Company’.
The traditional microphone finally makes a rare appearance also from KTOH Lihue ‘For 30 Years the Voice of the Garden Island’ in this letterhead design from 1971.
In 1952, “KGU – Hawaii’s First Station” was at it again, this time promoting the introduction of television into the islands. At least that’s what appears to be the case from this logo with a TV ‘rabbit’s ears’ aerial. Perhaps William Paine, the KGU Manager had a good reason to use a TV letterhead, as his letter adds:
‘Sorry, but we’re not printing program schedules because of the paper shortage due to the shipping strike.’
A transmitting tower and little grass shack is another nice image of broadcasting from paradise. It appears on the first logo of KHVH ‘The Voice of Hawaii’, that began broadcasting in early 1957. However, it was a bit misleading, because the tower was actually located on the rooftop of the [Kaiser] Hawaiian Village Hotel on the beach at Waikiki and its warning lights could be seen for miles. Nice image anyway.
A completely different design is that from KQNG Lihue. The island was used for filming one of the earlier versions of the movie ‘King Kong’ and, with a bit of marketing imagination, the ‘Q’ becomes an ‘O’ and hence the station becomes ‘KONG’. And, of course, the banana eating ape becomes the contemporary design feature for all the station promotions and events and it remains so today. Actually, when I called into the KQNG studios in 1988, the ape was already in full swing so this must be one of the longest running branding exercises in Hawaiian radio history.
Station Call Signs
Perhaps not always as interesting as other designs, the simple display of the station call letters still represent a variety of styles that reflect everything from thriftiness to lack of imagination to bluntness and, from time to time, a little imagination.
Here are some examples, mostly from stations that have long gone from the Hawaiian AM radio dial, but which deserve mention in this artistic journey through the first 50 years or so of the Art of Radio Hawaii ©
We hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to Hawaii, and to the Art of Radio Hawaii ©. We also hope that beyond the freeways, fast food franchises, traffic lights, ‘No Stopping’ signs and other signs of contemporary life in Hawaii, USA, you may have let your imagination drift back to radio from these earlier times.
We also hope you’ve imagined again the smell of flowers on the evening breeze as waves gently washed the shores and haunting Hawaiian melodies from a golden age valve radio lulled you asleep.
If any of these images, stations and times have brought back memories for you, as someone who worked in Hawaiian radio, or listened to Hawaiian radio, we’d like to hear from you. You may have images, memorabilia, photos, tapes, booklets, promotional items or more that can help complete these stories. Please share them with others here.
A second edition with a focus on Hawaiian FM radio is scheduled later in this Art of Radio © Series. If you can help with materials for this, please contact us.
This first edition of the Art of Radio Hawaii © is dedicated to the memory of the late Alan Roycroft.
In 1970, when I first began listening to Hawaiian AM radio from my hometown in New Zealand, I began receiving bright yellow postcards confirming my reception of these exotic stations. Each was signed ‘ALR’ and it soon transpired that Alan was a fellow New Zealander. He ran Broadcast Services Inc, doing engineering for most local AM and some FM stations across the Aloha state.
Over the years, we regularly corresponded. In 1976 I visited Honolulu, and Alan drove me around the town, showing me every AM transmitter, and every tower. He let me switch off KORL 650 whilst the DJ was in full swing. He was not popular with DJ’s or some station owners. He closed down more than one station for not paying transmitter power bills. He did not suffer fools.
On a subsequent visit I enjoyed Alan’s home cooking and beers whilst he told me hair raising stories about broadcasting in Hawaii and around the islands. Alan worked out how to put up to four separate AM’s on the same tower long before it became standard practice. He pioneered broadcasting in Samoa. He did engineering work for a number of island stations.
Alan was a man gracious and generous with his time, knowledge and friendship. He retired to Hilo where he passed away some years ago. He only asked for one thing – I had to take loaves of Vogel’s bread for him on flights to Honolulu. Vale Alan.
(1) © ‘Hawaii Recalls – Selling Romance to America’. Nostalgic Images of the Hawaiian Islands 1910-1950. Text by DeSoto Brown. Editions Limited, Honolulu, HI. 1982.
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