LIHUE, Kauai — Block-long Halenani Street runs parallel to a tired section of Rice Street — Lihue’s main drag — where the buildings aspire to be called nondescript.
Midway down, one storefront stands out for a recent paint job and a large window sign that reads “Kauai’s KONG.” Don’t let the grimacing cartoon gorilla fool you — this is home to Kauai’s most ubiquitous radio station, with an AM signal that can be picked up nearly anywhere on Kauai. It also offers FM and streaming service.
And inside the building, Ron Wiley stands in what looks like a high-tech monitoring station. He’s waving his arms at keyboards and monitors like a lion tamer as he keeps up a steady DJ patter and pushes out information simultaneously through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms.
Earphones askew and one hand on a microphone, he has for decades arguably been the most influential person on Kauai. More than any elected official or community leader.
His mantra is: “I will tell the world!”
He refuses to post overtly political material on any of the social media pages he controls. As best he can, he double checks information on things like road closures to be sure what he says is accurate. He does not have kind words for the vaunted Coconut Wireless. “It’s fast and it’s highly inaccurate,” he says, drawing out the word “highly.”
It is through Ron Wiley that many on Kauai become aware of what’s happening on the island every day, from bridge closures to announcement of federal grant money for infrastructure repairs necessitated by Hurricane Lane flooding. But he’s carefully specific. Grants of money for individuals to rebuild damaged houses haven’t been finally approved yet.
He’s on the air the majority of mornings every week — sometimes all of them. But when there’s trouble, he’s at the station instantly and in the studio. He continues broadcasting until the disaster is over. He once stayed on the air for 99 consecutive hours. During Hurricane Iniki in 1992, he literally moved into the radio station.
“During what was a terrifying event, especially when the (Princeville Hotel, which had opened as a shelter) itself began to fall apart, it was the voice of Ron Wiley that kept many of us calm,” recalled Haena resident Elsa Almaraz. “Even before the storm, Ron’s voice was like part of the family for many here on Kauai.”
It sometimes seems as if he knows the identity and location of everyone making poke, for example, on the island at any one time. The public officials who keep residents and visitors informed acknowledge Wiley’s unique role.
“Not only is Ron Wiley one of the most influential people on Kauai, but also the most dependable,” said Sarah Blane, the county public information officer. “Ron has always found a way to get reliable, real-time information to our community.”
Wiley is originally from Tucson, Arizona, and got into radio during college. Fluently bilingual at the time, he got a commercial radio license and went to work at a local Spanish language station.
“One day, the morning man didn’t show up,” he recalled. “and I stepped in. I’ve been on the air ever since.”
He hopped from market to market, then to Honolulu and, finally, to Kauai in 1975. He’s been on KONG ever since.
“Believe it or not,” he says. “I came to Hawaii first class and haven’t been able to afford first class ever since.”
He uses contests and humor — some of it borderline bawdy — to keep the audience paying attention. Even through the hearing last week on confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Avoiding that entirely, he pivots to the weather. “Hawaii is continuing to get humid weather,” he observes deadpan. “It’s a BEAUTIFUL day.” Drawing “beautiful” out as long as possible.
“I call it (weather for) running around naked. You’ll sweat, though.”
Then the zinger: “Some of the best things in life happen while you’re sweating.”
He pauses to allow Michelle Mackler, of the Kauai Humane Society, to enter the studio with a dog named Hideko. Rescued in Kokee, the malnourished pooch is a terrier mix of some kind. Together, Mackler and Wiley pitch Hideko to listeners.
Wiley allows as how it might only be hours after the dog’s radio appearance that she gets adopted. Sometimes it’s that immediate, and animals that get on Wiley’s show are almost invariably taken in by good homes quickly.
“Ron Wiley has made himself the go-to guy,” observed Laurie Ho, a westside resident and board member of the Kauai County Farm Bureau. “Somebody has to do it.”
During Hurricane Iniki, Ho recalled. “He was it. He was the lifeline,” even facilitating messages between residents and mainland families.
Charlie King, former owner of King Auto Center, recalls Iniki and disasters that have followed similarly. “It seems like he is always on the air, always keeping the island informed,” King said. “He really performs a service for Kauai.”
In his alleged off time, Wiley is a fixture at pretty much every public charitable function on Kauai. He attends many with Laura, his wife since 1997.
King said he himself could not get up as early as Wiley does “and still be awake and alert enough to get through all those chicken dinners.”
This inevitably leads to the subject of whether Wiley will — or should — seek elected office since he so obviously knows the community far better than any current elected official. The urgings to run for office, Wiley said, “started to come in after Iniki and resurface before every election.”
But, he said emphatically, he’s not going there.
“I don’t want to run for office at this stage in my life,” he says. “Laura and I have talked about it and it’s not something we want. I do not intend to retire.
“You asked me if I intend to work until I die. Well, I do not intend to die.”
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