Trisha Kehaulani Watson: Radio Station Layoffs Are A Blow To Hawaiian Music - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.

I have a soft spot for Hawaiian music. It was not only the music of my childhood, but my grandparents loved Hawaiian music. It played throughout their house anytime we went to visit. It served as a staple at all family gatherings.

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My uncle played in the group Olomana so his bandmate Haunani Apoliona played at my first baby luau. Uncle Jerry Santos often played in our garage or the backyard of whichever house in which we were having a paina that weekend.

These weren’t concerts. They were just how we celebrated. Most everyone picked up a guitar or ukulele. Everyone sang.

As a child, I had no sense of how extraordinary these regular occurrences were. I remember laying on the floor of our living room, with its yellow shag carpeting, wearing out my dad’s Country Comfort eight-track tape. Hawaiian music is the soundtrack of my life.

Hawaiian music is much of the fabric that makes the islands so special. It always managed to straddle worlds: it would live in backyards and still support livelihoods through work in Waikiki or other resort areas.

Pandemic Woes

I’m now married to a Hawaiian musician, Matt Sproat, and I can say from my front-row seat to that world that Covid-19 was a devastating blow. My husband, a full-time musician, was actually away on tour in 2020 when the shutdowns began. He came home, worried as to what the pandemic would mean.

The loss of tours, concerts and other events has been crushing for the Hawaiian music industry — not only for musicians, but emcees, DJs, sound engineers and all the members of this once robust industry. Government mandates were slow to allow for the return of live music, even with Covid precautions in place.

Hawaiian music stations have been a lifeline, even though radio DJs also took a blow when large events were canceled.

“This has been a hard year for radio announcers during the pandemic,” veteran broadcaster Billy V said. “Some have had to work remotely; meanwhile in the radio stations themselves what would usually be a bustling hub of activity is continuously a ghost town as minimal crews and protocols are in effect.”

Last week, to the surprise of staff and the public, Summit Media, the parent corporation to four local radio stations — Hawaiian 105, KCCN FM 100, Power 104.3 and KRATER 96 FM — laid off 20 employees.

Those included longtime radio veterans Shannon Scott, Gregg Hammer and Billy V. Also laid off were station general manager Andrew Rosen and operations manager Wayne Maria. Traffic reporter Danielle Tucker was also let go.

Summit Media layoffs Radio veterans Danielle Tucker, Shannon Scott, Mele Apana, Lina Girl, Billy V, Iolani Palace
Radio veterans Danielle Tucker, Shannon Scott, Mele Apana, Lina Girl and Billy V pose in front of Iolani Palace after receiving word of mass layoffs at Summit Media. Courtesy: Lina Girl and Billy V/2022

Unexpected Layoffs

While their shows continue, largely with music and less banter, the layoffs raised concerns in the local and Hawaiian communities that Summit Media, which is based in Birmingham, Alabama, was giving an early signal it may stop supporting local or Hawaiian music.

The new president of Summit Media/Honolulu, Patti Ponimoi, declined to comment on the layoffs, referring questions to the corporate office in Alabama. Summit Media promised in a statement to Hawaii News Now that “it will continue the tradition of Hawaiian music and celebrating the culture.”

Summit Media provided no reason for the sudden layoffs. And it’s hard to know what the loss of so many personalities will mean or look like in the coming months.

I could not do the job. I don’t have the energy. It’s a job that requires a constant output of energy that I would find exhausting.

“As radio personalities we thrive on that hub of activity; that chance to physically and mentally interact. But when you do that distant or virtually, it really numbs the experience,” said Billy V, who’s also a regular on HNN’s morning “Sunrise” show. “You try to give the best energy when you are in the studio, and you do your best, but you always wish you could give more. The best thing though is that we continuously get energy from our audience who always appreciates and gives their aloha in return.”

Local radio has been one of the few places where Hawaiian voices always had a prominent role. Even if the DJs weren’t Hawaiian, Hawaiian issues and news were a constant thread. It was a space where local culture, including pidgin, was highlighted.

Hawaiian musicians certainly have a deep appreciation for how Hawaiian music radio has contributed to Hawaiian culture.

“Over the generations, Hawaiian music radio has always served as an important catalyst in showcasing cultural pride and identity through music and mele,” said musician and kumu hula Keali‘i Reichel.

“It is the singular place on the airwaves where our collective Hawaiian communities throughout the pae ʻaina are able to tune in, listen, sometimes engage, learn and bask in the brilliance of our kupuna. All in real-time,” Reichel added. “It is a space in which old and new artists merge alongside the radio personalities who kept their hands on the pulse of our lahui.”

Hawaiian Music, Hawaiian Voices

Reichel is right. Hawaiian music radio has always been about more than just music. It has been a space for Hawaiians and Hawaiian issues to be amplified.

Much of that richness comes from the DJs themselves; people like Billy V or Mele Apana.

“Mento” Mele Apana left Hawaiian 105 last year, but she is a perfect example of the type of voice that is valuable and needed on the radio. She is the “crazy tita” archetype. She’s that one crazy friend everyone has – the one that is simultaneously outrageous and kind. And on the radio, as part of the Kolohe Crew, she became every listener and commuter’s crazy friend.

The entire Kolohe Crew processed this kind of authentic local vibe – hilarious, unexpected and real, without being offensive or unkind. They were just funny and didn’t need to be so at others’ expense.

Hawaiian radio also has been a space where new Hawaiian musicians got the opportunity to be heard.

Hawaiian radio was how I first heard Keali‘i Reichel when his debut album “Kawaipunahele” was first released. Hawaiian music radio was where most of us are first introduced to new music and bands. Radio announcers are the facilitators of that growth and of that process.

And while Summit Media says it remains committed to Hawaiian music and culture, it’s hard to know what that will look like without many of the personalities who have become synonymous with Hawaiian music radio in Hawaii.

Reichel sums it up perfectly, “With all the changes in Hawaiian radio over the last decade — and most recently — we hope this isn’t a portent of things to come.”

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About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.

Latest Comments (0)

The media business is always changing. This definitely includes commercial radio. It's not an industry for anyone who gets easily set in their ways & is resistant to change. Even the most powerful & established on-air personalities (i.e. Joe Moore, Michael W. Perry) have had to adapt to the times. Folks with lesser profiles & followings should expect no less.I understand the concept of businesses taking on social functions in a community. Who hasn't attended a fundraiser or a birthday party at Pali Lanes or checked out the cool rides whenever a classic car club met at Andy's Drive Inn? But no matter how iconic a business may be to the people, it can't be sustained indefinitely if the business model no longer works.With all that said, folks wanting to hear their favorite music played by their favorite DJs may have to be open-minded to the idea of having a listener-supported station (be it terrestrial or internet), especially if this audience base does not fit into one of the desired demographics the commercial conglomerates are targeting.

KalihiValleyHermit · 1 year ago

All biz is taking the hit. Not just the entertainment industry. Blue Note is doing "ok", but if that goes moa local kine in Waikiki. Get but, not like before.Good thing I kept all my old tapes & CDs. But now no moa Tower Records. Or Jellys.

Ranger_MC · 1 year ago

Da Kolohe Crew are missed, not just because of the music, but because they provided a community service to their listeners. The humor, kindness and care that they showered on the early morning listeners have been there before the pandemic and during. They never judged, they were never political, they shared information and when they didn’t have the answers, they referred to the listeners. They made us feel like ohana. I tuned in every morning and sometimes sat parked outside of work to listen to the end of a segment. They are missed.

nina · 1 year ago

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