Paul Wilson provided this look at Honolulu AM history.
A HISTORY OF HONOLULU AM RADIO
HONOLULU AM DIAL 1968 HONOLULU AM DIAL 2010
KSSK 590 (full-service AC, Clear Channel)
KORL 650 KRTR 650 (soft AC, Cox)
KKUA 690 KHNR 690 (news/talk, Salem)
KGU 760 KGU 760 (Christian Talk, Salem)
KIKI 830 KHVH 830 (news/talk, Clear Channel)
KAIM 870 KHCM 880 (Chinese, Salem)
KAHU 940 (Waipahu) KKNE 940 (traditional Hawaiian, Cox)
KTRG 990 KIKI 990 (News/Talk, Clear Channel)
KHVH 1040 KLHT 1040 (religious)
KHAI 1090 KWAI 1080 (talk)
KLEI 1130 (Kailua) KPHI 1130 (Filipino)
KOHO 1170 KORL 1180 (silent)
KNDI 1270 KZOO 1210 (Japanese)
KPOI 1380 KNDI 1270 (various ethnic)
KCCN 1420 KUPA 1370 (sports)
KUMU 1500 KKEA 1420 (sports)
KHRA 1460 (Korean)
KUMU 1500 (simulcast KUMU-FM)
KREA 1540 (Korean)
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese planes used KGMB’s booming signal at 590 as a homing beacon on their approach to bomb Pearl Harbor. Only four AM stations were on the air in Hawaii then; KPUA was on the Big Island in Hilo and KTOH covered Kauai (with 1kw each) while KGMB and KGU served Oahu. Many more stations signed on after World War II but for the past forty years the number of stations on the Honolulu AM dial has been relatively constant.
Most people put their favorite station on the first preset of their car radio, their next favorite on the second and so forth…but radio people often sequence their presets to flow from left to right on the dial from the lowest to highest frequency. This history begins in the same way, moving from left to right along today’s radio dial beginning at 590.
Cecil Heftel owned and operated the station (along with KGMB-FM and TV) for a number of years; as he began divesting stations in the late 1970s the new owners of channel 9 television claimed the KGMB call letters so “K59” became KSSK (“Super Station K59”). It is impossible to talk about this frequency without mentioning its history of morning talents, as the frequency was the final Honolulu home of morning host J. Akuhead Pupule (Aku for short, his real name was Hal Lewis). Aku’s phenomenal ratings earned him equally phenomenal compensation and notoriety (at one time KGMB-TV’s tower behind the downtown studios on Kapiolani Boulevard had the letters “AKU” on them in lights). After having worked at several stations in town Aku returned to KGMB in 1965 (shortly after being acquired by Heftel). Aku reportedly made over a half million dollars per year, huge money for the time. When Aku died in 1983, then-general manager Earl McDaniel teamed afternoon host Michael W. Perry (a former naval officer who had been on Honolulu top 40 radio) with Larry Price (a former Los Angeles Rams player and former football coach at the University of Hawaii). For nearly three decades Perry and Price have dominated morning ratings. Although their shows were very different, some Aku traditions remain today (such as the ten-minute long “coconut wireless” newscasts laced with commentary and opinions). Mike and Larry have familiarity equal to or higher than many television personalities, and the advertising revenue from morning show on KSSK AM and FM alone accounts for nearly 25% of the entire market’s radio revenue. As program director of KSSK for 6 years it was my privilege to spend time with both Mike and Larry; they are two of the hardest working and most down-to-earth gentlemen I have ever had the honor to work with. Their work ethic is incredible and should serve as an example for everyone in the broadcast industry. For nearly twenty years they worked every holiday except Christmas and New Years Day (they now voice track their show on major holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4, etc.). In addition to being on the air from 5 to 10AM five days a week they host a live variety-style broadcast from a local restaurant every Saturday morning. Following Perry and Price (their show is simulcast on KSSK-FM) KSSK AM 590 features foreground personalities, twice-hourly newscasts and drive time traffic reports. The adult contemporary music mirrors KSSK-FM, and although the AM audience is primarily 40 plus, KSSK AM 590 may be the last full-service AC station left in America that still posts respectable ratings book after book (thanks in no small part to Perry and Price in the morning). After Heftel sold KSSK, the station passed through a number of owners until being acquired by Capstar in the late 90s, which became AMFM and later Clear Channel (who owns the station today). KSSK operates at 7500 watts and regularly is heard by DXers around the world.
In early 2005, Cox Radio exercised an option to purchase the oldies station at 107.9 (Cox had a JSA in place for several years but buying the station put them over the ownership limit) so they immediately traded the FM frequency to Salem for two AM facilities (650 and 940, and also sold 1460). Today, AM 650 (KRTR) plays soft rock hits from the 70s and early 80s while AM 940 (KKNE) plays traditional Hawaiian music.
At one time 690 was the home of KKUA (a powerhouse top 40 station during the 70s) then KQMQ-AM (a simulcast of the FM programming at 93.1 in the 80s). For a time it was a Radio Disney affiliate but today it is owned by Salem and is the home of news/talk programming and the KHNR call letters.
KDKA/Pittsburgh is widely recognized as the first commercial broadcast station in America (beginning operations in 1920) but Hawaii was not far behind as KGU went on the air in spring 1922. Through the ‘20s and ‘30s stations frequently migrated from one frequency to another; before landing at 760, KGU operated on at least two other frequencies…1110 (documented in 1925 by the US Department of Commerce) and 940 (according to the FRC in 1930). KGMB was Honolulu’s second radio station, reportedly beginning operations within hours of KGU (although it was officially licensed in 1929 at 1320, later moving to 590). Through the 1920s most call letters were issued sequentially and KSSK’s original call letters of KDYX would have been assigned during May of 1922, falling between the now-deleted KDYW/Phoenix and KDYY/Denver (KDYL, now KFNZ/Salt Lake City, was issued on May 8, 1922). Although he is most remembered for his time at KGMB, Aku also did mornings on KGU (among other Honolulu stations). KGU is the only three-letter call sign in Hawaii; the station carries Christian talk programming and is owned by Salem Communications.
KHVH signed on in March 1957 and took the call letters from its broadcast location (Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village Hotel). Originally at 1040 on the dial, the KHVH letters later moved to 990. During the 70s the 830 frequency was home to KIKI (and through much of the 80s was a simulcast partner for KIKI-FM) but in 1994 KIKI-AM moved to 990 and took its news/talk format to the more powerful 10kw signal at 830. Today KHVH is owned by Clear Channel, is the second highest rated AM in the market (after KSSK-AM) and the home of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Coast-to-Coast AM and Fox News Radio. One-third of the station’s broadcast week is locally originated talk programming (morning and afternoon drive and virtually all of Saturday are local programs), an unusually high percentage of local programming for a market the size of Honolulu.
KHCM was previously at 870 as KAIM-AM when the format was religious programming. Salem bought the station in 2000 and considered turning it off so KRLA/Los Angeles could increase its signal coverage but decided instead to change frequencies to 880 and reduce power to 2kw instead. Upon acquiring KPOI-FM in 2004, 880 became the simulcast partner of news/talk KHNR-FM (which replaced KPOI’s rock format on 97.5). Country music later replaced news/talk on 97.5 as the spoken word format and KHNR call letters returned to 690. 880 was country for a couple of years before changing to “Radio China International” in 2009 with bilingual English/Chinese programming (although the KHCM calls remain).
Licensed to Waipahu, AM 940 plays traditional Hawaiian music similar to KINE-FM (both stations are owned by Cox Radio). Before Cox purchased the station in 2005 the frequency was home to country music (as KDEO in the 80s and KHCM from 2002-2005) and Japanese programming (as KJPN from 1994-2002).
Clear Channel’s second talk station is KIKI at 990. From 2001 to 2010 it carried the call letters KHBZ (the KHBZ-FM call letters resided on another Clear Channel station in Oklahoma City and OKC spot orders were often mistakenly faxed to Honolulu). Apart from an hourly newscast there is virtually no local programming on the station today but it garners respectable ratings with a full schedule of conservative talk programs (including Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage). During much of 2001 it featured a “business talk” format (origin of the KHBZ letters) and before that it was a simulcast partner for KIKI-FM, an automated country station and the home of KHVH. The 1968 Broadcasting Yearbook lists the call letters as KTRG and indicates the station was then affiliated with KTRG-TV (now KIKU).
“K-Light” is owned and operated by Calvary Chapel Honolulu and its programming consists of Christian praise and worship music, talk shows and teaching programs.
For 40 years “K-108” has had an all-talk format.
Although the call letters KRUD were assigned to the station during construction, 1130 signed on in 2008 replacing 1180 KORL (see below) and today offers programming aimed at Oahu’s Filipino audience, largely in Tagalog.
Although the frequency is silent at the moment, this is the third Honolulu station to carry the KORL calls (previously at 650 and 690). Pending a sale to new owners, plans are for it to return as a Spanish religious station (although the seller Hochman-McCain Hawaii is keeping the KORL calls on one of its FM stations). Beginning as KOHO at 1170 in 1959, it was the first Japanese language station in Honolulu (followed by KZOO, below). Salem acquired the frequency in 2005 and it was the home of country KHCM before they swapped 1180 to Hochman for the 690 signal in 2006; once the new facility at 1130 was completed, Hochman moved KORL’s programming to 1130 and 1180 went dark.
KZOO has been broadcasting continuously in Japanese since signing on October 18, 1963. Owned by Polynesian Broadcasting and managed by the Furuya family since its beginning, it is the only full time Japanese-language station still on the air in Honolulu.
The call letters spell “Candy”, a reference to the station’s original all-female lineup that was very progressive for 1960. Today the station carries multicultural programming and is billed as “voices from around the world”.
Affiliated with Fox Sports Radio. Remember that 1380 was originally KHON; the call letters were changed to KPOI in 1959 and the station was the home of rock and roll and the “Poi Boys” (Ron Jacobs, Tom Moffat, Dave Donnelly etc.)
Became a sports station in 2003 following many years as KCCN-AM playing Hawaiian music. Today the station carries ESPN programming and University of Hawaii sports.
Currently offering Korean language programming, the 1460 signal was once the simulcast of Cox’ KRTR-FM before going silent in 2005.
The frequency has had the KUMU call letters since signing on in 1963 and has been the home to several formats (beautiful music for many years, a simulcast of KUMU-FM, various talk shows and it was briefly an affiliate of Sporting News Radio). As of August 2010 it once again is a simulcast partner of KUMU-FM.
Honolulu’s original Korean language station (see KHRA above).