Hawaii Public Radio - A History

"It was on November 13th, 1981, from an improvised studio in the quarry area of UH/Manoa. A switch was thrown, several buttons were pushed. And out came the lush and wild strains of Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde." Hawaii Public Radio was finally on the air!"
                                              - Cliff Eblen, HPR's first President and Manager

As the Earth's crust cooled: sitting in HPR's ur-studio at UH/Manoa, HPR's music director Bob Miller and
founding General Manager Cliff Eblen inhabited a studio lined with egg cartons for acoustic baffling.

Hawaii Public Radio was founded in the fall of 1981, the result of many years of planning and hoping by a great many people. In 1976, a group of citizens had come together to incorporate a nonprofit organization which they called Hawaii Islands Public Radio. Progress was slow, efforts were scattered, goals were unclear. By 1979 the board realized it needed to involve some business and cultural leaders. Businessman John Henry Felix was named chair of the new board.

A year later, Cliff Eblen was invited to join the staff as manager. A founding member of Hawaii Public Television, he had had considerable experience in the Wisconsin public radio system before moving to Hawaii in 1966. He began his new position at HPR on August 1, 1980.

Then UH President Fujio Matsuda offered studio space to the budding community-licensed station in the old Varsity Building, near Klum Gym on UH's lower campus. The staff  --of two!--  moved in on June 20th, 1981. They nailed old cardboard egg cartons to the walls to serve as acoustical dampening. It wasn't very pretty, but it worked. The transmitter site on Wiliwilinui Ridge had already been determined. The HPR antenna would go on the tower already in use by Radio KIYE (now KRTR).

On November 13th, the station went on the air with Mahler.  At that time, the station signed off at midnight, turning the antenna off by remote control, and returning to the air at 4:30 a.m. for Morning Edition. The remote didn't always work; engineers had to be sent to the site by helicopter to reset the switch more often than not; winds and storms didn't help.

In 1985 one of public radio's earliest stars, Garrison Keillor, came to Blaisdell Concert Hall to broadcast his A Prairie Home Companion. In 1986, coverage was boosted on Oahu's North Shore and parts of Kauai with the addition of a repeater transmitter on the top of Mt. Ka'ala. The first major capital drive began that year, aimed at finding better and bigger studio space, get more equipment, and build a station on Maui. HPR moved into its current headquarters at 738 Kaheka Street in July 1987. Statewide coverage was begun when KKUA's transmitter on Haleakala brought KHPR's signal to Maui and parts of the Big Island in April of 1988. The second program stream, KIPO 89.3 FM, began broadcasting jazz and folk music in October 1989, and a third service, KIFO 1380 AM began broadcasting in 1990, simulcasting with KIPO for the most part.

In 1992, National Public Radio pioneer Al Hulsen joined the station as Manager; Anna Kosof served as station manager from 1996 to 1998.  In January 1999, Michael Titterton became President and General Manager. Expansion has continued and a long hoped-for transmitter bringing the KHPR classical music and news program stream to East Hawaii on the Big Island has become a reality. He encouraged and assisted the formation of the Big Island Friends of Public Radio, a group of citizens very similar to the group that founded the original Hawaii Public Radio on Oahu. They organized to raise funds to pay for the transmitter expenses, and in August 2000, the stalwart group met together at the Palace Theatre in Hilo to celebrate and bless the first statewide broadcast originating at KANO 91.1 in Hilo.

In November 2001, HPR's 20th birthday saw the cast of Peter Schickele's traveling company perform first at Honolulu's Hawaii Theatre, then at Maui Arts and Cultural Center's Castle Theatre. The following January, still celebrating the birthday party, the entire A Prairie Home Companion company returned to Honolulu, presenting two completely sold-out performances at the Hawaii Theatre, the first of which was broadcast live, the second of which became the fundraising program broadcast nationally during the following spring pledge drive.

The stations have also made a significant step towards self-sufficiency in that more than 65% of HPR's support now comes from individual membership support. There has also been an entire rebuild of the station infrastructure itself, performed by volunteers and staff. The two-year project was completed early this year.

The reach of Hawaii Public Radio has been extended by augmenting on-line streaming of the KIPO 89.3 programming schedule, which is not received on neighbor islands or indeed on some parts of Oahu. Streaming via the internet from HPR's web site (www.hawaiipublicradio.org) began in January 2001, giving neighbor island residents an alternative to receiving the stream by cable.

Increasing numbers of listeners over the past three years have led to concomitant programming expense increases, as the cost of programming is determined at most program sources by the number of listeners. This is true for National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media, the three biggest program sources used by Hawaii Public Radio. Budgets for programming have had to rise every year, but so has the percentage of listeners actually supporting that programming, which is at 63%. 95% of our funding is raised locally. The network's fundraising pledge drive in April 2011 had a goal of $831,000, which was soundly met on the ninth day of a ten-day drive.

During November 2002, the cast and crew of the popular NPR comedy program Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me came to Honolulu to tape a live program at the Hawaii Theatre as part of a benefit for HPR and KIPO. The taping was well attended, and HPR is obviously a popular destination with program personnel.

In December 2004, the cast and crew of the Public Radio International hit program From The Top came to Honolulu for a live taping at the Hawaii Theatre, and seven extraordinarily talented pre-college age musicians from Hawaii appeared on the show, which was broadcast nationally in February 2005. The show returned to Hawaii in 2006 as part of the 25th Anniversary season of the network, this time performing once in the Hawaii Theatre and then at the MACC's Castle Theater in Kahului, Maui. Both shows received national broadcast. In March 2006, Fred Child, the host of NPR's Performance Today, came to visit HPR as part of the same 25th anniversary celebration, hosting concerts and live broadcasts in the course of his visit. The 25th Anniversary celebrations culminated with two sold-out performances of A Prairie Home Companion at Blaisdell Concert Hall on Saturday, November 11, 2006. From the Top returned to both Honolulu and Kahului, Maui in 2007, on November 14th and 16th, respectively, and one of the teenage performers, Kiyoe Wellington, a contrabass soloist, went on to appear on From the Top From Carnegie Hall, the first Hawaii-based teen to do so.  From the Top returned again in January 2010 for two performance tapings, one in Kamuela's Kahilu Theatre and the other at the William Charles Lunalilo Center on the campus of the Kamehameha Schools Hawaii in Kea'au. Extensive education outreach programs in five different schools were implemented during that tour.

In May/June 2011, the national oral history project StoryCorps came to Hawaii for the first time with residencies on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, with support from Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawai'i Council for the Humanities. 166 interviews were recorded, all will be archived at the Library of Congress, and some will be excerpted on Morning Edition's weekly StoryCorps feature every Friday morning. In addition, many will be heard locally on HPR.

The rebuild of KIPO 89.3 is finished, partially financed by the sale of AM station KIFO in 2002. The transmitter site on Pu`u Ohi`a (Tantalus) is complete and went on the air on September 20, 2008. KIPO's signal is now the equal of that of KHPR on Oahu. In June 2010, two new boosters were installed on Mt. Ka'ala on Oahu's North Shore, and they are beaming both KHPR 88.1 and KIPO 89.3 directly not only at the terrain-shielded North Shore but also at the south and east shores of Kauai.

Expansion of the KIPO signal to Maui has finally been implemented and KIPM 89.7 went on the air during the spring of 2011 after a very enthusiastic and successful local effort in fundraising to support the costs. KIPH 88.3 began service shortly afterwards to serve Hana, Maui.

In the spring of 2012, a rebranding of the two HPR program streams took place, with HPR-1 covering the classical music and fine arts stream, and HPR-2 enveloping the news, talk shows, current events, and jazz stream. And on Thursday, February 14, 2013, KHPH 88.7 Kailua-Kona went on the air to bring HPR-2 programs to the many terrain-shielded pockets along West Hawaii, including Waimea town, a project that was supported financially by 285 Charter Members resident in West Hawaii.

In addition, HPR-1has joined HPR-2 in being available for streaming, both at this web site and with HPR's free streaming app. The app is available at the iTune's App Store, and works on the iPhone, iPad and iPad Touch. No matter where you are on Planet Earth, from now on you can check in on your two favorite HPR program streams, and our new website features an embedded streaming player that eliminates the need for a listener to choose or download a streaming platform (RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, or iTunes, for example).

Listener support for Hawaii Public Radio (and all public radio) has increased steadily, gaining in momentum particularly over the past few years. It is the mission of HPR eventually to serve the entire population of the state of Hawaii with two excellent program streams.

We invite questions and comments. E-mail us at mail@hawaiipublicradio.org or phone us at 1 800 955-8821.