Hawaii Public Radio - A History


 "It was on November 13th, 1981, from an improvised studio in the quarry area of UH Mānoa. 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 General Manager

HPR's music director Bob Miller and founding General Manager Cliff Eblen in HPRʻs "ur-studio" lined with egg cartons for acoustic baffling.

 

THE EARLY YEARS (1976 - 1991)

1976:  A group of citizens come together to incorporate a nonprofit organization, which they called Hawaii Islands Public Radio. Progress was slow at first, efforts were scattered, goals were unclear.

1979: The board realizes it needs to involve some business and cultural leaders. Businessman John Henry Felix is named chair of the new board.

1980: Cliff Eblen is invited to join the staff as manager. A founding member of Hawaii Public Television, he has considerable experience in the Wisconsin public radio system before moving to Hawaiʻi in 1966. He begins his new position at HPR on August 1.

1981: Then UH President Fujio Matsuda had offered studio space to the budding community-licensed station in the old Varsity Building, near Klum Gym on UH Mānoaʻs lower campus. The staff– of two!–moves in on June 20. 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 13, 1981, recognized as HPRʻs founding date, KHPR 88.1 FM goes on the air with Gustav Mahlerʻs "Das Lied von der Erde."  During this period, the station signs 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 doesnʻt always work; engineers have to be sent to the site by helicopter to reset the switch more often than not; winds and storms donʻt' help.

1985:  One of public radio's earliest stars, Garrison Keillor, comes to Blaisdell Concert Hall to broadcast his A Prairie Home Companion.

1986:  Coverage is boosted on Oʻahu's North Shore and parts of Kauaʻi with the addition of a repeater transmitter on the top of Mt. Kaʻala.

The first major capital drive begins in 1986, aimed at finding bigger and better studio space, acquiring more equipment, and building a station on Maui.

1987:  HPR moves into its current headquarters at 738 Kaheka Street (July).

1988:  Statewide coverage begins when KKUA's transmitter on Haleakalā brings KHPR's signal to Maui and parts of Hawaiʻi Island (April).

1989:  The second program stream, KIPO 89.3 FM, begins broadcasting jazz and folk music (October).

1990:  A third service, KIFO 1380 AM, begins broadcasting, simulcasting with KIPO for the most part.

COMING OF AGE (1992 - 2006)

1992: National Public Radio pioneer Al Hulsen joins the station as manager.

1996 - 1998: Anna Kosof serves as station manager. 

1999: Michael Titterton becomes president and general manager (January).

Expansion continues and a long hoped-for transmitter bringing the KHPR classical music and news program stream to East Hawaiʻi becomes a reality. Titterton encourages and assists the formation of the Big Island Friends of Public Radio, a group of citizens very similar to the group that founded the original Hawaiʻi Public Radio on Oʻahu. They organize to raise funds to pay for the transmitter expenses.

2000: The Big Island Friends gather at Hiloʻs Palace Theatre to celebrate and bless the first broadcast originating from KANO 91.1 (Hilo). (August)

2001: HPR's 20th birthday in November sees 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. This is followed in January with the return to Honolulu of the entire A Prairie Home Companion company. Both of the APHC performances at the Hawaii Theatre are completely sold-out. (The first is broadcast live; the second becomes the fundraising program broadcast nationally during the following spring pledge drive.)

In 2001, the station begins online streaming of KIPO, which had not been received on neighbor islands or on some parts of Oʻahu. Additionally during this period, HPR makes a significant step towards self-sufficiency. More than 65% of HPR's support now comes from individual membership. There is also a re-organization of the stationʻs infrastructure.

2002:  Hawaiʻi and HPR continue to prove to be a popular destination for national programs as the cast and crew of the popular NPR comedy program Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me come to Honolulu to tape a live program at the Hawaii Theatre. This benefit for HPR and KIPO is also well attended. (November)

2004: The cast and crew of the Public Radio International hit program From The Top come to Honolulu for a live taping at the Hawaii Theatre (December). Seven talented Hawaii pre-college-age musicians from Hawaiʻi appear on the show, which is broadcast nationally in February 2005.

2006: From the Top returns to Hawaii as part of the 25th anniversary season of the HPR network, this time performing once in the Hawaii Theatre and then at the MACC's Castle Theater in Kahului. Both shows receive national broadcast.

Fred Child, the host of NPR's Performance Today, visits HPR as part of the same 25th anniversary celebration, hosting concerts and live broadcasts (March).

The 25th anniversary celebrations culminate with two sold-out performances of A Prairie Home Companion at Blaisdell Concert Hall (November 11).  

2007: From the Top returns to both Honolulu and Kahului, Maui (November). Kiyoe Wellington, a contrabass soloist, goes on to appear on From the Top from Carnegie Hall, the first Hawaiʻi resident to do so. 

Mortgage is paid off. Station has been completely debt-free ever since.

FINDING OUR PLACE (2008 - present)

2008: The rebuild of KIPO 89.3 is completed, partially financed by the sale of AM station KIFO in 2002. The transmitter site on Puʻu Ohiʻa (Tantalus) is complete and goes on the air on September 20. KIPO's signal is now the equal of that of KHPR on Oʻahu.

2010: From the Top returns again for two tapings, one in Kamuela's Kahilu Theatre and the other at the William Charles Lunalilo Center on the campus of the Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi in Keaʻau . Extensive education outreach programs in five different schools were implemented during that tour. (January)

Two new boosters are installed on Mt. Kaʻala on Oʻahu's North Shore, and beam both KHPR 88.1 and KIPO 89.3 at the terrain-shielded North Shore, as well as at the south and east shores of Kauaʻi (June).

2011:  HPRʻs first statewide programming initiative debuts: public affairs talk program  The Conversation, co-hosted by Beth-Ann Kozlovich and Chris Vandercook (February).

Expansion of the KIPO signal to Maui has finally been implemented and KIPM 89.7 goes on the air in the spring after an enthusiastic and successful local fundraising effort to support costs. KIPH 88.3 serving Hāna, Maui begins service shortly after. 

The national oral history project StoryCorps comes to Hawaiiʻ for the first time, with residencies on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island. 166 interviews are recorded. All the interviews are archived at the Library of Congress; some are excerpted on Morning Edition. (May/June)

KHPR 88.1 relocated from Wiliwilinui Ridge, where repairs and maintenance required helicopter access, now co-located with KIPO 89.3. at Tantalus facility.

Two New Yearʻs eve performances of A Prairie Home Companion from the Blaisdell Concert Hall, part the stationʻs 30th anniversary celebration, are recorded for national broadcast.

2012: In the spring, a rebranding of the two HPR program streams takes 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.

The station receives the highest four-star rating for fiscal responsibility by Charity Navigator, the nationʻs premier independent charity evaluator.

Also recognized with DEI Benchmarks Award for excellence and strength of community support.

2013: KHPH 88.7 (Kailua-Kona) goes on the air to bring HPR-2 programs to the many terrain-shielded pockets along West Hawaiʻi, including Waimea. The project was supported financially by 285 charter member residents of the area. (February 13)

HPR launches its free mobile app for both HPR-1 and HPR-2.  From its various digital platforms, HPR now has listeners all over the world.

KIPL 89.9 (Līhuʻe) goes on the air, making available HPR-2ʻs news, talk, and international music available to the majority the remaining areas of Kauaʻi island.

Large capacity back-up generator installed at Kāheka Street main broadcast facilities. All major broadcast sites now equipped with back-up capacity to assure over-the-air service during times of emergency.

The station receives for a second consecutive year Charity Navigatorʻs highest ranking for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency. Only 18 percent of charities across the nation have received two consecutive four-star rankings. In Hawaiʻi, only two other nonprofits were rated as "exceptional" for fiscal year 2012; HPR was alone in the category of "arts, culture, humanities" and "public broadcasting and media."

For the first time in the stationʻs history, the fall 2013 fund drive sets a target goal of more than one million dollars. It is successfully met.

HPR receives one of the single largest individual gifts of $100,000. The donor requests that his premium – one million frequent-flyer miles from Hawaiian Airlines – be transferred to benefit neighbor island children and families needing the specialized care available at Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children. The Radio Flyers program is launched with fallʻs Celebration 2013 drive, and this regifting option proves to be popular in this and subsequent pledge drives.

The station introduces the Sustaining Membership program of ongoing monthly giving, in order to provide a reliable income stream and eventually shorten the length of pledge drives and reduce pledge goals.

2014: Rising costs require an increase in the amount needing to be raised in the spring fund drive. The community responds and helps HPR meet its $1.03 million goal.

HPRʻs news team, the largest in the state, is awarded three prestigious Edward R. Murrow awards.

For the fall fund drive, the pledge goal amount is unchanged from the spring drive, due in part to the growing base of sustaining member support. After suffering a shortfall at the driveʻs anticipated end, the station receives an outpouring of community support and Celebration 2014 concludes after a brief extension, raising a record-breaking $1.039 million.

Anticipated sign-on for the HPR-2 East Hawaiʻi transmitter – and the completion of the statewide network of two program streams – is the end of 2014.



Listener support for Hawaiʻi Public Radio (and all public radio) has increased steadily, gaining in momentum particularly over the past few years. 95% of our funding is raised locally.

Increasing numbers of listeners over the past years have led to concomitant increases in programming expense, as the cost of programming is determined by the number of listeners. Each week, 175,000 people listen to HPR programs. And each year, over half a million dollars is spent on NPR programming alone.  Our current annual budget is almost $4.5 million.

 It is the mission of HPR to serve the entire population of the state of Hawaiʻi with two excellent program streams. 

Thanks to your generosity and vision, HPR has been able to keep our statewide network operating in the black during the last 15 years of tremendous growth.