Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Heritage hu-hu over
Hilo’s first radio station
is almost pau

Big Island Broadcasters began a branding brawl on Monday when KAHU-AM 1060 relaunched under new ownership.

The March 5 news release announcing the station's launch date trumpeted, "Hilo's original radio station, KHBC, will once again be gracing the airways."

However, Hilo's first radio station is still on the air, and is now known as KPUA-AM 670.

"The KHBC call letters are simply being used by a new broadcast operation hoping to capitalize on the original station's heritage," said Chris Leonard, vice president and general manager for New West Broadcasting Corp. which owns KPUA and sister stations KWXX-FM 94.7 and KNWB-FM 97.1.

The marketing move has caused some confusion, which may be resolved with a planned filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

"The legal name of the station is still KAHU, but you can name your station on the air anything you want," station owner Hugh "Buddy" Gordon, sole officer of Hilo Broadcasting LLC said last week. Gordon said he had no plans to change the call letters.

Late yesterday, though, he said he would file an FCC request for a call letter change.

By law a radio station must perform a legal ID at the top of each hour, giving its official call letters and community of license, such as, "KAHU, Hilo." The ID the station is running says, "AM 1060 K-A-H-U, Hilo is now KHBC."

The call letters KHBC for television broadcast belong to Alabama-based Raycom National Inc., which owns Honolulu's KHNL-TV and KFVE-TV.

"KHBC is the official license of our (television) transmitter on the Big Island, out of Hilo, but everything that runs on KHBC Hilo and KOGG Maui emanates from KHNL, therefore the name KHBC is not used very often and we felt comfortable licensing it to Buddy. We wish him the best," said John Fink, vice president and general manager of KHNL and KFVE.

The call letters KHBC were dropped during an ownership change, allowing Belo TV Inc. to pick up the letters in 1982. The letters went to Raycom during the purchase of KHNL.

Fink has sent a letter informing the FCC that the company will express no opposition to Gordon's planned call letter change, providing it is referred to as KHBC-AM on the air.

Gordon's Hilo Broadcasting pays a fee to KHNL for use of the letters. The companies also have an agreement where the radio station will carry some news and weather reports generated by the TV station.

The original KHBC signed on the air Friday May 1, 1936, at 1400 kilohertz, according to New West's Leonard.

Through the years and changes in owners, including the Honolulu Star-Bulletin at one point, the station's dial position and call letters have also changed.

Gordon, who is also a minority owner and former general manager of competitor Big Island Radio's eight-station group, invested $90,000 in his new AM stereo station.

He also employs many former on-air staffers of KIPA-AM, which belongs to Big Island Radio.

Lillian O'Connor, who started with KIPA in 1947 when Gordon's father ran the station, does a one-hour Japanese language show on KAHU beginning at 5 a.m. followed by veteran morning man Mel "Mynah Bird" Medeiros, Stephanie Salazar and Pohai Montague-Mullins and "Bruddah" Brad Freeman. Weekend hosts will include entertainer and radio veteran Iaukea Bright and "Thor," host of a progressive rock and jazz show called "Music for a Change" which has been absent from Hilo airwaves since 1985.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached

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