Radio Free Hawaii coming back, in HD
Radio Free Hawaii, which prided itself as the island's anti-corporate radio station in the 1990s, is being resurrected -- by the ultimate corporate radio entity.
The seven-station cluster owned by Texas-based Clear Channel Communications Inc., will launch its Radio Free Hawaii format May 24 on 101.9-2, which requires an HD radio to hear.
"While we may be owned by a corporate giant, we still think locally and operate locally," said Chuck Cotton, senior vice president and general manager of Clear Channel Hawaii. "So all of our stations are programmed locally and our on-air people are all local people" -- with the exception of syndicated show hosts from the mainland.
RFH made waves during its short life. Led by Norm Winter, then a principal of Jelly's Music Hall Inc., it signed on in 1991 with a beyond-eclectic format. You could hear Bach one moment and Dance Hall Crashers the next. It went off the air in 1994, signed on again in 1995 and went dark again in 1997.
It claimed to only play songs requested by listeners -- many of whom became ardent supporters.
It also had its critics and didn't do well financially. Payroll was not always timely met.
Nevertheless, former employees are passionate about what RFH was.
"This is something that people have been waiting for for a long time," said former DJ and former Star-Bulletin reporter Shawn "Speedy" Lopes, owner of Stylus Honolulu, a clothing and music shop in University Square.
He thinks "hard-core listeners from back in the day would be cautious about embracing the station if it doesn't include Norm or his ideals."
Winter has been offered a show, but told TheBuzz he needs to discuss it further with Clear Channel.
The station was a phenomenon in the days before the Internet became the main source of new music exposure.
"Much of what they did was very worthwhile and while it didn't achieve adequate financial success to keep it going, we see a future there," Cotton said.
Despite years of competing against Radio Free, Cotton has long believed in the brand. He registered the trade name in 1995, when RFH was still on the air, but a day after its registration had lapsed.
"That was illegal, and we fought it," Winter said.
Cotton registered it again on March 13, a day after the registration lapsed again.
"We're going to let listeners select songs," at www.hdradiofreehawaii.com, Cotton said. Its format "will be music that listeners choose and our programming people choose."
The new RFH will not be hiring, as it is to remain commercial free, meaning it will also be revenue free, for about another year.
It is not just a stunt, though, said Jamie Hyatt, director of programming and operations manager. "It is something that we can run for the long term."
One goal is to get listeners to buy HD radios, which Clear Channel will also be giving away.
Both Winter and Lopes questioned whether the format can succeed as recorded, versus live programming.
"That was a huge thing for Radio Free, that connection with our audience," said Lopes.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, 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 at: email@example.com