Pacific Radio Group finds success by going 'native'


POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

Pacific Radio Group Inc. has expanded its “;Native”; branded format to its home base of Maui from the Big Island, where it was launched “;about eight months ago,”; said President Chuck Bergson.

The format, a mix of “;Jawaiian,”; or reggae-influenced Hawaiian music and contemporary island music, was “;so well received. It's more of a lifestyle (statement) than anything else, and it just seemed to really work,”; hence the expansion of the format and branding to its KLHI-FM 92.5.

On the Big Island, the format airs on PRG's KPVS-FM 95.9 in Hilo and KLUA-FM 93.9 in Kona.

KLHI had been on the air with a satellite-delivered alternative rock format from the mainland for almost two years, but it is now locally staffed and locally programmed, Bergson said.

Rock fans were bummed.

“;People are very passionate about their radio stations—and that's a good thing—but it is never easy to change a format,”; Bergson said. “;We just felt this was the best move both economically and from a business standpoint. We know Hawaiian music and have clearly talented people who understand it, and we thought it was the best direction for us to take.”;

There has been no negative reaction to use of the word “;native”; in the station's branding, Bergson said.

“;We thought about it, too,”; and bounced it off a lot of different people, he said.

The word “;native”; as applied to local people in a stereotypical way, as in “;the natives are restless,”; is often considered derogatory and offensive. However, its use to describe native Hawaiians, or kanaka maoli, is generally accepted as not offensive or racist.

“;When we did the logo, we passed it around to different Hawaiian community leaders, got some feedback”; and made changes accordingly, he said.

The format change pits the PRG format head to head against KNUQ-FM 103.7, or “;Q-103,”; “;the long-dominant ... reggae-influenced island station ... now celebrating 15 years of broadcasting rhythms of the islands,”; said Jim McKeon, vice president of Visionary Related Entertainment Inc.

PRG and VRE have long been locked in battle for advertising dollars and format superiority on Maui, and in recent years also have stoked a radio rivalry on the Big Island. VRE has stations on Oahu whereas PRG does not.

Also on Maui, meanwhile, the battling broadcasters also duel with more traditional Hawaiian music formats.

The “;Hawaiian Music, Maui Style”; format on KPOA-FM 93.5 belongs to Pacific Radio Group and is where longtime popular morning show hostess Alaka'i plies her trade.

At the same time, Honolulu-based comedian Augie Tulba hosts the morning show on VRE's “;Radio Imua”; format, simulcast on KHEI-FM 107.5 and KMKK-FM 102.3 on Molokai.

“;Radio Imua has a seamless signal from Hana to Honolulu,”; via transmitters at the 7,000-foot elevation of Haleakala, “;near the ranger station,”; on West Molokai and via a translator in Central Oahu that broadcasts on 104.7 FM.

“;We're the only radio signal on the Hana Highway,”; he said.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).