Isles 'still home' for McWilliams


POSTED: Monday, July 06, 2009

Tom McWilliams moved from these islands some 30 years ago, but his memories and heart remain here, where he spent a dozen years working in both radio and television.

McWilliams was born in Toledo, Ohio, where he grew up with a desire to work in broadcasting. He admired the work of Lloyd Thaxton, also from the Toledo area, who made it big on the West Coast.

McWilliams' break came while he was working as a deejay for WABJ in Adrian, Mich., where he replaced a rising talent, Phil Donahue.

In 1963, however, his career was put on hold after being drafted into the Army and sent to Schofield Barracks after completing basic training.

“;I really learned to love Hawaii during the service,”; McWilliams said. “;I made a promise to myself that I would come back.”;

He completed his service in 1965 and returned to Toledo, where he worked for WSPD as a deejay. A couple of years later, he moved south to Florida, working as a deejay for WDBJ out of Delray Beach, Fla.

In August 1967 he kept his promise and came back to Hawaii, this time with his fiancee, Clare. McWilliams found a job with KHAI radio, broadcasting on the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, working with fellow deejays John Farrington and the late Dick Cook. When the station went bust, McWilliams was hired at KHVH radio.

Eventually, KHON News Director Dick Desmond urged him to give television news a try.

“;He kept bugging me to come in for an audition, and I finally agreed so he would stop asking me,”; said McWilliams, who soon found himself hired to report and anchor for the station.

While at KHON he worked with Desmond, the late Bob Devine, Marsha Fried, Ray Sweeney and Doug Mossman. One of his most vivid memories is of covering Bobby Kennedy's assassination in June 1968, staying on-air for hours while relaying bits of information coming in from Los Angeles via the wire service, with no video or graphics.

A FEW MONTHS later, McWilliams returned to KHVH where he reported and anchored for the television station with Jim Manke, Al Michaels, Linda Coble, Don Rockwell and Byron Baker.

Over the years, McWilliams interviewed the likes of Shirley Temple, Billy Martin, Bob Hope, Lawrence Welk and Milton Berle, as well as covering the Hawaii visits of Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Carter.

During the summer of 1969, KHVH television (now KITV) launched a popular local weekday morning talk/variety program. “;The Honolulu AM Show,”; later known as “;The Don Robbs Show,”; ran for five years with McWilliams delivering the news as well as serving as sidekick to Robbs.

“;Tom McWilliams was an important part of the show, doing two newscasts each morning and serving as my Ed McMahon. Tom was always the cool head on the show, even when things went haywire, which they had a tendency to do on occasion,”; said Robbs.

At the time, McWilliams kept busy, delivering the news on Robbs' show, reporting and anchoring for KHVH television, even filling in as a sportscaster for the station when needed. He reported the closing of the Queen's Surf with Sterling Mossman at the Barefoot Bar in 1970.

In 1971 he moved back to the mainland to be closer to family, but it was short-lived. “;We were homesick for Hawaii,”; McWilliams said. He returned to work for KHVH television, where he remained until 1975, when he moved to Oregon to work at a Salem-area radio station, KROW, with Don Robbs. A year later he received a call from reporter Scott Shirai about a field reporter opening at KHON.

During McWilliams' second stint at KHON, he worked with BJ Sams, Barbara Tanabe, Ray Lovell, Melanie Granfors, Ed Evans, Paul Udell and the late Ed Michelman. His last on-air spot was filling in for Joe Moore for a sportscast in 1979. That year, he left the islands and moved with his family to Kalamazoo, Mich. He worked at WKZO, now WWMT, the CBS affiliate, as an anchor, reporter and for a decade as the public affairs director for the station.

After television he spent 16 years as a commercial bus driver and dispatcher, transporting charter groups of tourists, school groups, sports teams and seniors. Recently he has been working for the U.S. Census Bureau and living in the Indianapolis area.

McWilliams and wife Clare return to the islands every fall for their wedding anniversary. They've missed coming back just a few times in 30 years.

“;Hawaii is still home. I love the people. The weather, the scenery, food and music is great,”; McWilliams said. “;You truly appreciate everything when you leave.”;