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StarBulletin.com

Collins was there from the start


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POSTED: Monday, December 07, 2009

KGMB was the first television station to go on air in Honolulu—on Dec. 1, 1952. A children's show host known as “;Cowboy Bob”; Jensen initially pulled double duty reading the news as it came off the UPI wire service. To get people to take its news department more seriously, KGMB hired its former radio news director, Wayne Collins, as an anchor, and 55 years later he can shed light on what the medium was like in its earliest days.

While today, programs are formatted and reformatted, and personnel shuffled around in the ratings game, Collins says ratings and competition were not a big thing in those days. Simply put, he said, “;We liked what we were doing.”; He feels the newscasts are built today around personalities rather than the desire to get at the heart of issues relevant to people.

COLLINS GREW up in San Fernando Valley in California and arrived in Hawaii as a member of the Coast Guard during World War II. He worked for KULA when it opened as a radio station in 1947, then moved on to KGMB radio.

On the radio he covered the 1950 summit eruption of Mauna Loa, one of the largest lava flows in modern history, which was captured via portable tape recorders.

After a couple of years, he grew bored with radio and devoted more of his time working for Fish and Game's wildlife division in Hilo. On weekends he worked at KHBC radio in Hilo, KGMB's sister station.

                       

        ”;We made it a half-hour news program with commercial spot announcements. ... It was probably one of the first of its kind in the United States.”;
        —Wayne Collins / One of Hawaii's first TV news anchors

In 1952, KGMB and KONA were racing to be the first television stations on air in Honolulu. KGMB's arrival came first, and with that, “;Honolulu's first regularly scheduled newscast with a real sponsor began in 1953,”; said Collins. That first news program, the 15-minute “;Pan American World News,”; was sponsored by the airline. Collins ad-libbed the 15-minute news at a time before teleprompters existed, and he never once spoke from prepared copy.

“;Later we made it a half-hour news program with commercial spot announcements, not a single sponsorship, and it was probably one of the first of its kind in the United States,”; he said. “;The station could make a lot more money that way.

“;To make a half-hour show, we added two more anchors at desks, plus Frank Valenti at a sports desk. I had to write a script for the entire show—everything but Frank's copy; he wrote his own. Oh, and those glasses he wore, they were done as a prop to make him look older and distinguished. He actually wore empty frames.”;

IN 1958, Collins was named the Outstanding Young Man of the Year by the Oahu Junior Chamber of Commerce.

In December 1959, Hawaii Gov. Bill Quinn appointed Collins as head of the state Agriculture and Forestry division. After a year, Collins left his Cabinet position and returned to KGMB to start the half-hour “;Newsroom”; broadcasts with Valenti, Bob Miller, Peter Burns and Bob Barker, staying on until 1962. That year, he went to work for KHVH radio as Lucky Luck's newsman. In 1963 he was hired by Watumull Broadcasting to anchor “;The Big News”; for Channel 13, KTRG.

While there, Collins was essentially a one-man news band, with no reporters. “;I had a 16 mm camera, and I shot and processed my own film,”; he said.

In 1965 Collins was hired as KONA news director and anchor, making him the last news anchor under the KONA call letters. On June 7 that year, KONA became KHON, making him the first news anchor under the new call letters. While there he co-anchored the news with Bob Miller.

He left the TV news business for good in May 1966 to work for the Oceanic Foundation, Oceanic Institute and Sea Life Park, which he helped establish with Tap Pryor and Paul Breese.

In 1972 he was recruited by the University of Arizona to work in their research laboratories as an associate director for the Environmental Research Laboratory, leaving Hawaii after 25 years. Collins continued to stop in Honolulu to oversee an experimental shrimp project the University of Arizona ran in Kahuku through the mid-1980s. While here, he'd catch up with his former colleagues and friends Roger Coryell and Bob Sevey.

“;Sevey and I remained the best of friends over the years.”;

He remains in touch with Coryell's widow, Ernestine, and is also godfather to David Sevey, one of the late newscaster's two sons.

Collins retired from the University of Arizona in 1990, moving around the country, to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Nevada with wife Peggy, before settling back in Tucson where he stays in shape by hiking in the desert. “;I like the climate, the desert; we just love it here, best place we have lived,”; he said.

That doesn't mean he's forgotten what it's like to live in the isles.

“;I think of Hawaii often,”; he said, staying informed by reading both local dailies online every day.

A.J. McWhorter, a collector of film and videotape cataloging Hawaii's TV history, has worked as a producer, writer and researcher for both local and national media. His column runs on the first Monday of each month. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).