Radio Free Hawai’i was one of the best things to happen to Hawaiian radio in its broadcast history. The idea of a radio station playing anything and everything, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, was like a dream come true. This was at a time when the University of Hawai’i station KTUH could only be tapped into if you were in the right parts of Manoa, if you were lucky. Radio Free Hawai’i was broadcast on KDEO 102.7 FM, a station whose original format was country music (their slogan was “K-DEO…Radio”). The station was started by Hawaiian radio legend Ron Jacobs, who also helped to create the Home Grown album series in San Diego before taking it back home to Honilulu (the second installment of the series, Home Grown 2, would help spawn the musical career of Nohelani Cypriano.) KDEO, as a country station, was considered “old people music”, and when I was growing up in the late 70’s/early 80’s, none of my friends listened to country music so the only time I heard country music on the radio was Juice Newton‘s cover of “Angel Of The Morning”. I had moved to the mainland in 1984, but would come back every few years. In the summer of 1991 I would return, and I found out about a brand new radio station. At 20 years old, I felt this is what Hawai’i desperately needed at a time when all of the mainstream stations played the same old crap. Hawai’i loves what’s popular and there was little to no adventure on the radio, even stations that played traditional Hawaiian music started to sound boring.
I came back home, and at every record store (back when they were plentiful), various department stores, and even at 7-Eleven were ballots where people could take a survey and write a list of songs they wanted to hear. It would be played, just like that. It was revolutionary then as it is now, although this was 1991. Most people didn’t have the internet, most people didn’t have computers. You still had to buy your cassettes at physical stores, records were dying out (allegedly), and people were finally embracing compact discs. Here was a radio station that played Young MC, Metallica, Talking Heads… now this was at a time when the Talking Heads were considered alternative and “college rock”, not “classic rock” as they are now, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, this was music going out to everyone and you didn’t have to turn to the traditional “left of the dial”. In the middle of this, they might play Sons Of Hawai’i or Makaha Sons Of Ni’ihau. The station was on permanently, and I wished it would have lasted forever.
The format stopped for a bit, then returned, and then KDEO were bought out. By the time the station was purchased, MP3’s were still a dirty little secret for music fans and not the threats to the industry it was, and streaming radio, iPod’s… non-existent. There is still a greatness to the airwaves that exists, but is often ignored in favor of new technologies. Yet Radio Free Hawai’i proved you could pull it off and let people know that you can play anything and everything, and still gain an audience who are willing to ride it out with you. May the spirit of Radio Free Hawai’i live on.
To find out more about the legacy of Radio Free Hawai’i, click here