Holiday Annual – November 1989
The First Family of Hawaiian Radio – by Ron Jacobs
For three generations, the Sorias have been part of the Island airwaves.
It’s May 1989. Harry B. Soria, Jr. is moonlighting in the Waikiki noonday sun. KCCN is doing a live remote broadcast from the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, and there are plenty of problems. Hawaiian Tel is late hooking up the transmission lines. The ‘stage’ is a stairway landing 1 ½ floors above Kalakaua Avenue. Harry Jr. is worried about the P.A. system, which alternately squeals and cuts out. Raised to respect punctuality, he strains to smile at the sparse crowd when the show finally begins 15 minutes late. On the only pair of earphones, the program “sounds like it’s underwater.” During the interminable hour, Harry senses that the audience is “restless and drifting”. He drives back to his office at Meadow Gold Dairies, pondering his father’s perennial advice: “Don’t ever get into radio”.
Later, back at his Makiki apartment by 10 p.m., Harry B. Soria, Jr., 41, ignores the blinking red light of the telephone answering machine. Sleep comes within minutes. Another 17-hour day, pau hana.
“We would stop traffic in Hale’iwa with our on-the-spot Hotpoint shows,” recalls Andy Cummings, 75, musician and composer. “In 1939, I did shows with Harry B. Soria, Sr. five days a week, all over O’ahu. Harry Sr. announced for me and The Hawaiian Serenaders. He was always easy to work with and a real popular announcer. Most of all, he pronounced Hawaiian correctly.” Asked about the program’s theme, Cummings, the writer of “Waikiki” and other Hawaiian standards, sings, “Everybody’s pointing to Hotpoint…the right appliances for every home….Everybody’s pointing to Hotpoint…from Honolulu to Rome.”
When Harry Jr. wakes at 5 a.m. the next morning, the winking red light on his answering machine still beckons. He rewinds the tape, avoiding thoughts of yesterday’s fiasco. “Hey Junior, don’t they equalize lines these days?” It is his father, “The Voice of Hawaii” himself, with an unsolicited radio critique. “It sounded like the mikes weren’t balanced. After that, though, it was OK. Aloha.”
In 1976, while America celebrated its Bicentennial and the Hokule’a sailed to Tahiti, two other events, unrelated at the time, occurred. In ‘Aina Haina, the family house was up for sale and 28-year-old Harry Jr. rummaged through the Soria clan’s “treasure chest,” a piano-sized crate that contained everything his father had carefully saved since the 1920s.
At Diamond Head, 22-year-old David “DeSoto” Brown, of the kama’aina Brown family, was seeking a way into KCCN for a look-see. This was arranged through his brother-in-law, who knew a disc jockey. After some considerable story was talked, mostly about Brown’s collection of Hawaiian 78rpm records, a new radio show was born, “Melodies of Paradise” with DeSoto Brown. One of its first listeners was Harry B. Soria, Jr.
There have been Sorias in Island radio for most of its 67-year history. Though the name “Soria” appears twice on maps of Spain, the family is of French-Irish-English-Scottish-German-Spanish extraction. Harry G. Soria (“G” for Gilman, or “Grandpa”, if you wish), was born on Jan. 26, 1874, son of a Chicago attorney. With his dapper garb and ingenuous smile, Harry G. was a natural for “promotion”, a euphemism for traveling sales. Teamed up with one Joe Browning, he pitched his way across America. On June 6, 1905, Harry G. became the father of a baby boy. He named his son Harry B. Soria, “B” for Browning. (From here on, he’ll be referred to as “Harry Sr.”) Both father and son – and eventually grandson – would become part of Hawaii broadcast history.
As a child, Harry Sr. remembers his dad, Harry Gilman “being out on the road a lot. But grandfather was always there. He kept peppermints in his pocket for me.” Harry Sr. didn’t know exactly what his father, Harry G., did. But, he recalls, “I know we sure moved around. I had been to all 48 states by the time we sailed for Hawaii.” It was in the fall of 1920, the Sorias sailed for Hawaii on the comfortable freighter, S.S. Wilhelmina.
Harry S., then 15, recalls steaming in to Iwilei. “It looked like the East Bay. All the hills were blank, there were no houses. There was plenty pineapple, no Aloha Tower.” Soria was startled by the racial mix of the city of 82,000. The newcomers rode through the mud flats and marshes to the torpid neighborhood of Waikiki. At Ohualani (now Ohua Street), was the Roselani Hotel, where the bedrooms were beach cottages on “stilts”, standing in the ocean. On his first night in Hawaii, Harry B. Soria, Sr. drifted off to sleep serenaded by the Waikiki Stonewall Boys.
Enrolled at the boys-only Honolulu Military Academy, Harry Sr. flourished. In January 1922, he was chosen to represent the school at Prince Jonah Kalani’anaole’s funeral at Kawaiaha’o Church. Was it this experience, standing beside the open coffin of the last ali’i of the monarchy, hearing the chanting and wailing, seeing the peaceful prince, body draped in a great red and yellow feathered ahu’ula (cloak), which awakened Soria’s sensibility to Hawaii, and things Hawaiian?
It was two years after radio came to the Islands. In 1900, employees of the Inter-Capital Island Telegraph Company had successfully sent a wireless telegraph message – “Mr. Gear is here” – from ‘Iolani Palace to Kaimuki. But it wasn’t until 1920 that Hawaii had its first “radio telephone broadcast of speech and music.”
That broadcast was performed by a engineer from Colfax, Washington, named Marion Mulrony. A friend of Alexander Graham Bell, Mulrony was a shrewd, deceptively quiet man. Remembers a co-worker.
“Mulrony lived radio. Came to Hawaii after putting up stations all the way to Tasmania. He was the kind of guy who’d buy a Franklin car because they were indestructible.”
At the age of 33, Mulrony became the father of Island radio. In 1920, Mulrony stationed an assistant at the Electric Shop downtown. The only suitable receiver in the Territory was at the Pacific Heights home of bank president Tong Phong. Mulrony and the Phong family sat transfixed for an hour, listening to the magic device.
But when the Sorias arrived, there was still no commercial radio in the islands. Next door to the family home on Ka’iulani Avenue lived a Navy chief radioman, who worked with strange equipment. Soria’s teenage curiosity took over; soon he was assisting his neighbor in experiments. The chief asked Harry S. to help him rig four copper wires from one house to the other.
Antenna in place, the chief took Harry Sr. to his kitchen, where he had arranged a primitive radio with the earphones inside coffee cups. The chief connected the batteries. They heard faint voices, then scratchy music. Then, an announcer came on with station identification. From Waikki, they were listening to Radio Station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 4,660 miles away.
Meantime, Marion Mulrony had not been idle. In Washington, D.C., he obtained the first license to construct a commercial radio station in the Hawaiian Islands. The engineer, in a canny move which would have implications for decades to come, joined forces with the Thurston family, owners of The Honolulu Advertiser.
The paper hyped the new radio project. In the spring of 1922, an Advertiser lead editorial boasted, “Here we are, 2,200 miles from the nearest sizable portion of the earth’s surface, preparing to sit ourselves down for the evening, place a little steel and vulcanite contrivance to our ears and listen in on the operatic stars, orators, instrumentalists and other masters of the eloquence just as though they were in our midst!”
But three weeks before The Advertiser’s radio debut, its rival, the Honoluu Star-Bulletin, proclaimed on its front page that it would “shortly inaugurate broadcasting service. Plans have been under way for several months.”
Hawaii’s first media war was declared. Mulrony’s men, plus a crew from Hawaiian Electric, worked around the clock to sign on KGU. The Star-Bulletin, owned by Governor Wallace R. Farrington, assisted by technicians from Mutual Telephone Co., raced to sign on KDYX. (KDYX shut down in 1924, reappearing in 1930 as KGMB.)
Mulrony claimed a victory: a “Hello, hello” blurted out over KGU at 10:57 a.m., May 11, 1922. KDYX responded with a terse “Aloha” at 11:12 a.m. Then both stations experienced their first “technical difficulties”. After repairs, KGU returned with a music program. Advertiser writer Bob Krauss summed it up in a 1962 anniversary column, concluding, “It was a good fight and the only listener who was able to please both newspapers the next day was the able, old-time politician, Mayor Johnny Wilson. He congratulated both stations for being first.” At the time, there were about 25 radio receivers on O’ahu.
As 1922 ended, the Sorias moved again. The family sailed for New Zealand and Australia. Harry Browning Soria Sr. made contact with the American consular corps in Melbourne, and joined the staff. The friendly, well-groomed Yank then succumbed to the familial wanderlust. Carrying a letter from the U.S. consul general, he sailed for New York in August 1925. After a boiler breakdown in the Canal Zone, and stops in Brooklyn and Boston, Harry B. Soria, Sr. was in Washington, D.C. in the White House oval office of President Calvin Coolidge. In a brief audience, the Chief Executive praised the 20-year old consular officer. Asked what he replied to the 30th President of the United States, Harry Sr. says, “Unh…unh…unh.” It was one of history’s few moments when a Soria was speechless.
In San Francisco, via the canal again, Harry Sr. signed on the S.S. Maunalani as a “workaway”. On Christmas morning 1925, he was back home in Honolulu.
During Soria’s absence, Marion Mulrony had guided KGU through a series of firsts. KGU, with only 500 watts, received verified reception reports from the West Coast. In 1923, KGU rebroadcast Station WHB live from Kansas City. A “KGU Listeners Club” was organized. But radio was still crude by today’s standards; if there was no program sponsor, KGU would simply sign off. Mulrony watched everything, particularly electric bills.
In 1934, Harry G. Soria joined KGMB as a “solicitor.” (An elegant name for “salesman”.) Soria, with his aristocratic, affable style, was an immediate success. Still, it was Mulrony’s KGU which was Hawaii’s radio pacesetter. By 1935, the Advertiser station had broadcast President Hoover’s inauguration, doubled its power to 1,000 watts, aired a Stanford-California football game and broadcast live from the firepit at Halema’uma’u to the NBC network – all Island firsts. So, after a year at KGMB, Harry G. Soria headed for what is now the News Building and began a career at KGU which would last 27 years.
Harry G. Soria created radio entertainment and sold it to advertisers. His first show, “Your Good Neighbor” was packaged with print ads in The Advertiser, a new concept. Next came, “The Musical Clock”. Sound drab? Consider a KGU daily lineup. A novelty salesman handled the sign-on-shift. (He talked Mulrony into the job since he possessed the required FCC license.) With no sponsors, KGU then signed off. There was dead air until noon, then a Japanese language program which signed off again once all of the commercials were aired. When the plantations let out in the afternoon, back came KGU, with Filipino language broadcasts. Then there would be popular recordings. Sometimes the station even stayed on after dark.
Mulrony grew to trust and depend on Harry G. Soria. “Harry G.’s desk was always right next to Mulrony’s”, remembers Milla Peterson Yap, a musician who performed at KGU. “I’ll never forget Harry G. Soria. He was so distinguished, but he always had a smile. And he’d always be in a suit.”
Although his dad was becoming what columnist Eddie Sherman called, “The dean of island radio”, Harry Sr. was the Soria who finally got on the air.
On January 12, 1935, all O’ahu, including Schofield Barracks where Soria was visiting, was in an uproar. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart was at Wheeler Field, ready to attempt the first solo flight between Hawaii and California. Sensing departure was soon, Soria raced to a pay phone, called KGMB and reached the announcer on duty, Webley Edwards. Harry Sr. began a running commentary which Edwards repeated on the air. “There she is, getting set to fly it…dressed like she’s going to go somewhere in a plane…about to takeoff….she’s on her way!” Soria’s description was so compelling that Edwards placed the telephone next to the microphone. Soria was on the air. Edwards took over when he spotted the aircraft from the roof of the Dillingham Building, which housed KGMB. He continued the dramatic account until the Lockheed Vega was out of sight. A little more than 18 hours later, Amelia Earhart landed in Oakland, California to a heroine’s welcome. (On July 2, 1935, Webley Edwards launched a new program, also destined to take off for the mainland: “Hawaii Calls”.)
In 1936, Harry B. Soria, Sr., then assistant credit manager at Von Hamm-Young Co., created, sold and announced his own radio show. He formed the “Hawaiian Troubadours.” The program originated from the Radio Service Center, 909 Alakea Street. At lunchtime, the store rolled out a carpet, and pedestrians stopped to listen to Hawaiian music and watch radios being repaired. The program’s jaunty MC was “Hal Browning”, a nom de plume chosen by Harry Sr. to avoid confusion with his dad.
Hal Browning and the Hawaiian Troubadours vanished from the airwaves when KGMB moved away from town, at a further distance, the telephone line charges were prohibitive.
So Harry Sr. went to Marion Mulrony with a proposition. Soria would program and sell a show that would start at 10 p.m. when the station had been signing off. The new program began in September 1936. The theme song was “Sing, Sing, Sing”. After the vocalists sang, “When that music goes around, everybody goes to town…”, Soria came on, “Yes, here it is, the half hour program known as “Going To Town With Harry Soria”, of which the musical portion is from the wide range of electrical production library facilities of the kama’aina radio broadcasting service of all Hawaii, K-G-U at Advertiser Square. Listen now to the song stylings of Dick Powell.”
Harry Soria Sr. became one of Hawaiian radio’s first personalities. “This program is the surprise package of the evening”, noted The Advertiser. But Soria kept his day job. The radio show paid 50 cents an hour.
By the spring of 1937, Harry Sr. was under pressure by Von Hamm-Young to decide between collecting bills or spinning discs. Radio was much more fun, but how could he pay the rent? Soria wrote an ultimatum to the autocratic Mulrony, outlining his financial demands. Mulrony appointed Harry Sr. remote broadcast manager, a daytime executive job. Father and son were both in radio full time, at the same station.
Harry Sr. received extra fees for remote broadcasts, so his evenings were frantic. Recalling those days, Harry B. Soria, Sr. once wrote, “Things were a bit hectic as we announced the remote broadcasts at night with such early favorites as the Giggie Royce Dance Band at the Young Hotel Roof Garden. We had just a half hour to get to Lau Yee Chai (then at the Cadillac Hotel) which featured Ted Dawson’s Orchestra, followed by a break of less than 15 minutes to get to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for Don McDiarmid’s Orchestra. But, as we used to say, “That’s radio.””
In 1939, Harry Sr. moved to the corner of University Avenue and Dole Street. The location, now a Pizza Hut, was the former UH Bookstore. Soria, by then also working in KGU’s “Hawaiian Transcription Productions” department, earned a reputation as a skilled recording engineer. He used the Manoa building as both living quarters and a recording and rehearsal studio. “It was like a concrete barn, and he lived upstairs,” says Milla Peterson Yap. “Harry Sr. was real kolohe, always full of the devil, but respectful and warm, too. He’d make funny faces when we got too intense.”
Harry Sr.’s next moonlighting venture was songwriting. To Dick Gump’s music, Soria penned the lachrymose “Hawaii’s Charm”. He persuaded orchestra leaders to play the song during broadcasts.
KGU “traded” broadcasts with Mainland stations, transmitting shows such as “Across The Sea To NBC”, featuring Alvin Kaleolani and the Royal Polynesians, produced and announced by Harry Sr. In return, KGU received via short wave Ray Kinney & his Hawaiian Musical Ambassadors from the Lexington Hotel in New York City. Alfred Apaka, a 1938 graduate of Roosevelt High School and a rising star, was Kinney’s male vocalist. Then still a tenor, Apaka was searching for a song for his first recording. From a stack of music sheets, he picked Soria and Gump’s “Hawaii’s Charm”. Though the music may now be passé, Apaka’s vocal performance shows why he was to become “The Golden Voice of Hawaii.”
Harry Sr. became a jack-of-all-trades at KGU. His father, the elegant Harry G., carried on, signing up new clients, some of whom stayed with him for more than 20 years. Ever the extrovert, Harry Sr. loved announcing: “…Wee golf is an invigorating game that any number can compete in and the cost to each is only 10 cents a game. Go out to the Phoenix Golf Course on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki any evening and enjoy yourself. And 10 cents it is, love and a dime….Now, a change of time, a change of tempo, a change of tune: Here’s “We’re on a Seesaw”.
Forty years before MTV, Soria Sr. was hot stuff. “Whenever he has been at the mike there is that extra something added to the program,” said the “Radio Rumours” column.
It was in 1940, according to State statistician Robert Schmitt, that Hawaii’s first broadcast ratings were taken. On O’ahu, results showed a tie between three stations – shocking because there were only two stations on the island. The survey rated KGU, KGMB, and WLW, as the leaders. WLW was in Ohio. In 1934, the Cincinnati station had been granted a FCC license to transmit at 500,000 watts. (By comparison, the maximum permitted today’s commercial stations is 50,000 watts. WLW’s mega-power test ended in 1941.)
Echoes of war in Europe began to pierce KGU’s soundproofed walls. And no one living in the Territory of Hawaii could ignore the rumors and rumblings radiating from the Land of the Rising Sun. Harry Sr. felt worldwide conflict was unavoidable. On July 1, 1941, unknown to friends or co-workers, he joined the Navy reserve and began training in “hush-hush activities” at the office of Naval District Intelligence. If there was going to be a war, Soria, then 36, would be in it. Harry Sr. was “busy as a bird dog” in 1941. He planned to spend his summer vacation in Navy training. There was one bit of KGU business to handle during his time off. H.P. “Sunny” Sundstrom was staging the grand re-opening of his new drive-in restaurant at Kapi’olani Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue. Soria arranged to have Tom Hion’as Huapalas dancing on the roof, in front of a curving glass brick wall on which a neon sign radiated, “Kau Kau Korner”. Harry Sr. interviewed everyone in sight, while celebrities raced down a stainless steel slide from Sundstrom’s second floor living quarters. Locals had their first look at car hops in “short shorts”. It was August 1941, and it would be one of Honolulu’s last festive evenings for quite some time.
On Saturday, December 6th, Soria worked on “The Voice of Hawaii” broadcast for NBC. Feeling a cold coming on, he spent the night at his parent’s Makiki house. He was awakened in the morning by his mother, who heard “booming” sounds. Harry Sr., knowing of no scheduled maneuvers, phoned the Navy District Intelligence Office. He was instructed to report to the Mutual Telephone Co. building downtown, on the double. Driving, he saw black smoke rising from the direction of Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. At 1160 Bishop Street, he headed to the Trans-Pacific telephone service transmitter room on the second floor. Then, for eight hours, Harry B. Soria, Sr. monitored every phone call made to and from Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
At 12:08 p.m. he connected Territorial Governor John B. Poindexter at ‘Iolani Palace with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House. Asked about their conversation, Soria will only say, “It was 4 minutes long. Frankin Delano sounded just like he did on the radio – relaxed. The governor asked for instructions, and the President told him to carry out the plans.” Prompted for more of what he heard that infamous Sunday, Soria says, with finality, “I’ll take the rest with me to the grave.”
Harry Sr. spent most of World War II on Midway, on “special assignment.” His card read, “United States 14th Naval District – Cable Censor.” Soria was discharged as a lieutenant on January 9, 1946, at Pearl Harbor.
His father, Harry G., by then 72, was still working full time a KGU, as much as a fixture as the NBC chimes. Meanwhile, the fisrt of the postwar radio stations were being built. In an eight-month period, starting on the Fourth of July, 1946, KHON, KPOA, and KULA signed on the air. The number of O’ahu stations had increased by 150 percent.
On Washington’s birthday, 1947, Harry B. Soria, Sr. married Mildred Mitchell, newly arrived from Baltimore. After a brief honeymoon, Harry Sr. joined a new facility to be called KVPO. One of the only kama’aina on the staff, Soria persuaded the owners to change the name to KULA, from the Hawaiian kula loa’a, “source of profit”.
Harry Sr. felt ill at ease at the new station because of “imported programmers, a no ad-libbing policy and too much competition.” (Today, O’ahu has 29 commercial radio stations, most per capita of any U.S. city. Still, more are on the way.) In the spring of 1948, Harry Sr. moved to KPOA, just before the arrival of a KGMB announcer, Hal Lewis. When Soria arrived, the KPOA wake-up show was the drowsy “Moki In The Morning”. It didn’t sell well. When Lewis appeared as J. Akuhead Pupule, with his outlandish radio recipe, he was ready to take over the town. And the town was ready for him.
“He was a good showman, clever and unpredictable”, recalls Soria of Aku, “but the show was his kuleana. We warned sponsors that their commercials might be changed. I’d take Aku and Les Keiter to the fights at Schofield. Les called the action and Hal did the commercials. I can still see Aku at KPOA, barefoot, in cutoff jeans, feet up on the desk.”
August 21 is Statehood Day, but for the Soria family it is remembered as the birthday of the youngest Harry Soria. The child was named Harry Browning Soria, Jr. On that day in 1948, there were three Harry Sorias in the Territory, ages one day, 43, and 74 years.
In 1950, Harry G. Soria began a third decade at KGU. Columnist Eddie Sherman was a staff announcer in the early 1950s, hosting a show called “Breakfast at Waikiki”. Of Harry G., Sherman says, “He was unbelievable, 90 years old and smoking two packs of Chesterfields a day! Always ramrod straight. A wonderful, friendly, charming man, always nattily attired in a suit and tie.” (Sherman exaggerates: Harry G. was only 78 at the time.)
By October, the diluted market for radio time sales had discouraged Harry Sr. He became Radio Director at the growing Beam & Milici advertising agency. He wrote, announced, and produced commercials and programs.
While Harry Gilman Soria was steadfast at KGU, Harry Sr. spent the postwar years moving about. By Christmas 1951, he was at KHON, reunited with Aku. Though the well-liked Robert “Lucky” Luck was always in hot pursuit, Lewis never lost his lead as the Island’s most popular DJ. Radio experts from the Mainland listened to Aku and shook their heads, perplexed. It may not play well in Peoria, but it was number one in Palolo, this amalgam of buzzers and gongs; Yiddish phrases delivered in a gravelly voice; snarling, rude treatment of callers, particularly kids; controversial political commentary; a music selection that include neither Hawaiian music nor rock ‘n’ roll; and, finally, outrageous stunts and pranks.
The genius behind Aku’s crazy capers was Buck Buchwach, a free-lance public relations man who shared a KHON office with Aku. Buchwach dreamt up the “fake Statehood announcement” and the April Fool’s “free money” giveaway. It was he who truly possessed the “Pupule” imagination. By 1955, Buchwach realized there were more meaningful things in life and re-joined The Advertiser for a distinguished editorial career which spanned four decades.
Everything changed forever in Island broadcasting on December 1, 1952. KGMB-TV presented Hawaii’s first telecast. “Kini Popo” (aka: Carl Hebenstreit) appeared on Channel 9, smiled, and said, “Hello, everyone”. It took a while for television to get up to speed, but from that day on, radio was doomed to be second banana. Harry Sr. was one of the first to sense TV’s potential. He bought a black-and-white television set for his ‘Aina Haina house, calling it “the only TV after Kaimuki.” Professionally, within two years. He moved to KGMB Radio & TV. Shortly thereafter, he began a moonlighting enterprise called Music-Air Sound Systems, a local Muzak-type service which mixed in Hawaiian music. In 1957, Soria returned to KPOA as Sales Promotion Manager. By 1960, concentrating on his own business, Harry B. Soria, Sr. was out of radio for good.
Amazingly, Harry Sr.’s father, Harry Gilman Soria, remained at KGU until 1962, outlasting Marion Mulrony by a decade. Harry G. died in 1967 at the age of 93.
Harry B. Soria Jr.’s earliest awareness of radio was a mental image of J. Akuhead Pupule. “I pictured a bald old man on the radio. Boy, was I shocked when I finally saw him. But that was part of the magic of radio which fascinated me. And I grew up with the smell of solder.” Harry Jr., who never heard his father on the air, realized his dad was different. “Wherever we went people knew him, especially Hawaiian musicians who always came over to say hello.” Harry Sr. made sure his son would never suffer “mic fright”. At age 10, Harry Jr. received a Tannenberg tape recorder and was encouraged to create his own “shows”.
After graduating from Kalani in 1966, Harry Jr. enrolled at UH, letting his hair grow down to his waist and becoming the lead singer and tambourine banger of the “Blues Crew”, a 1960s rock band. The group dissolved within a year. Harry Jr. spent a year at school in California, then returned home. Upon completing his education, he followed in the paternal footsteps, peddling everything from stereos to insurance.
In 1976, when his family left ‘Aina Haina, Harry Jr. saved and categorized the irreplaceable items in his father’s “treasure chest” of memorabilia. His car radio, previously locked on rock, now alternated with KCCN Hawaiian Radio. By 1979, Harry Jr.’s haircut was more John Davidson than Greg Allman. He switched his radio to KCCN full time when the Honolulu Skylark took over middays. She had brought DeSoto Brown’s nostalgic “Melodies of Paradise” with her. Skylark (Jackie Lindsey), first recalls Harry B. Soria Jr. “as an avid listener who phoned in and won most of the nostalgia trivia contests.” (In a typical spin of Honolulu’s “radio roulette wheel”, Brown was lured to KQMQ-FM, where his show lasted for about a year and a half. Skylark eventually moved to the same station as promotions manager.)
With DeSoto gone, Harry Jr. sensed a nostalgia gap at KCCN. He met with “Sky”, bringing one of his father’s paper tapes. (So-called “paper” tape was used prior to plastic recording tape. It had a major disadvantage: it disintegrated the first time it was played so many years after it was recorded in 1946.
Skylark and Soria anxiously dubbed and preserved the unheard tape. It was “Hula Mokulele E” by Alvin Isaacs, recorded live at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1946. The quality was remarkably good. Elated, Skylark and Harry Jr. felt like musical archeologists. Skylark invited Harry Jr. on the air to discuss and play the resuscitated performance. On mic, Harry Jr., in the Soria style, was knowledgeable and friendly.
On June 13, 1979, “Territorial Airwaves”, a one-hour show with Harry B. Soria, Jr., premiered on KCCN. “He was hesitant,” says Skylark, “but I watched him grow, learning radio.” Soria and Skylark worked together for seven years. He was her chauffeur, she was his mentor.
Outside radio, Soria has been credit manager at Meadow Gold Dairies since 1986. And he continues the ancestral penchant for “promotion”. He has made “Territorial Airwaves” caps, drink holders, etc. His license plate reads, “78 RPM”. “Harry Jr. can run 10 kilometers and not muss his hair or wrinkle his black and gold Territorial Airwaves racing singlet,” says a fellow jogger. In the past 10 years, Harry Jr. has cropped up at every possible type of event. “Harry would MC a moped wreck”, jokes a friend, “and make it memorable”.
As “Territorial Airwaves” heads into its second decade, Keaumiki Akui, KCCN Program Director, keeps looking forward to Wednesdays. He praises Harry Jr. “for taking such care to preserve the old sounds”. And he regards “Territorial Airwaves” as “the last bastion of real Hawaiian music. The audience may not be around forever, but I hope the music will.”
The Sorias are at Harry Jr.’s apartment, talking music and radio. Father and son have a close rapport; they interact more like brothers. About today’s radio, Harry Sr. says, “There’s more freedom of expression now. Mulrony wouldn’t let us say ‘brassiere’ or ‘panties’. Harry Sr., who laughs quicker than a man half his age, lets out some high-pitched giggles. And what has Harry Jr. learned from his dad? “Always take care of the sponsor – and be on time.”
Asked to sum it all up, Harry Sr. steps out on the lanai. He peers out at a Honolulu which bears no resemblance to the village he sailed into as a teenager. From Central Union Church to Diamond Head, the entire landscape has been transformed. “I loved Hawaii, and working with the people who loved it too. I never worried about the money, but we sure had fun. I did what I enjoyed.” Then Harry Browning Soria, Sr., 84 years old, heads out the door. It’s his day to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. PAU