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
By John Berger
Harry B. Soria, Jr.’s knowledge of music has enlightened and entertained listeners for 25 years.
This has been a big year for Harry B. Soria Jr., six-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning (Hawaii’s version of the Grammys) Hawaiian musicologist and foremost advocate of territorial-era Hawaiian and hapa-haole (part-foreign, part Hawaiian) music. In June, his weekly “Territorial Airwaves” radio show now on Hawaiian 105 KINE-FM celebrated its 25th anniversary, and he released a commemorative CD, appropriately titled Territorial Airwaves. The show, currently available on the internet (http://territorialairwaves.com), reaches an audience that is as large as that of Soria’s father, legendary rado host Harry B. Soria, Sr., prior to World War II.
When I started “Territorial Airwaves” 25 years ago on 1420 KCCN-AM (the show moved to 105 KINE in 1999), I looked at my father’s career. In those days, my show didn’t even reach some of the Neighbor Islands, (but) my father had broadcasted (“Voice of Hawaii”) coast-to-coast to the Continental United States and Canada. I wished that I could someday, somehow reach that level. Today, with the real-time streaming and on demand feature on the internet, I’ve actually reached a point where I am duplicating another facet of my father’s career from 70 years ago.”
Ironically, Soria thought he was getting away from Hawaiian music when he decided to go to the mainland in “1960-something” to attend the College of San Mateo in California. It wasn’t that he dislike the romantic hapa-haole songs that described Hawaii as a tropical paradise; it was the fact that those songs were the music of his father and grandfather (Harry G. Soria, also in local radio, known as the “Dean of Hawaiian Radio”). Like many teens in the ‘60s, young Soria preferred rock.
“I grew up with hapa-haole music in the house,” he remembers. “My dad would throw parties, and musicians like Benny Kalama would play. I thought it was great, but as I got a little older, I wanted to do rock ‘n’ roll. So I turned my back on everything and went to college on the mainland.”
After his college girlfriend introduced him to the Sausalito, California-based group, “Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks”, who collected 78-rpm records, Soria realized that old Hawaiian music was pretty “cool.”
When he returned home, he asked his father to tell him about the old days. His dad, a prominent hapa-haole songwriter and radio personality in his own right, had plenty of memories to share.
“He was a living encyclopedia, and luckily, he lived to be 85, so he was able to share all of his collection, memorabilia, memories, advice and personal recollections of people,” the 56-year-old Soria shares. “He was old enough to be my grandfather (Soria, Sr. was born in 1905), so he had one foot into an era that most fathers of kids my age didn’t have. He could tell me things about the 1920s, and he was sharp as a tack.”
Soria was first heard on KCCN in 1976 as a guest on Honolulu Skylark’s midday show, “Melodies of Paradise” after he won an on-air appearance by answering trivia questions. Three years later, he launched “Territorial Airwaves” with Skylark as co-host. He worked with Skylark until 1986, then with Keaumiki Akui until 1999. He’s been solo ever since.
As soon as he was on the air, Soria discovered that some Hawaii residents though the show was a bad idea.
“A feeling existed among some of the younger people – young kumu hula (master hula instructors), as a matter of fact – who told me that this music was a reflection of a bad period in Hawaii’s history that should be forgotten,” Soria recalls. “They said that it was music by people who had forgotten their language and cuture.”
Some self-appointed cultural commissars denounced hapa-haole music as inherently “colonialist.” Others took offense that groups wore uniforms instead of whatever each man had happened to pull out of the closet. Some claimed that hapa-haole music was “non-Hawaiian,” even though Native Hawaiians and longtime island residents wrote many of the songs.
But Soria didn’t quit.
“I was on a mission,” he says. “Older people loved what I was doing. Once a few of the young lions started getting a few years of experience and a few grey hairs, they began to embrace their elders and the music they represented.”
RADIO AND RECORDS
Almost anyone of any significance as a Hawaiian entertainer or songwriter prior to 1959 – Andy Cummings, R. Alex Anderson, Auntie Genoa Keawe, Randy Oness, etc. – has joined Soria at least once on “Territorial Airwaves” since the inaugural show on June 13, 1979.
All of the show’s music comes from Soria’s personal archives. His collection includes thousands of 78-rpm records as well as vinyl albums, 7-inch 45-rpm “singles”, and some of the one sided earliest of discs that represented state-of-the-art technology a century ago.
Soria traces the history of recorded Hawaiian music back to the turn of the last century, but uses 1915 as the starting point for the show. “The recordings of the first decade were on cylinders and the sound quality for air play is really nil. One of the considerations for the show is that the songs have to be listenable. Discs (flat, 78-rpm records) started in 1910; anything prior to that level of fidelity shouldn’t be played on the radio.”
Also in 1915, a troupe from the islands introduced Hawaiian music to America at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. “The Expo exposed 30,000 people a day to the influence of the hula, ukulele, steel guitar, and Hawaiian culture, in general,” Soria explains. “It created a craze that went all the way to Tin Pan Alley (in New York City).”
Soria goes on to say that this craze actually buoyed the Island music industry for a while. Local entertainers went to the mainland to record and tour between 1915 and 1922.
“It was a huge phenomenon,” Soria says.
Webley Edwards’ “Hawaii Calls” radio program (launched in 1935) and Bing Crosby’s recording of “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (which won the Academy Award for Original Song in 1937) renewed Hawaiian music’s national popularity a decade later. Hapa-haole music remained popular for the next quarter century and was an important part of the Hawaiian experience for tens of thousands of people who passed through Hawaii during that period.
TWO TURNTABLES AND A MICROPHONE
Just as cylinders gave way to flat disc, 78-rpm records gradually gave way to the 12-inch 33-rpm albums of the postwar era. The combination of larger size and slower speed allowed for longer playing time. Plus, the move from shellac or lacquer toward “unbreakable” vinyl records was another big step because the 78-rpm disc was heavy and fragile.
It appeared that “records” of all types – and turntables needed to play them – were becoming extinct by the late 1980s. As audiophiles and nightclub disc jockeys led a revival of 33-rpm vinyl albums and turntables in the ‘90s, they became easier to find.
Soria’s modern turntable has been rebelted for 78-rpm records and equipped with a Stanton cartridge and needle. He stores his 78s in reinforced 12-sleeve convers – a 78-rpm “album” consists of several discs packaged in separate sleeves in a photo album-type book. The discs are stored on edge rather than in stacks on a set of oak shelves 20 feet across and 12 feet high.
Soria cleans his 78s using Windex and a tissue. Using water “just moves things around,” and cloth can leave lint. He uses as little Windex as possible and takes care to keep it off the label. There was a time when he played 78s for his own enjoyment but preserving them takes precedence these days.
“A needle ages your record every time you play it, so I only play them for the show. I use my computer to assemble the program, and I record just those songs (burned to a compact disc). Thanks to Michael Cord (of Cord International), we’re getting more of them commercially re-released on CD so I can listen to it for enjoyment. Technology is always improving.”
Soria also produces records with Cord in the re-issuing of out-of-print Territorial-era recordings. This year’s “Territorial Airwaves” anthology is his 20th project for Cord’s “HanaOla Records/Cord International label (cordinternation.com).
Other technological advances have made it possible to electronically restore “unplayable” copies of 78-rpm recordings. Soria took the lead in making out-of-print Hawaiian recordings available first as the producer and annotator of the “Hawaiian Masters Collection” for a small Los Angeles-based record label, and then, for more than a decade, working with Cord.
Soria says that although some residents think of hapa-haole music as “tourist music”, much of it is at least authentically Hawaiian as the reggae-style music popular with many young island residents today.
“This music is just as viable and credible as the music that’s being put to this generation’s Western cultural influences from the mainland. The music that I’m playing was done by people who may be 80 now, but when they did it, they were 20 and were just as hip as the trendsetters are now.”
MELE COMES TO THE BIG APPLE
Soria will go to New York City this winter to perform as master of ceremonies at the Hawaiian Concert at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 1, 2004. The festivities will feature Nina Keali’iwahamana, Danny Kaleikini, Gary Aiko, Iwalani Kahalewai, Bev Noa and other veterans of the “Hawaii Calls” radio show. For more information, contact the Carnegie Hall box office at www.carnegiehall.org.
CAPTIONS TO PHOTOS IN THIS STORY
Harry B Soria Jr. began his “Territorial Airwaves” vintage Hawaiian music radio program in 1979 on KCCN-AM, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were Hawaii radio pioneers.
Soria celebrates the “Anthology of the Year” award for “Legends of Falsetto”, which Soria produced, at the 2001 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards dinner.
Harry B. Soria’s “Territorial Airwaves” can be heard every Sunday on Hawaiian 105 KINE-FM from 5 to 6 p.m., HST. Mainlanders can also listen the program on demand via the internet by visiting http://territorialairwaves.com.
Hapa Haole Home
Hana Hou Magazine - Hawaiian Airlines - Dec 2014/ Jan 2015
For the last thirty-five years Harry B. has kept the sound of Hawaii’s territorial era alive in the Islands and beyond
Story by Liza Simon Photos by Kyle Rothenborg
The longest-running vintage Hawaiian music radio show opens with a kitschy scene-setter: the hum and pop of static, snippets of old-time radio voices, jumpy little jingles from the past and, finally, words of welcome: “You’re in the Territory with Harry B. Soria, Jr.!” For the next hour host Harry B. pulls out all the stops on Territorial Airwaves to make us feel we are inside the period from 1898 to 1959, between the advent of Hawaii as a US territory and statehood. Hawaiians during this era continued expressing their love for the land and sea with soaring falsetto singing and ‘ukulele rhythms, but many also added English lyrics and American musical elements and soon found themselves in Waikiki showrooms fronting orchestras. The luxuriant musical blend they created – much of it dubbed “hapa haole music” – mesmerized audiences near and far thanks to the reach of radio.
Harry B. never tires of conjuring the spell of those days, using songs culled from his collection of over ten thousand records, some of them rare 78 rpms. Some of his shows focus on a single artist like hula master Maiki Aiu Lake, while others capture an entire decade – robust steel guitar of the roaring ‘20s, for example. In between tracks, Harry B. brims with trivia about territorial music makers.
Now in his sixties, Harry B. not only holds the record for the longest continuous stint in Hawaii radio – he’s been the host of Territorial Airwaves for thirty-five years – he has also extended the reach of the show far beyond the reef. Thanks to live streaming and Internet archiving, the fan base of Territorial Airwaves has grown exponentially; Harry B.’s email in-box is usually bursting with questions from listeners on every continent. No wonder then that he has been nicknamed “Your Source for the history of Hawaiian Music”. He stresses, though, that his sources should get all of the credit. To understand his insistence on this point, go back to that static-ridden opener; the actual sound of shortwave radio searching for stations in the 1930s. “Father used to turn that old-fashioned dial, and he made that acetate recording.” Harry B. chuckles. Father, as he is called in Harry B.’s somewhat archaic diction, wasn’t just the guy turning that dial. He was one of the original architects of Hawaii’s airwaves. So was the man Harry B. calls Grandfather. Harry B. credits his success to these two old-style radiomen whose mantle he wears as surely as their name.
Grandfather – Harry Gilman Soria – was a dapper marketing executive from the Mainland in 1919 when he disembarked from the SS Wilhelmina in Honolulu. A decade later he had found his place in the Islands as a radio solicitor (a.k.a. adman) for KGU, Hawaii’s first commercial radio station. Grandfather was thrilled when his son, Harry Browning Soria, learned to rig up radio transmissions while still in high school but not so happy when the boy took a job at Hawaii’s second commercial radio station, KGMB. “Typical son,” Harry B. says today of his father. “He didn’t want to ride on his father’s coattails.”
In 1935, the younger Soria pulled off Hawaii’s first remote call-in by using a payphone to contact the anchorman at the studio and describe aviator Amelia Earhart taking off from O’ahu’s Wheeler Army Airfield. “Flush with this success,” says Harry B., “Father created the first-ever remote broadcast of music. He and some buddies at the radio station stung some wires across downtown to an electronics shop, where they set up the Hawaiian Troubadours singing into a microphone, which took their melodies over the air.” The novelty drew a huge crowd, and there was buzzing for days about this big event. “As a result,” Harry B. recalls, “Grandfather said to Father, “If you come to KGU, I will package shows around you.”
The agreement was sealed. Soon the father-son team was all over North America; the pair had figured out a way to relay the signal for their Saturday evening show to an NBC network across the Pacific, which beamed it across the continent. Grandfather was dubbed the Dean of Hawaiian Radio, Father: the Voice of Hawaii.
For Harry B., coming of age among Hawaii’s broadcast titans had its perks, like the cocktail parties his parents threw at their ‘Aina Haina home attended by Hawaiian surf legend Duke Kahanamoku, from whom young Harry B. sought advice about surfing. But Harry B. the teenager felt his share of annoyances, too, particularly when his father focused on the glories of a past that seemed downright ancient. Harry B. was the child of his father’s second marriage, and, he says, his father was old enough to be his grandfather: “So while my peers listened to their fathers talk about World War II, my dad told me stories about Prohibition.”
Just as his father loved radio but rejected his own father’s ministrations to follow in his footsteps, Harry B., as a teen, loved music but wasn’t about to pick up an ‘ukulele. “I had to find my own identity, just like my father did,” he says. He joined a blues band and took off for San Francisco. Then one serendipitous day he went to a party on a Sausalito houseboat that belonged to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. “This was a first-of-its-kind retro group. They wore silk Aloha shirts. They played 78 rpms and they sounded great,” he exclaims, slapping palm to forehead for emphasis. “I mean, boing! ‘Old is cool’, I realized. I couldn’t wait to get home.”
Harry B. says once he realized that his beloved blues drew from the same roots as his father’s hapa haole music, he saw the light. After they had reconciled, he couldn’t stop peppering Father with questions about Island radio and music. Father obliged by opening up a boarded-up trunk that was crammed with song sheets, recording contracts, advertisements, magazines, headphones, a record player, an acetate cutter, microphones…. “It was his radio life, and I studied it at his side as we went through it meticulously for the next eleven years until he died in 1990,” says Harry B. “He became my right hand, my mentor.” Father also critiqued his son’s every show, leaving comments on his answering machine while he was on the air. As Harry B. recalls, one of Father’s messages went like so: “I lost count of the number of times you said the word “classic”. Stop with the catchphrases. If you keep repeating something it loses its meaning. Be original.”
In the late 1970s Harry B. was hardly alone in wanting to revisit Hawaii’s musical past. Hawaii was in the midst of a renaissance of native culture, and traditional music was being aired by a new generation of disc jockeys on KCCN radio. Harry became a fan of Jacqueline Leilani Rossetti, “Honolulu Skylark”, who occasionally spun 78-rpm records and asked listeners to call in with anything they knew about them. Harry B would consult Father and share what he’d gleaned. It wasn’t long before Skylark suggested Harry B. team up with her to host a KCCN radio show.
When Territorial Airwaves launched, older listeners began calling with compliments. This gave Harry B. an idea: “I started passing out handbills in neighborhoods, looking for big trees and canvas awnings, which both suggested older people lived there. About every tenth door I knocked on, I would have luck with people telling e to take their stacks of old 78-rpm records – please!”
Harry B. also began to search for yesteryear’s music-makers to come on his show. He approached artists as well as composers, sound engineers and producers. Preservation was needed, Harry B. was convinced: Legendary recordings were fast going out of print, and some older artists who were famous for their live performances had hardly recorded. Soria feared that much unique Hawaiian artistry would be lost forever. Luckily, he says the Soria name opened doors. “The older artists knew me as a kid, and they had worked with my father, so I had this entrée to bring those people into the studio.”
Once there, musical guests were happy to relax and tell their stories. “One of the biggest joys I have had in all my years is helping these great talents finish their stories,” Harry B. says, again crediting Father for making this happen. “Inevitably, the older guest would be telling a great story and get to a point where the name of an old theater or a hotel long gone had slipped their mind. But with all of my father’s trivia swimming around in my head, I could fill in the blank.”
Musical legends who appeared on the show include Nina Keali’iwahamana and George Na’ope. Then there was Harry Owens, the composer of “Sweet Leilani”, who told the story of how the song came to win an Academy Award in 1938. Owens had penned the song for his daughter in 1934, but the composition made no money except for sales of its sheet music at 25 cents a pop. Then Bing Crosby, in town filming Waikiki Wedding, checked into the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where Owens conducted the orchestra. When Owens struck up the band with “Sweet Leilani,” the movie star and his wife were on the dance floor, and it was love at first listen. The next day Crosby asked Owens to make an acetate recording he could take to Paramount in Hollywood. In his interview with Soria, Owens switched to a swaggering tone to describe Crosby marching up to the studio heads saying, “Forget your songwriting team. This is our theme song for the movie.”
Harry B. preserved the interviews, transcribed them and has sprinkled them liberally through subsequent editions of Territorial Airwaves. “When I started in 1979, most listeners had lived through the era I was celebrating,” he says. “Now I am an older person, and the majority of my original listeners have passed on, but a younger audience is hearing me on the web.” He gets a thrill when young Hawaiian artists approach him to say that Territorial Airwaves is their inspiration for striking out in new musical directions.
Harry B. thinks Father may have envisioned something like cyberspace when he advised him to constantly reach beyond the Islands, as he himself did via his shortwave transmissions. Father’s strong suit, says Harry B., is that he was “a tinkerer. He kept fiddling with whatever tools he had.” Perhaps it was the tinkerer’s gene that drove Harry B. to master the computer techniques that have enabled him to remove surface damage from his 78 rpms, something he’s been doing since the 1990s. He was recently tapped to produce and annotate sets of restored re-releases of Hawaiian music on the Hana Ola label.
“When I got kicked off live radio, I thought that was it for Territorial Airwaves,” Harry B. says, referring to a 2006 station move that required him to prerecord his program. “Of course I was upset, but in my head I could hear my Father saying, “That’s how radio is. Do what you gotta do to survive.” The change has been for the better, says the ever optimistic Harry B., because rather than keep him behind a microphone on the weekend, it has freed him up to do more stage gigs as an emcee.
Talking about his many projects, Harry B. is diligent and down-to-earth, insisting that at the end of the day, he is just doing his duty by keeping something wonderful alive. He recalls having dinner with his parents at the Waikiki Sands when he was a child. “During their break, the musicians would come over to our table, and I would see this camaraderie and respect between them and Father,” he remembers. “I was just a little boy, but I was thinking, “This is something special.” HH
Harry B. Soria, Jr. has amassed a vast collection of recordings – over ten thousand, with the earliest dating from before World War I. Every week the devoted DJ draws from his treasure trove to create Territorial Airwaves. One the previous page he is seen recording the show in his Fort Street Mall studio of Hawaiian 105 KINE.
All in the family:
Both Harry B.’s father and grandfather were pioneering radiomen in Honolulu. Harry’s grandfather Harry G. (above) worked at Hawaii’s first commercial radio station and was dubbed the Dean of Hawaiian Radio. His father, Harry B., Sr., earned the moniker the Voice of Hawaii; he is seen at left doing a live remote broadcast from the dance floor of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1939. Far left: Harry B.’s first publicity photo, circa 1980.
Territorial Airwaves can be heard on the radio in Hawaii every week on Fridays at noon and Sundays at 5 p.m. at AM 940 and it’s on the web at territorialairwaves.com.
Hitting A Romantic Note
Hitting a Romantic Note
By Susan Yim
As Harry B. Soria Jr. and I glance around the shaded courtyard of the stately, century-old Moana Hotel, nostalgia taps me on the shoulder. With a veil of clouds softening the late morning sunlight, and the waves drumming hypnotically on the Waikiki shore, it’s easy to daydream about what is was like here 65 years ago, when the radio program Hawaii Calls was broadcast live from this very spot.
Soria points out where the stage was at the Moana (now officially known as the Sheraton Moana Surfrider). Where bandleader Harry Owens and his orchestra of Hawaiian musicians were positioned during the show’s first two years. Where the audience sat under an ancient banyan tree that remains today a verdant umbrella beside the white-sand beach. Where an engineer draped a microphone over the railing at water’s edge to catch the sound of the surf that began each of the old broadcasts.
Hawaii Calls aired live from Waikiki between 1935 and 1975. At its peak of popularity, in the early ‘50s, the show was beamed to 750 stations around the world. For several generations of listeners across the United States – including my husband, who in those days tuned in by radio in upstate New York – those broadcasts of Hawaiian music created indelible images of the islands. The sensuous twang of the steel guitar transported audiences to Waikiki Beach, wrapping them in fantasies of moonlight over Diamond Head, sultry hula maidens with hibiscus blossoms in their hair, and sleepy lagoons ringed by swaying palm trees.
As we reminisce about Hawaii Calls, I’m struck by the thought that if this were the 1930s and Soria wore his dark hair slicked back a tad more, sported a pencil-thin mustache, donned a white suit, and draped a lei around his neck, he could easily step onto the veranda and emcee an edition of Hawaii Calls. After all, that is essentially what he has been doing, on a smaller scale, for the past 20 years.
Every Sunday at dusk, as the host of Territorial Airwaves, Soria plays an hour of ethnic Hawaiian and hapa haole music (songs with English lyrics about Hawaii), weaving the stories behind the tunes into a sentimental hour of music from Hawaii’s territorial days.
He is the hands-down authority on the music of the hapa haole era, which ran from the turn of the century through the ‘50s and produced such songs as, “Beyond the Reef”, which exuded romance by playing on the mystique and allure of Hawaii and other then remote islands of the Pacific.
Soria sings a couple of lines – “Beyond the reef, where the sea is dark and cold, my love has goine and our dreams grow old….” He tells me that, while the song remains one of the best known about the islands, the lyrics never actually mention Hawaii. The tune was written in 1948, by a Canadian named Jack Pitman, who settled in Hawaii, played piano in nightclub lounges, and turned out to be, in Soria’s words, “a heck of a songwriter.”
Soria is filled with anecdotes about hapa haole songs. He knows all about such greats as Harry Owens, who in 1934 wrote, “Sweet Leilani” to commemorate the birth of his first daughter. A couple of years later Owens and his band were playing at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, when Bing Crosby danced by and asked them to play it again. Crosby, who happened to be in Honolulu while the scenes for the film Waikiki Wedding were being shot (the actors worked in a Hollywood studio), became smitten with the number and lobbied for it to be included in the movie. At the 1937 Academy Awards, it won the Oscar for Song of the Year – and reignited a craze on the mainland for music from and about the islands.
“That’s my favorite time,” says Soria. “That’s when the real glamour came. It was a period when the music was strongly influenced by Hollywood and vice versa.”
My own all-time favorite hapa haole composition is “Waikiki”, by the late singer-songwriter Andy Cummings. Soria, of course, has the story behind the song: It was written in 1938 on a cold, foggy night in Lansing, Michigan, where Cummings was touring with a Hawaiian troupe. What makes it so unforgettable is its purity and sweetness: “Waikiki at night when the shadows are falling, I hear your rolling surf calling, calling and calling to me….”
Whenever I listen to that song at twilight, a wave of emotion hits me, filling me with feelings of tenderness for the unspoiled Waikki I took for granted as a kid growing up in Honolulu in the ‘50s. Cummings performed into his 70s, occasionally in Waikiki lounges, and one moonlit evening he paused at my table, strumming the song on an ukulele and singing in his reedy tenor.
“The song is timeless,” Soria says.
Contemporary Hawaiian musicians, including the popular female trio Na Leo Pilimehana and the Brothers Cazimero, agree: both have recently recorded loving interpretations of the classic tune.
And even though “Waikiki” was written on the mainland – or perhaps because of that – it evokes the sense of longing that characterizes the most romantic Hawaiian music of the Territorial period.
“These are love songs and torch songs, songs about being on an island and parting,” Soria says. “It was music about this faraway place that, in those days, you could only reach by steamship, that someday, maybe once in your life, you might get to.”
Humming, singing, and talking, Soria takes me back to the 1920s, when the Moana was the place to be seen and “Hawaii’s Jazz King,” Johnny Noble and his dance band performed sassy numbers like “Hawaiian Vamp,” with lyrics that hinted at the insouciance of the time: “Down in Honolulu, beside the sea, a naughty dance is haunting me….” As the couples moved gracefully across the dance floor, Soria says, sand tracked onto it from the nearby beach produced a sh-sh-sh sound under their shoes.
While his 20 years as a disc jockey have made Soria an unassailable authority on the hapa haole days, it could be said that he was born with the music in his blood. That’s because his father was a music man, too. Born in 1905, Harry B. Soria Sr. danced at the Moana to “Hawaiian Vamp,” befriended Hawaii’s Jazz King, and went on to become “the Voice of Hawaii,” which aired on local radio.
His show went head-to-head with Hawaii Calls in the mid-‘30s, but while the competition was recording live on the beach at Waikiki, Voice of Hawaii was broadcast from the studio.
“In retrospect, it didn’t have the romance of Hawaii Calls, Soria Jr. says, with the objectivity of a historian. When World War II broke out and his father joined the war effort, the show went off the air.
For years, growing up in the Honolulu suburb of Aina Haina, without much interest in the music of the past, Soria Jr. did not appear to be the one who would rekindle the hapa haole flame. But while he was attending college in California, the music he used to consider old-fashioned started sounding good. Back in the islands, Soria began to collect Hawaiian memorabilia, and his father noticed.
The turning point came one day when his dad hauled out a large shipping trunk jammed with the sheet music, 78-rpm records, radio scripts, and publicity photos from his radio days.
“It was like a time machine,” Soria says, smiling at the memory. “As I became an admirer of his previous life, our relationship changed.”
Soria pumped his father for stories about the dance floors at the Moana, the Royal Hawaiian, and other night spots, for tales of the legendary band leaders and the great musicians; and, of course, for the substance behind the songs. He searched out the musicians and composers of his father’s day and asked them about their recollections; it didn’t hurt that they remembered Harry Sr. with fondness.
Soria also began building a record collection that now includes more than five thousand 78-rpm records – most of the songs from the era were recorded in the 78 format – and another five thousand LP albums. So when the opportunity to do a radio show came along, Soria was ready.
Now, every week when the program goes on the air, the switchboard lights up with his listeners calling to thank him for playing their favorites. Because of Soria’s extensive music collection and vast knowledge, some fans assumed he was an old-timer who had rubbed shoulders with the legends. Whenever he emceed a music event early in his career, the “aunties” – older Hawaiian women – in the audience would gasp when he walked on stage. They couldn’t believe he was only in his 30s. “They thought they had been tricked,” Soria says.
Such humorous misunderstandings aside, Soria is keenly aware that his audience is aging and that his most ardent fans, like the entertainers who have been guests on his program, are passing on.
“It’s a challenge,” he says. “How do I appeal to a new generation? How do I make the music palatable to an ever-younger audience? It’s my mission.”
We could reminisce till sunset, but Soria has to get back to his day job as a credit manager for a Honolulu wholesale company.
“My dad told me, ‘Never do this full-time; keep it as a side business, and you’ll have more fun’.”
He has, and he does.
Soria strolls across the lobby of the Moana to his car; a moment later he is maneuvering through traffic. And while the drivers around him are probably listening to talk radio, 24-hour news stations, or Top 40 hits, Soria loads his CD player with something familiar – personal favorites from his dad’s Territorial days. PAU.
Hawaiian Music & Musicians - An Encyclopedic History
SORIA, HARRY BROWNING, JR
Musicologist, broadcaster, liner notes writer, and record producer.
Harry B. Soria, Jr. is neither a musician nor a vocalist, but no one did more during the final decades of the 20th century to preserve and perpetuate the musical legacy of the Territorial Era (1900-1959). Soria launched his Territorial Airwaves radio show on KCCN in 1979, a time when many island residents considered much of the music of that era as either old fashioned or as “tourist music”. Self-anointed cultural commissars of the time dismissed the popular music of the Territorial period as being part of a very bad time in Hawaiian history. Some found the names of some of the groups of the era as offensive or “colonialist”. Others took offense at the matching uniforms. Some denounced the entire hapa-haole genre as “non-Hawaiian”.
Soria himself had grown up without much interest in the music, even though his father, Harry B. Soria, Sr., had been a prominent local broadcaster and hapa-haole songwriter. Soria was attending college on the mainland when he met a group of record collectors who consider Territorial Era music “cool”. When Soria returned to Hawaii, he asked his father to share his memories.
Soria thereafter became a voracious and knowledgeable collector of Territorial Era records; his personal archives include thousands of 78-rpm records and the “unbreakable” 33-1/3-rpm vinyl albums and 45-rpm singles that replaced 78s in the 1950s.
He first appeared on KCCN as a guest in 1976. Three years later, he was invited to do Territorial Airwaves on a weekly basis. The first broadcast was on June 13, 1979.
Soria developed a large and loyal following. The music came from his personal collection and covered everything Hawaiian and hapa-haole from 1915 through 1959. The show also featured interviews with the entertainers and composers of the period. Almost everyone – from R. Alex Anderson and Gabby Pahinui to Genoa Keawe and Randy Oness – joined Soria at least once or twice over the years.
By the time Soria and KCCN 1420 AM celebrated the 20th Annivesary of Territorial Airwaves in 1999, the station had been sold. When KCCN-AM adopted a talk radio/sports format, Territorial Airwaves was moved to “sister station” Hawaiian 105 KINE and Soria continued the tradition he had started over 20 years before.
Territorial Airwaves moved for a third time after the corporate “suits” decided that the show no longer fit the target market of Hawaiian 105 KINE. On January 15, 2006, the show was moved from Hawaiian 105 KINE to AM940 (“All Traditional Hawaiian, All The Time”). For the first time in the show’s history it was pre-recorded – although this change allowed Soria more freedom to work as an emcee at Hawaiian music events in Japan and on the U.S. mainland.
The new version of Territorial Airwaves was also made available “on demand” at www.territorialairwaves.com.
Territorial Airwaves celebrated its 30th anniversary on June 12, 2009.
Although Soria is most visible in Hawaii as a radio personality, his work as a record producer and musical historian is even more important. By the early 1990s, technological advances in computer restoration programs and digital re-mastering techniques had made it possible to electronically remove the surface noise from badly worn old 78-rpm records and re-release the restored recordings on modern compact discs. Long-out-of-print Hawaiian recordings for which no master recordings existed could be made available once again, by electronically restoring “unplayable” 78-rpm recordings. Soria was the facilitator of a small scale project of this type as producer and annotator of the “Hawaiian Masters Collection” series for Los Angeles-based Tantalus Records; the recordings were from his personal collection.
Record producer Michael Cord envisioned a much larger series of CD anthologies that would bring as much of the old music back into print as possible, with state-of-the-art restoration and extensive annotation as well. Soria was the obvious choice to produce and annotate the series.
The albums, released on Cord’s HanaOla label, set the standard for all similar projects in both sound quality and annotation. Cords’s tech people are unmatched at audio restoration. Soria’s erudite annotation includes the basic background information on the songs and the artists, while often adding such details as the street addresses of the long-vanished clubs and bars where the artists performed. Everything Soria has produced for HanaOla has been a valuable addition to the growing library of classic Hawaiian recordings available on CD.
The importance of Soria’s work with Cord as a producer and annotator cannot be overstated. His willingness to share the information in his archives with other researchers is another valuable contribution to the overall preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian music and our knowledge of it.
The seven Hoku Awards Soria received between 1996 and 2008 by no means reflect the full extent of his work with Cord, but are at least indicative of its quality.
-- John Berger (2012) Hawaiian Music & Musicians – Ka Mele Hawai’i a Me Ka Po,e Mele
"Mahukona" is a rare recording, done on the 45-rpm format, by Auntie Vickie I'i Rodgrigues and her daughters: Lani, Lahela, & Nina. Young Nina (Keali'iwahamana) already exhibits her extraordinary voice within the family's harmony structure. Mahalo to Keoki Maguire for sharing this gem.
Length:2:36 Released on: 02-14-2013 Artist/Compiled by: Rodrigues Ohana