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Airwaves: September 3, 2010

Island Radio

Being the radio geek that I am, I tend to remember radio stations more than the typical “regular” person would. I remember what station I first heard some songs (“Beach Baby” on KEZY, “This Little Girl” on K-WEST, for example). When San Francisco’s KFRC played top-40, I spent as much time as possible listening whenever I visited my sister Jackie in Gilroy.

It was a college graduation gift to ourselves in 1986 when my friend Jerry and I took a trip to Hawaii and I fell in love with KSSK, at the time Hawaii’s number one music station. They had it all, including the most popular morning show -- Perry and Price, an amazing playlist that somehow matched the mood and tempo of the islands.

I sampled some other stations but for the most part my radio was locked on 59 AM, KSSK. None of the FMs could even compare, not even KSSK’s FM sister station, which at the time played a slightly more uptempo top-40 mix. As I recall, the station was calling itself K-59 that year, though in future trips to the islands they reverted to using just their call letters.

Flash forward 24 years ... visiting the island of Kauai, I find that radio-wise, some things stay the same as they have always been. KSSK is still the number one station in Hawaii (though now they cheat by combining the AM and FM signals), they still have the most popular morning show -- Perry and Price, and they still have a music mix that still matches the mood and tempo of the islands.

My main complaint is that the jingles and announcers tend to give the FM signal more “respect” then they should ... it is the AM signal that can be heard clearly throughout Oahu and on neighboring islands when the FM can’t be heard at all. KSSK’s history and evolution is definitely with the AM ... the station’s top ratings date back to it’s time as a standalone station, FM was added later. That makes it a bit insulting to call the station “92.3 KSSK” as they occasionally do.

Listening to KSSK is like listening to radio back when AM was king. Stations larger than life yet part of your family ... and appealing to the whole family. Perhaps not as great as it was when I first heard it in 1986, but close. About as good as you can get considering it is owned by Clear Channel.

Michael Perry and Larry Price were paired up in 1983 after former KSSK morning man Hal “Aku” Lewis passed away. Perry had been working afternoons on the station while former University of Hawaii head football coach Price was working in the public relations department. Their style of humor is perhaps best described as gentle, yet topical. They use no bad language, and are in many ways a modern version of Lohman and Barkley ... with some island adjustments.

I have no clue if a station like KSSK could work in Southern California, but I bet it could. I’ve written before that I have a dream of taking an AM frequency here and successfully programming music. KSSK does it, albeit on a smaller scale, and has maintained its dominance for years. The nice thing is that you don’t have to travel to Hawaii to hear it ... you can tune in to the station online or even easier, using the I Heart Radio app available for the iPhone or iPod Touch.


Copyright © 2010 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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