Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

The Story of the Famous Hawaii Calls Radio Program

December 1, 2023 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kīkā Kila.

This month we look at the story of the famous Hawaii Calls radio program!

"Hawaii Calls" was once the most widely known Hawaiian music radio program in the world. It brought Hawaiian music and its signature sound of the steel guitar to its avid listeners!

On July 3, 1935, Hawaii Calls was first beamed to the U.S. Mainland West Coast via shortwave radio band. The music was later broadcast live from under the banyan tree in the courtyard of the Moana Hotel at Waikīkī beach.

Webley Edwards narrated the show and presented the best Hawaiian musicians of the time. Hawaiian language mele and hapa haole songs were both sung, and the Hawaiian steel guitar was always at the center of the music.

Hawaii Calls Broadcast, Webley Edwards

For over forty years Al Kealoha Perry and his Singing Surfriders was the principal backup band for guest performers appearing on Hawaii Calls. The band's steel guitarist was the great David Keli‘i.

Among the regular performers on the show were Alfred Apaka, John K. Almeida, Haunani Kahalewai, Nina Keali‘iwahamana. Boyce Rodrigues, Lani Custino, Benny Kalama, Ed Kenney, Hilo Hattie, and many others.

Hawaii Calls Singers, Hilo Hattie

Among the many Hawaiian steel guitarists heard on Hawaii Calls over the years are Freddie Tavares, Benny Rogers, Barney Isaacs, Jules Ah See, Jake Keli‘ikoa, Danny Stewart, Eddie Pang, Joe Custino, Mel Abe, and others.

Hawaii Calls Singers
pc-Territorial Airwaves

Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus
pc-Territorial Airwaves

To listeners far away, the sound of the steel guitar conjured up visions of swaying palm trees, lovely hula dancers, the cool trade winds, scented flowers, and Hawaiian hospitality. It was also an effective advertisement for Hawaii tourism.

In the 1950s the show was switched from "live over the shortwave" to "taped shows" that were sent to the radio stations. At its peak in 1952, Hawaii Calls was broadcast at over 750 radio stations worldwide.

The decline of Hawaii Calls began in the 1960s due to the popularity of television and the changing tastes in wide spread music. And on August 16, 1975, the last Hawaii Calls show was broadcast over the air.

Today music from the original cast of the Hawaii Calls show is available on CD to fans of Hawaiian music. Dozens of albums entitled "Webley Edwards Presents Hawaii Calls"" were released by Capitol Records.

The songs include popular Hawaiian, hapa haole, and steel guitar instrumentals. A new generation of enthusiasts can listen to and appreciate the great Hawaiian steel guitarists of Waikiki's past.

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho`okani ka kika kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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