Wed, 12 November 2014
Because Ho`olohe Hou is planning a month-long tribute to Hawaii Calls next June on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, my goal this time around is simply to share as much music from the program as possible with enough information and historical context to aid listeners in the appreciation of it.
The first question you’re likely asking yourself is… Since when do live radio programs “skip” like records? This requires some clarification of how the “live” radio program was transmitted in that era. In fact, “live” was a bit of hyperbole. It was certainly “live” when it was recorded, but it was already dated by the time it reached listeners ears in most cities around the world. In the earliest days of the program, the easiest – if not, perhaps, only – means of long-distance transmissions of these broadcasts was shortwave radio. So by the time it reached its destination, the dynamic range of the show (its ability to transmit the musical highs – like treble – and lows – like bass) was already compressed into something about as limited as the telephone. Now, to make matters worse, because magnetic tape had not yet come into its own as a recording medium, the shortwave signals were captured on shellac discs (or what you might call “records”). It was these records that were then played by the local radio stations at appropriate hours (when listeners were awake). And then, typically, because the shows were supposed to be live and, therefore, only to be heard once, most radio stations smashed the shellacs and threw away the pieces. This is why few episodes of Hawaii Calls from the pre-magnetic tape era survived. There is no such thing as a “master.”
As you have probably already figured out, the four dozen or so programs from this era here in the vaults of Ho`olohe Hou are tape copies of the original shellac discs which show the ravages of time. Records that are not cared for properly become scratched or dirty (or both), and this manifests itself as crackles, pops, and an occasional skip. Then add to this the occasional variations and speed – known as “wow and flutter” – from transferring them to magnetic open reel tapes on equipment that may not have been carefully maintained, and the result is less than idea. For the more than five hours of Hawaii Calls material I plan to share with you over the next few weeks, I have spent more than 25 hours in restoring them. In other words, as bad as you think they sound, they sounded worse before I got to work on them. So we are going to have to agree to tolerate less-than-CD-quality sound in order to appreciate these lost recordings again. As I know how difficult it was to attain my copies of these recordings – and now that you see why so few copies continue to exist – in some cases we may be hearing the only copy of a recording still in existence. And it is my extreme pleasure and honor to share these with such an appreciative audience again.
Moreover, because there were no such thing as “reruns” for live weekly radio programs like Hawaii Calls, this may be the first time since their original broadcasts more than 60 years that the entire broadcasts have seen the light of day again. There have been Hawaii Calls LPs and – more recently – CDs that come across as complete live broadcasts, but those were actually pieced together from different programs to come up with the ideal set list – a sort of “Best Of” collection. But this particular program you are currently listening to is presented here again just as it was intended to be heard on July 21, 1951.
Those of you are familiar with the format of the Hawaii Calls program may hear some subtle differences between these early 1950s programs and those which came in the 1960s and 70s. If not, once we get around to these later decades, you will no doubt find yourself bouncing back and forth between these recordings to discover the differences for yourself.
For example, notice here that there is both a host – Webley Edwards – and an announcer (whom I have not yet identified). An announcer that was separate from the host was a convention that dated back to the early days of radio (and which continues for some programs today such as the late-night TV talk shows). But for episodes of the show from the later 1950s until the end of the show’s run in 1975, Webley Edwards was both host and announcer.
Early editions of the program were also not reliant on “star power.” Until more of Hawai`i’s music artists would gain popularity beyond the islands’ borders, there were few names in the cast that would be recognizable to any but a Hawai`i local (or the most ardent fan of Hawaiian music). Few had recording contracts, and those that did would not have seen distribution outside of Hawai`i. But one could argue this only added to the mystique and authenticity of this music. (It was different than, say, Bing Crosby performing these same songs.) But because of this, you will notice that more of the arrangements are for the larger ensemble than for any particular soloist.
Interestingly, while the male voices of the cast in later years would be more distinctive, the early 1950s cast offered a raft of often indistinguishable bass-baritones. Only the most diehard fan will be able to tell Sam Kapu from Simeon Bright from his brother Andy Bright from Bob Kauahikaua.
But there is one standout male voice. And even casual Hawaiian music fans will no doubt recognize it…
Next time: More from the July 21, 1951 broadcast… More about the cast and its “boy singer…” And the magic of the steel guitar in the hands of one of its greats…