Harry Soria began hosting Territorial Airwaves, a
showcase of pre-statehood music on KCCN Radio in 1979.
Celebrating 20 yearsBy John Berger
of Territorial song
Special to the Star-Bulletin
HARRY B. Soria Jr. launched "Territorial Airwaves" in spite of naysayers who told him a weekly one-hour program of Hawaiian and pre-Statehood hapa-haole wouldn't last.
"There was this feeling among younger people -- young kumu hula, as a matter of fact -- who told me that this music was a reflection of a bad period of our history that should be forgotten. It was by people who forgot their language and their culture, and, yes, they were our grandparents and parents, but they were ignorant, and we're going to skip that century," Soria recalls.
"The old people loved what I was doing, and I felt I was on a mission, so I stayed with it. We kept having the legends come on and we learned more and more, and then as a few of the young lions started getting a few years and a few gray hairs, they began embracing their elders and the music they represented."
By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Harry Soria was influenced by his father and a former
girlfriend who thought old music was 'cool.'
Soria, 50, and the show he created have become a tradition in island radio. He and KCCN-1420 AM celebrate the 20th Anniversary of "Territorial Airwaves" tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Soria and longtime co-host Keaumiki Akui engage in good-natured banter between interviews with entertainers from the Territorial Era. Almost anyone of any significance as a Hawaiian entertainer or songwriter prior to 1959 -- from Gabby Pahinui to Andy Cummings to R. Alex Anderson to Genoa Keawe to Randy Oness -- has joined Soria at least once on "Territorial Airwaves" since the inaugural show on June 13, 1979.
The music comes from Soria's archive of thousands of 78-rpm Hawaiian records. He traces Hawaiian music's recorded history back to the turn of the century but uses 1915 as the show's start point.
"The recordings of the first decade were on wax cylinders and the (sound) quality is really nil. One of the considerations for the show is that it has to be listenable.
Mainland America also began to embrace Hawaiian music in 1915. A hula troupe from Hawaii was a hit of the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
"The Expo exposed 30,000 people a day to the influence of hula, ukulele, steel guitar and Hawaiian culture in general, created a Hawaiian craze that goes all the way to Tin Pan Alley (in New York City). Country music embraced the steel guitar, hula was imitated in Vaudeville and the ukulele (today) is picked up on college campuses around the nation.
"The most long-reaching thing was a huge Hawaiian craze in the recording industry that actually buoyed the industry for a while. Local entertainers were going to the mainland to record (between 1915 and 1925) but they were also touring. It was a huge phenomenon."
Hawaiian music enjoyed a resurgence of national popularity when Webley Edwards launched the radio show "Hawaii Calls" in 1935, and Bing Crosby's recording of "Sweet Leilani" won an Academy Award in 1937.
Hapa-haole music remained popular through World War II.
Just as cylinders gave way to flat discs in 1910, the 78-rpm disc was replaced by the 12-inch, 33-rpm album of the postwar era. The combination of larger size and slower speed allowed for much more playing time per side. The evolution from shellac or lacquer toward "unbreakable" records was another big step. A typical 78 disc is a fragile thing.
"If you look at them wrong they'll crack," Soria says.
The revival of interest in 33-rpm vinyl records in the past couple of years has made turntables easier to find. Soria uses a Stanton cartridge and needle and a modern high-quality turntable that has been rebelted for 78-rpm discs. His collection occupies shelves 20 feet across and 12 feet high.
Soria cleans his 78s using Windex and a tissue. He says using water "just moves things around" and that cloth can leave lint. He suggests using as little Windex as possible and avoiding the label.
In the past, he played 78s at home for his own enjoyment, but preserving them is a higher priority these days. "Unlike the newest medium that doesn't actually touch anything, a needle is aging your record every time you play it. I only play them now for the show.
"Thanks to Michael Cord, we're getting more of (the old music) on CD so I can listen to those for enjoyment.
Ironically, Soria wasn't always a fan of Territorial music.
"I grew up with it in the house. My dad would throw parties with these musicians; people like Benny Kalama would be playing on the patio. I thought it was great but as I got a little older I wanted to do rock 'n' roll and I turned my back on everything and went to college on the mainland.
A girlfriend introduced him to a group that collected 78-rpm records and considered old music "cool." When Soria returned home he asked his father, who was born in 1905, to share his memories.
"He was a living encyclopedia, and luckily, he lived to be 85 all the way to the 1990s so he was able to share all his of his collection, all of his memorabilia, his memories, his advice and personal recollections of people. He was old enough to be my grandfather, and old enough to be my mother's father, 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 first appeared as guest on KCCN in 1976. Three years later, he was invited to do "Territorial Airwaves" on a weekly basis.
"Many people look at the death of Alfred Apaka in 1960 as the swansong of the era. We became a state in 1959, rock 'n' roll radio stations had become No. 1 in Hawaii. Hawaiian programming all but disappeared from the airwaves, which was the lifeblood of music.
"When Elvis Presley did 'Blue Hawaii,' that was like the last gasp. Statehood, Apaka's death, and rock 'n' roll signaled a down time."
Soria adds that although the Hawaiian Renaissance of the late '60s and early '70s didn't revive local interest in traditional hapa-haole music, the movement led to renewed interest in Hawaiian music in general, so Territorial music today is just as viable and credible as Western mainstream music.
"The music that I'm playing was done by people who may be 80 now, but when they did it they were 20 and they were just as hip as (the trendsetters) now."
Harry Soria's Top 10 list of the most significant Hawaiian recording artists, 1900 to 1959, in alphabetical order:
Alfred Apaka (1919-1960): "The Voice of Hawaii" was the classic Hawaiian baritone crooner.Harry Soria's Top 5 list of the most significant composers and/or arrangers of Territorial Hawaii, 1900 to 1959:
Frank Ferera (1885-1951): Made hundreds of acoustic steel guitar recordings before World War I. A huge recording artist into the early 20s.
Hilo Hattie (1898-1976): The definitive hapa-haole comedienne.
Sol Ho'opi'i (1902-1953): First steel guitarist to make it big as a recording artist; also sang falsetto.
George Kainapau (1905-1992): The first successful falsetto star; recorded Broadway hits as well as Hawaiian music.
Richard Kauhi (1929-1984): The father of modern non-traditional Hawaiian music.
Genoa Keawe (1918-): Great female falsetto; has recorded for more than 50 years and in every medium from 78 to CD. Performs regularly in Waikiki.
Ray Kinney (1900-1972): First superstar vocalist from Hawaii.
Lena Machado (1903-1974): First great female vocalist; also significant as composer and arranger. Her work is still a major influence.
Harry Owens (1902-1986): Bandleader and composer; also important for his orchestrations and adaptations of traditional Hawaiian music. First musical director of "Hawaii Calls."
Johnny Almeida (1897-1985): Musical Director for 49th State Records. Studio musician and prolific recording artist. A perfectionist when it came to use of Hawaiian language.
R. Alex Anderson (1894-1995): Prolific hapa-haole composer.
Charles E. King (1874-1950): Prolific Hawaiian composer.
Don McDiarmid I (1898-1977): Bandleader and orchestrator.
Johnny Noble (1892-1944): Wrote "Hula Blues." Entertainment director for the Moana and Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1920s and '30s. Writer, arranger and talent scout.
Story reproduced from The Honolulu Star Bulletin story of June 22, 1999 by John Berger.
[I'd send you directly there, but am always afraid they're going to remove older stories from their online data. Ed.]