LIHU‘E — How did Kaua‘i Community Radio (KKCR) come to be linked to the emergency system tower in Princeville? The Category 4 Hurricane ‘Iniki played a part in it.
On Sept. 11, 1992, nothing could stand in ‘Iniki’s destructive path without undergoing heavy losses. After being battered with winds of up to 145 mph and gusts topping 230 mph, Kaua‘i sustained six fatalities and caused more than $1.8 billion in losses, counting 1,400 totaled houses and 5,000 severely damaged ones.
‘Iniki caused myriad residents and visitors to be stranded on the North Shore for days without contact, food or medical supplies.
As both power and public communication were lost on the North Shore for weeks, Janet Planet, Roy Richardson, Richard Fernandez, Victor DeAndea, Jon and Lorraine Scott and other residents decided to start a North Shore radio station that could serve the islanders and provide them with emergency information thanks to the Emergency Alert System (EAS).
Fernandez is a skilled fundraiser and a DJ at the station for the much acclaimed “Sunset Jazz” show every other Monday. DeAndea is a senior volunteer who hosts the unrivaled show “Blues with Vic the Barber” every Tuesday night. Both are musicians who have known each other for over 30 years and both came from California.
“The idea was to broadcast from a van with a portable radio system,” Fernandez said. “Janet Planet helped out a lot to explain what and how to do it.”
The cost, however, to get the idea going was estimated at $180,000.
“We didn’t have that kind of money, but we thought about fundraising,” Fernandez said.
For the occasion the two friends put together a concert featuring former Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, then with Backbone, a trio rock band.
“We didn’t even raise $1,000,” DeAndea said.
Through more grants and fundraising concerts, with a lot of perseverance and a little help from a lot of good friends like Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and Graham Nash, whom Fernandez had met in London in 1972, the radio-doers finally got the government’s financial support they needed to start their airing business.
As Roy Richardson sought a place to start broadcasting, an opportunity knocked when the cable TV station in Princeville got bought up and moved to Lihu‘e, leaving everything inside behind.
“It looked like a crappy storage unit with abandoned stuff everywhere,” DeAndea said.
Don Muscle knew where to put the transmitter and how to apply for grants from the government.
“After applying and presenting our plan to FCC, competition started growing fierce, and Honolulu radio folks wanted in. Imagine how bad we felt? We had almost nothing and were facing folks from O‘ahu who had the means and the experience already,” Fernandez said.
In the end, they received the grant.
“They told us that we were from Kaua‘i and that’s why they chose to give it to us,” DeAndea said.
To their delight, the FCC told them they had to purchase new material to qualify for the grant.
After a three-month renovation in 1997, the former garage for Kaua‘i cablevision was transformed into a state-of-the-art broadcast facility.
Among the numerous highs and lows the ambitious team underwent, Fernandez recalled meeting with John Scott, a semi-retired businessman with fundraising skills and connections with the music industry. Scott had organized a fundraising event featuring The Eagles’ Glenn Frey.
But Frey canceled his engagement with Scott soon after due to the band’s reuniting in 1994.
Yet The Eagles’ 1995 concert at The Aloha Stadium on O‘ahu turned out to be the lucky break the KKCR friends needed to go on with their over-the-hill dream, as $1.50 per ticket was donated to their cause. All in all they received $38,000 from the ticket sales.
After five years, with the support of the community and other generous donations, such as Rick Harder’s $20,000 gift, the station eventually came to life.
Starting from a made-up military-like radio station to opening an office with brand new material is a story that can happen only with individuals determined to turn a great dream into a greater reality, no matter how many strenuous stages they had to endure.
“We are a flower in a bouquet of radio stations,” DeAndea said.
Today this flower is part of the Emergency Broadcast System for Kaua’i. It has proved its worth many times by announcing storm conditions, flood warnings, hurricane warnings, bridge closings and other vital information that people need during times of emergencies or disasters.