A year after the devastation of Hurricane Iniki, a group of local residents from all over Kaua‘i met in a small conference room in Kapa‘a. These people were from different walks of life, but they came together with one vision — to serve the community of Kaua‘i, while staying connected, informed and safe.
They were led by Hawaiian activist John “Butch” Kekahu and radio disc jockey Janet Friend-Neumann.
“We decided we wanted to start a community radio station,” said Fred Dente, who has been involved with Kaua‘i Community Radio since its inception.
In the wake of Hurricane Iniki, there was a need for disaster preparedness and communication, Dente said. The North Shore was left without communication, and the distribution of communication was nonexistant. People didn’t know where to pick up supplies or what service organizations were on the island.
It took four-and-a-half years since their first meeting in March of 1993 before KKCR went live on the air in September of 1997.
Janet and John
Janet and John wanted to create an alternative radio station where people could speak freely and advocate for a better Hawai‘i.
“My dad was very humble,” said Ruby Kekahu, John’s daughter. “He was a loving and non-judgmental, and always supportive of anyone’s vision.”
Ruby Kekahu remembers that while she was growing up her father always talked about an alternative radio station, but she didn’t realize he was one of the founders until she received a plaque earlier this year honoring him.
“I’m sitting there, and they are reading this plaque to me, and I said ‘Oh my gosh. He was one of the founders?’”
Jasmine Medeiros, Janet’s daughter, said her mother was a passionate woman who loved life and the concept of a peaceful world.
“She was so excited doing (KKCR),” Medeiros said. “That was definitely her No. 1 passion. She wanted a place for people to come and play what they wanted to play and have freedom of speech without fear of retaliation.”
Janet was instrumental in securing funding, acquiring a non-profit status and an FCC license.
“Janet willingly took the bull by the horns to do whatever was necessary to make the dream a reality, eventually traveling to Washington, D.C., to finalize the documents,” Dente said.
John, who is regarded as a strong leader of the Hawaiian independence movement, loved all kinds of music, and often performed live on KKCR.
Part of the radio station’s mission is to “stimulate, educate and entertain our audience, to preserve, perpetuate and celebrate Hawaiian culture, and to reflect the diversity of the local and world community.”
One way it fulfills this mission is by broadcasting Hawaiian music from midnight to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
“I consider that really important to perpetuate the culture we are lucky enough to share,” said Dean Rogers, station manager at KKCR.
“The station serves to connect the community with itself,” Rogers added, citing that many of KKCR’s programs invites members from the community and nonprofit organizations to share their passions.
“The most gratifying part of working here is interacting with the community,” Rogers said. “This helps interconnect the community. For that, it’s the greatest satisfaction of meeting people and connecting our community.”
KKCR’s long-term goal is to support the radio station solely by its members, Dente said.
KKCR currently has about 1,300 members, according to Rogers.
As KKCR’s broadcast grew, more and more volunteers came in to share their passions for music, playing everything from jazz to bluegrass music, to classical and acoustic.
The alternative radio station is operating on a skeleton staff of three and depends on volunteers to help keep the station in operation.
Volunteer positions range from data entry to general cleanup, to handiwork and hosting an on-air radio show.
While Rogers said he is limited to who walks in his door, he urges people who are passionate about different things to share their passions with the community.
Most programs are two hours long and alternated each week to bring in as much diversity as possible.
“I have people from California who say they have programs, but I want things produced on island right here, because they have a vested interest in the community. I’m really proud of that.”
Currently, KKCR airs around 70 different programs. Rogers hosts “D’s Diner” from 1 to 2 p.m. Fridays with his son.
Live on the air
KKCR has established three broadcast sites, including one at Kaua‘i Community College, Storybook Theatre in Hanapepe and Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha.
The radio station has two primarily transmitters, one at its office in Princeville and another at top of Mt. Kahili. In between those points, the radio station has booster transmitters to help boost the signal to reach isolated communities.
One of those transmitters was put in place in Moloa‘a, which was put in place in request of civil defense because people who lived along the shoreline didn’t have radio station, and weren’t able to receive emergency alerts or warnings that were broadcast.
In its long-term growth, KKCR is looking to become self-sustainable, which includes installing solar powers to reach remote sites.
Dente says KKCR’s greatest achievement is its broadcast of Hawaiian language programs from remote cites.
“We are the premiere Hawaiian language and Hawaiian broadcast sight in the world,” he said. “I don’t know anyone else who has accomplished that.”
Kekahu passed away in December, 2001, and Friend-Neumann passed away in August, 2004 from cancer.
“They always included everyone in their dreams for free speech and an independent Hawai‘i, and anticipated that KKCR would play a major role in the process,” Dente said. “We will always remember their tireless and courageous work, and most of all their huge hearts.
Visit www.kkcr.org for more information about KKCR.
• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@ thegardenisland.com.