When disc jockey Ed Kanoi moved to Kauai from Oahu in the early 1980s for a radio job, his plan was to stay on the Garden Island for one year while connecting with the place where his mother was born.
“My mother, Virginia Bonilla, was from Kauai. She died when I was 5 years old. I thought it would be a good time in my life to come here for a year, walk the land and get to know the place where my mom grew up,” he says. “Then I fell in love with a woman and I fell in love with the island.”
Thirty years later, he has friendships with relatives he never knew existed, and has made a home for himself on Kauai radio as general manager and program director for HHawaii Media. Kanoi oversees HHawaii Media’s three Kauai stations, Rooster Country 99.9 for which he is the “morning guy,” Island Radio 98.9 and Jamz 98.1, and also does announcing for one of the company’s Maui stations. He is so at home in a radio studio that he instinctively leans into his microphone while chatting with a visitor, even when not on air.
It was during his decade as half of the comedic team of “Ed & Ed,” with partner-in-humor Ed Kaahea, when their “Afternoon Luau” was broadcast on KQNG in 1990s, that Kauai audiences first came to know and love Kanoi’s mischievous side.
“On the Afternoon Luau, we did everything opposite of what you would normally do on a radio show,” he says. For example, instead of having a typical male announcer’s voice re-introduce the DJs after commercials, they recruited Auntie Connie, the station’s accountant who had a thick Filipino accent and who clearly sounded as though she was reading from a script. She became the spokesperson for the Afternoon Luau.
“We would give her these crazy things to say. She would sort of chuckle at us, then she would do it,” Kanoi says. For example, coming back from a station break, Auntie Connie would say, “Remember, don’t do drugs unless you share it with the boys.”
“Auntie Connie gave us a license to say a lot of things that would be hard if we did it straight as ourselves,” Kanoi says, laughing away at the memory. “How could you get mad at Auntie Connie?”
Auntie Connie passed away a few years ago and her family members still smile at Ed when they see him around the island.
Ed & Ed’s antics weren’t confined only to the radio studio. Take the time Rodney Sanchez, their boss and then-owner of KQNG Radio, went on vacation.
“It was a beautiful day outside and we were really bored in the studio,” Kanoi says. “We knew Rodney had a hot tub at his house, so we called his sister because she had the key to his house. We told her Rodney said if we wanted to go over there and do the show from his hot tub, we could.”
One of the show’s sponsors brought them food, and they did the whole afternoon show from the hot tub.
What happened when Rodney got home?
“He got over it he thought it was funny,” Kanoi says. “We had a great boss who would let us roll.”
Kanoi says that from time to time, people did get a little testy at him and Kaahea, like the time they were talking on the air about cockroaches, specifically the hair on a cockroach’s leg.
“We made a comment about ‘sort of like the North Shore girls,’ and that got us into a lot of trouble,” he says, laughing. “We would apologize when we stepped over the line.”
Even more than 20 years after the Afternoon Luau went off the air, Kanoi says listeners still recognize him as part of the humorous duo, as happened once when he was riding a bus to church during a stint on Oahu.
“The bus driver kept looking at me. Finally he says, ‘Brah, Ed & Ed?’ I said, ‘Yeah, brah, that was a long time ago.’ He says, ‘Yeah, I’m from Kauai. Ho, when you guys going do that again? That was so much fun.’”
And that’s what it’s all about for Kanoi: weaving fun into his listeners’ days.
“If people on the radio can make your day a little bit brighter and make you smile, the rest of your day falls into place,” he says. “That’s the theory that I live off of, and it works.”
Growing up with polio, Kanoi walked with a cane when he was in high school. His father taught him that he would need to figure out what kind of work he could do that would use his brain.
On a field trip with his English class, he toured a radio station and met the disc jockey, who also walked with a cane, and something clicked. That disc jockey gave Kanoi his first job in radio as a record librarian.Back in those years, the DJs in Hawaii were all Mainland guys, mostly from California, Kanoi says.
“I thought if I can be a local guy and talk like them, there might be a market for that,” he says.
Fortunately for Kanoi, his father was in the U.S. Army and taught his son the importance of being understood. Speaking Pidgin English, as Kanoi did with his friends at school, was not allowed at home.
“When I got into radio, it took some time but speaking proper English wasn’t that foreign to me,” he says.
He started by working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift and also weekend gigs, gradually learning that he preferred mornings, a time slot in which it was acceptable to get a little crazy on the air.
When he was ready, an opportunity to get lots of practice as a morning man dropped into his lap.
“I used to work for a guy who was a huge Rams football team fan. If the Rams lost, he was so upset, he would not come to work on Monday mornings,” Kanoi says. “As the program director, I was the back-up guy. One year, the Rams weren’t doing very well and I did a lot of morning radio!”
Coming home to Kauai
After his time on KQNG doing the Afternoon Luau, Kanoi left Kauai for awhile to work on Hawaii Island, then back on Oahu, where he was program director for a rock and roll station. Then one day in 2013 he got a call from George Hochman, owner of HHawaii Media.
George said, ‘I need a guy on Kauai and you’re the only guy I know who really loves the island and radio,’ he recalls.
Kanoi welcomed the chance to return to Kauai — this time with his two sons, ages 10 and 8, who he is raising as a single father.
“I thought it would be a wonderful place to raise my two little boys on Kauai. I have a lot of help, but I’m their full-time mommy, daddy and recreation officer. It’s a juggle but it’s amazing,” he says. Kanoi’s oldest son is 40 years old and lives on the Mainland.
“Kauai has its own magic charm,” Kanoi says. “I fell in love with it when I first got here 30 years ago, and a lot of folks who knew me then are happy that I came back. It’s been wonderful coming home to Kauai.”