Volume 7, Number 4, 1998

FM station owner-manager delivers melodious, Maui sounds

Aloha Kakou, you're here wid uz at KPOA and bruddah, we got de island sounds, island-wide," chants Alaka'i, better known as "Maui's Morning Goddess."

The queen wahine of the Maui radio station's morning drive, Alaka'i Paleka, tops the list of native-born disc jockeys who spin disks 24 hours a day on Chuck Bergson's KPOA-FM.

It really didn't take Bergson, BE '83, long to become the co-owner, president and general manager of two top-dollar radio stations in paradise.

After graduation, Bergson worked at a series of jobs while contemplating his future. Eventually deciding on network television, he was off to New York City and his first network job in affiliate relations for ABC-TV.

"At the time, I thought I wanted to run the network and found out that most network executives came out of sales. Since I couldn't get a job in sales on the East Coast, I accepted a job with a network affiliate on the West Coast, in Monterey, Calif.

"I loved it there," Bergson says.

In 1987, he received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Television Bureau, a nationwide association, for a promotional marketing program he developed. Called Discover America, the sales/marketing campaign centered on getting shoppers to buy American produce at a local grocery store chain and to enter a drawing for a brand-new, American-made Chrysler donated by the Chrysler Corp.

Not long after the marketing campaign and the award, Bergson was made sales manager of the station with its 60 employees. The station grossed $10 million in sales and served half a million viewers.

"I was there for five years when one of my customers, who was part owner of a radio station in Maui, asked me to buy out his partner. After five years in Monterey, I knew how much money could be made in broadcasting.

"Since a television station was too expensive, I decided a radio station was just right," he says.

Bergson moved to Maui, becoming president and general manager of Lahaina Broadcasting before he was 30.

When he got to the island, Bergson learned that KPOA-FM was a 3,000-watt, 1950s sound, all-Hawaii format during the day and jazz at night. The other FM station, KLHI, had a rock 'n' roll "oldies" format. So, he and his partner commissioned a listener survey.

They discovered that, while most listeners wanted to hear Hawaiian music on KPOA, they wanted a more contemporary sound, with only 3 percent in favor of more traditional music. "Hawaiian music lends itself to change," Bergson says. "Today's native sounds are rhythmic, well-produced and contemporary" but employ traditional Hawaiian instruments, themes and artists.

Converting KPOA to Hawaiian music all the time, Bergson hired all native Hawaiian DJ's led by program director Paleka. Liz "Kopa'a Tita" Konohia takes over at mid-day and Boy "Maui's Hawaiian Superman" Kanae spins for the afternoon drive. Contemporary native artists like Kapono, Hawaiian Heart, Iz, Sistah Robie and Na Leo Pilimenhana were added to the music mix, as were such down-home features as surf reports, Hawaiian Word of the Day, the Coconut Wireless Community Calendar, Hawaiian Moon Calendar, canoe review, Live on the Beach and Whale Bits.

The station can be found on the web at <http://www.mauigateway.com/~kpoa/index.html>. According to Lahaina Broadcasting's marketing packet, almost 80 percent of all the money spent on the island comes from visitors, the majority of whom listen to KPOA. Once they go home, thousands tune into the station via the web.

"We sponsor the Keiki's song competition for kids from kindergarten to the sixth grade, cosponsor other community events and do remotes from all over the island," Bergson says.

One year, KPOA co-sponsored a sailing/canoe race from Maui to Waikiki on the island of Oahu. They put one of the station's staff in an escort boat accompanying the 50 racers. That person delivered live reports on a cellular phone the entire length of the race.

Bergson and his partner also revamped the second FM station, KLHI, turning it into a modern rock format aimed at the 18- to 34-year-old surfer market, nicknaming it "The Point."

As he learned more about the communications industry, Bergson began to think telecommunications might be the sound wave of the future, so, he created another company, Island Airwaves. The company erected a 199-foot tower on the slope of Mt. Haleakala, a 10,000-foot mountain, with the tower at the 4,500-foot level of the southwestern portion of the island. The antenna has the ability to transmit clean signals between most of the Hawaiian Islands, and plans call for two more towers to be erected in the future.

As if his Hawaiian business success weren't enough, Bergson met his wife, Gail, on Maui. She owns Foreign Intrigue Imports, a retail store that sells clothing, furniture and household accessories imported from Bali, Thailand and India. The Bergsons and their two cats, Harley and Woody, live in a "typical mainland house, with a nice ocean view."

-Barbara Garrison

A sampling of excerpts from letters, sent via e-mail, to KPOA:

"Howzit folks at KPOA! We listen to you live in Amherst, Mass., all the time because it's too cold to do anything else! Once we crank up da heat and tune you in, we almost feel like we're back home."

"I'm listening to your station via Internet (in Japan).... I do not approve of an airport extension.... I come to Maui to relax and get away from people. Please keep Maui the way it is now...."

"Greetings from the Pacific Northwest. Absolutely love the show and all the wonderful aloha music. Keep it coming!"

"Hey, Howzit everyone. We're a Navy family who've been lucky to live in Hawaii.... A big part of this family's heart remains in the islands. With KPOA online, we can at least hear Hawaii. Big Mahalo for being on the net."

"I'm from Germany, Bavaria, and often listen to your Internet radio program. It is great! I wish you the best for the future of KPOA!"

"I love your station.... I listen to it all the way in Atlanta, Ga."