The '70s: Viva la Cultural Revolution!

Dozens of great cultural organizations are celebrating 30th anniversaries in Hawaii. What was in the air when they were launched?


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Amazing, unprecedented things were happening in the Islands in the 1970s. Little more than a decade since the first jet landed here in 1959, it seemed the world was coming to Hawaii as Hawaii was beaming itself out to the world. If you lived here 30 years ago, some of these happenings should rekindle your memories:
  • Elvis sent aloha around the globe from the Honolulu International Center (or HIC, now known as the Blaisdell Center) on Jan. 14, 1973, during the first-ever satellite-transmitted musical event.
  • Five of the University of Hawaii’s 1972 basketball players were so successful they became known as “The Dream Team,” thrilling crowds at the HIC.
  • On Jan. 1, 1976, thousands packed into Diamond Head Crater for a “Festival of Life.”
  • Hawaii Five-O, filmed in the Diamond Head Hawaii Film Studio (built in the early ’70s), became a worldwide phenomenon.
  • Keiki TV watchers turned out by the thousands to hear the magic words: “Jiro, chang-ee to Ki-kaiii-idaaa!” and to get autographs from their favorite Kikaida stars.
  • Construction cranes became “the state bird” in Waikiki, while housing, resort and golf course developers faced battles with farmers and fishermen in Waiahole-WaiKane and Kalama Valley.

The Revolutionaries

These are some of the major Hawaii Community groups forged during the turbulent 1970s:

1970: Hawaii State Theatre Council
1970: Moanalua Gargens Foundation
1971: Manoa Valley Theatre (as HPAC in 1969)
1972: Japan-America Institute of Management Science
1973: Hawaii Community Concert Band
1973: Polynesian Voyaging Society
1974: Historic Hawaii Foundation
1974: Pacific Handcrafters Guild
1976: Ballet Hawaii
1976: Hawaii Island Public Radio (KHPR)
1977: Na Hoku Hanohano Awards
1978: Bamboo Ridge Press
1978: Institute for Human Services
1978: Iolani Palace (opens as a museum)
While all this was going on locally, writer Tom Wolfe had dubbed the ’70s the “Me Generation.” The social activism of the ’60s was out, doing stuff that “just felt good” was in for those egocentric ’70s kids. Trust yourself, not your religion, family or institutions of any kind. Alienation was totally cool. That and sex, discos, crazy clothes and psychedelic colors.

Hawaii had its share of disco and bell bottoms. But there was as much “we” going on as “me.” Activist groups such as Kokua Kalama and Save Our Surf were just a few of the organizations formed in the early ’70s that would shape Hawaii’s future for the better.

These were hardly the only groups to get going back then. Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that a slew of community organizations (at least 15 at last count, see sidebar at right) were celebrating their 30th anniversaries. Since founders and leaders of these arts, consumer, preservation and cultural groups are still around today, we turned to them for an explanation, asking: “What was in the air?”

No matter what roles the groups play in society, each seemed to have been formed to answer one of two problems in the Hawaii of the 1970s:  Things we treasured in Hawaii were being lost forever, and someone had to protect them. Things we loved were not available in the Islands, and someone had to bring them.

Photo courtesy of KHPR

Top:  Egg cartons cushioned KHPR’s first studio, where Cliff Eblen and Bob Miller broadcast.

Bottom:  They couldn’t do this with an iPod … KHPR celebrates its second birthday with a “boombox parade” around Ala Moana Beach Park.

Hawaii Public Radio (Hawaii Islands Public Radio, 1976; HPR, 1981)

Today, Hawaii Public Radio is such a familiar cultural institution, supported by nearly 12,000 members, it’s hard to remember a time when it didn’t exist. But Cliff Eblen, Hawaii Public Radio’s first president and manager, remembers the enormous struggle he and others faced in getting the radio station started.

After leaving Wisconsin for Hawaii in 1966, the already experienced broadcaster found “26 radio stations. Not one with decent programming!”

A group of people who felt the same decided to launch a station to carry National Public Radio’s programming. In 1976, they incorporated, calling themselves Hawaii Islands Public Radio. “We were an enthusiastic bunch,” says Eblen. “Plenty of enthusiasm … not much accomplished.”

Their cause didn’t solidify until business and cultural leaders joined the board. Businessman John Henry Felix was named board chairman, and organized fundraising began. Felix recruited Eblen, who, in 1981, flipped a switch in a jury-rigged studio on the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus and Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” streamed out on Hawaii Public Radio’s first broadcast.

The photo above shows Eblen and fellow HPR pioneer Bob Miller broadcasting from a tiny studio that UH president Fujio Matsuda found for them in a rundown gym workout room.

Eblen says, “Those were real egg cartons on the walls. We scrounged them from restaurants and nailed them up for acoustic dampening. Everything was scrounged from someone.”

Attorney Carol Eblen, Cliff Eblen’s wife, remembers HPR’s early days well, as she was much involved. It was a hard-scrabble time, when a technician for the station, Craig Miller, had to climb up Wiliwilinui Ridge to get to the transmitter tower; when their newsman, Tom Armbruster, covered a story by pedaling to it on his “Newsbike.”

Every penny counted. “We never knew if we’d make our payroll,” Cliff says. “One month we were short, and on payday, attorney Jim Paul walked in with a check for the exact amount we needed. It was like that. When we needed a new staff member, the perfect person showed up. When we thought we couldn’t continue, another music lover came through with the money we needed, and, well ... here we are.”


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