This Local Radio Show is Beaming Vintage Hawaiian Music Across the Globe
Hawai‘i radio icon Harry B. Soria jr.’s long-running show, “Territorial Airwaves,” is inspiring new recordings.
Harry B. Soria Jr. figures he’s collected about 10,000 records over the years, a mix of 78, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm recordings.
Hawai‘i radio icon Harry B. Soria jr. scans a shelf, pops in a disc and sits back as the sounds of a steel guitar and ‘ukulele, accompanied by a jazzy Peggy Lee-style vocal, waft from the speakers. But, unlike tens of thousands of songs in his collection, this recording was made just last year and has an unmistakably Italian lilt.
Turns out a quintet of professional Italian musicians who call themselves The Waikīkī Leaks are big fans of Hawaiian music. And Soria’s long-running radio show, Territorial Airwaves, is part of their inspiration. When they hear a song they like, they told him they repeat it over and over, to transcribe the music and lyrics to their tablets. “I was blown away,” Soria says.
In June, he marks the 40th anniversary of his radio show, which spotlights Hawaiian music from before statehood—a mix of hapa haole, swing and Hawaiian melodies. Soria started Territorial Airwaves as a live program, then moved to weekly recordings that play twice a week on radio stations, available around the clock on territorialairwaves.com, as well as on Hawaiian Airlines flights. Now, he’s founded a nonprofit to help create an archive for the recordings he’s preserved.
This month, a fundraising gala for the foundation will feature award-winning musicians including Raiatea Helm, who made history as Hawai‘i’s first solo female vocalist to receive a Grammy nomination. She tells us Soria influenced her career from the start. “Uncle Harry B. has been a huge resource, for not only me, but for a lot of artists,” she says. “He’s done his homework and he’s so passionate about it.”
Helm goes to Soria’s website for recordings that can’t be found anywhere else. “I really liked when I discovered the Jesse Kalima trio work done in the late ’40s and early ’50s,” which incorporated jazz and orchestral influences, she says. “The thing that I really dug about this time in Hawaiian music is these arrangements are complex. It’s not your typical trio of ‘ukulele, guitar and bass.
“It’s such a blessing to have someone like him. We look to him as one of the few Hawaiian scholars. He’s preserved a lot of Hawaiian pieces.”
Helm, who is working on a music degree at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, applauds Soria’s plans to keep the music in an accessible form for future generations. “He really cares where this music is going,” she says.
Soria admits it’s exciting when performers and educators find versions of Hawaiian songs in his collection that might otherwise have been lost for years. He and his wife, kumu hula Kilohana Silve, share an appreciation of Hawaiian culture through music and dance, and look for ways to keep it all relevant. Silve is best known for starting and running a hula hālau in Paris, where she and her late husband raised their daughter. Over the past four decades, Soria put together and produced 30 CDs and won eight Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards. Now, the two share a 1930s-era home in Mānoa where many of their vintage recordings line the shelves.
At 70, Soria says it’s the right time to raise money to digitize his collection.
He estimates it consists of more than 10,000 pieces—70,000 songs, many of them on 78, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records. Some of the older recordings have become increasingly rare as discs deteriorated or were thrown away. His goal is not just to save them, but to find a way to make any archives searchable for future generations.
“We have listeners that were born in the ’90s,” Soria says, shaking his head with a smile mixed with some wonderment at the idea of the continued popularity of the vintage music. “We know we’re influencing younger people; we’re helping the culture survive.”
Vintage Vibe Fundraiser
A benefit gala event for The Hawaiian Music Archives Foundation, marking the 40th anniversary of Territorial Airwaves, will be held June 14 in the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian hotel. Performers include: Kimo Alama Keaulana and Lei Hulu, Alan Akaka and the Islanders, Raiatea Helm, Nā Hoa and Ho‘okena.
For tickets and more info, go to territorialairwaves.com.
Soria still has the first record he bought; in 1956, he was 8 years old and paid 50 cents for Elvis Presley’s debut album, which included the song “Blue Suede Shoes.”
In June, Territorial Airwaves is expected to surpass the legendary Hawai‘i Calls (1935-75) as the longest continuously running weekly Hawaiian music radio program of all time.
Soria was born into the Hawai‘i radio business: His grandfather, Harry G. Soria, a veteran at KGU Radio, was dubbed the “Dean of Hawaiian Radio,” while his father, Harry B. Soria Sr., was known as the “Voice of Hawai‘i” during a radio career from the 1930s through the 1950s at rival KGMB radio.