Sunday, July 10, 2005


(Originally run 1/24/04 on our old site)

Don Thompson

Tom, you wrote: “The ‘Hawaii Calls’ program may’ve been heard here at 11 p.m. but, in Honolulu, that translated to about 5 or 6 in the afternoon, when the entertainers were up and around and available, but not quite ready to go to their regular club jobs yet. Sound quality for most of the show’s history left a great deal to be desired, since phone lines were used to get the show to the Mainland.”
There is a hint of skepticism about my hearing Hawaii Calls about 11 p.m. in the early 50s in your comment. My memory of the sound quality was that it was as good as any other music on the radio at that time. The wind and surf came through clearly, as did the steel guitar sounds. I definitely remember the host saying that it was being broadcast live. I did a little searching on the Net and found this interesting comment about the show transmission.
The Banyan Lanai - Moana Hotel - Waikiki during "Hawaii Calls"

CBS (at least I heard this from an ancient CBS engineer in San Francisco) carried a live show from Hawaii called "Webley Edward's Hawaii Calls". Since the show was live and this was loooonnnngggg before Arthur C. Clarke came up with the whacky idea of geosyncronous satellites (it was in 1946 that he dreamed that up), the show was sent stateside via short-wave radio. And since short-wave radio was as flaky then as it is now, they used two transmitters so the network engineers could cross fade to whichever signal was better. One transmitter was fed by a microphone on the left side of the stage, while the other was fed by a mic on the right side. The engineers in San Francisco listened to the broadcast in stereo from the late thirties all the way until WWII started (1941).
I have no way of verifying this, but it is conceivable that the broadcasts could have been received via short-wave in San Francisco and networked across the U.S. Also, Hawaii Calls was not a club show. It was a special show intended to be broadcast live to the mainland. So, who would be listening in the wee hours of the morning. I believe in the 70s, it was broadcast on Sunday mornings. The last show was in 1974, I think.

Tom Pry

Given the technical limitations of the medium in the 30s and 40s, it is quite conceivable that it was short-waved. Both AM radio and phone lines (and 78 rpm records) have the same frequency cutoff: at the best, around 7Khz (FM is more like twice that or more, which is why FM sounds so much better).

Further, if the shortwave transmitters were on two different bands, there could be a sizeable difference in the sound quality (static, etc.) between one transmitter and the other. The morning of December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy’s transmitters couldn’t get through to Hawaii on their transmitters, but RCA wasn’t having any problems.

In any case, NOT skepticism, Don, just an Inquiring Mind with a slightly technical bent, ‘though nowhere close to your league.

For those who wonder what all this is about, a web site is getting ready to do re-broadcasts of the old shows. Find out more at

In any case, lest this get TOO serious, a contribution about two of the most popular performers on radio during the 40s:

Dan Randle

Jack Benny and George Burns became friends when both were young performers working their way up through the vaudeville circuit, and they remained friends until Benny died.

One day, they were lunching at a Hollywood restaurant, and Benny was wrestling with the problem of whether or not to butter his bread. "I like butter on my bread," he said. "But my diet strictly forbids butter. Maybe I should call Mary (Livingstone, his wife) and ask her what to do."

"Jack," Burns said, "don't be ridiculous. You're a grown man. You should be able to decide, without your wife's help, whether or not to butter your own bread."

"You're right," Benny said. "I'll just have the butter, that's all."

When the waiter arrived with the check, Burns pointed to Benny and said, "He's paying."

"What!??!" Benny said. "Why should I have to pay the whole bill?"

"Because if you don't," Burns said, "I'll tell Mary about the butter."


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