Michael W. Perry and Larry Price have prevailed as the Spam and eggs combo of Hawaii’s wake-up radio audience for three decades — and counting.
Yet they are as different as guava and pineapple, an odd couple balancing each other’s strengths.
Perry on the left and Price on the right — their position when they’re broadcasting — inherited the morning radio slot, after Hal Lewis, whose broadcast handle was J. Akuhead Pupule, died. Aku was allegedly the highest paid deejay in the nation at the time and clearly the No. 1 powerhouse on KGMB radio.
How P&P approached the throne, maintained the reign, and talked and championed their way to radio history, is the subject of “Perry & Price — Voices of Hawaii,” premiering at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 on KHNL (repeating at 7 p.m. Oct. 26, KHNL). It’s one of those infrequent but relevant TV glimpses of island personalities, by the prolific and pioneering director Phil Arnone.
Originating in the glory days of KGMB-TV (now consolidated with KHNL as Hawaii News Now), Arnone — now a freelancer — has been the backbone of local specials on Hawaii newsmakers. But for the first time ever, this one’s bypassing KGMB, the longtime CBS affiliate, and airing solely on sister station KHNL, the NBC outlet.
Two guys, 30 years, one helluva track record. That’s the best way to describe the legacy that is Perry & Price.
Their show has always been part talk, part music, part fun, part news — and wholly spontaneous whenever there’s a hurricane or tsunami brewing locally. The tragedy of 9/11, when terrorists attacked the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, compelled Perry and Pric to rise the occasion to cover, analyze and explore the tragic events of that day. While network TV offered video as well as audio, not all folks had access to the tube, so the jocks became news reporters seeking reaction and information with a local slant with extended broadcast shifts beyond morning drive.
Since then, and even earlier, Perry and Price became the go-to dudes in media and often are known as the “Masters of Disasters” or “Deans of Doom.”
Narrated by Linda Coble, who once read the news on the P&P show, and scripted by Larry Fleece, an early and still chronicler of local specials produced by Arnone, “Voices of Hawaii” is a revealing and entertaining portrait of unshowbizzy guys who have become the envied and invincible one-two punch of morning radio.
It was an unexpected coupling; Perry had wanted to do radio since he was 10, served in the Navy, wound up in broadcasting on a local rock station; Price was a football coach, then worked security at a Waikiki hotel, and did a brief investigative reporter stint on TV before they were both summoned by then-manager Earl McDaniel (and station owner Cec Heftel) to form the morning team on KGMB radio (now KSSK) a month after the unexpected death of Lewis in July 1983.
Yes, they were green; but like a marriage, they soon anticipated the moves and manners of each other to maintain Aku’s No. 1 perch on the Arbitron radio ratings from the get-go, astounding the naysayers.
“Long hours but not hard work,” Price says of the gig.
“Grueling,” retorts Perry.
Depends on the day and the events of the world, naturally.
While they dutifully maintained their positions at the microphone to cover such island catastrophes like Hurricane Iniki, it was 9/11 that changed their lives and methods. As Perry says, “We became brokers — brokering the news.” They watched TV feeds along with the rest of the world, found local ties, added Hawaii sidebars to the reporting.
And folks responded, in great numbers. And the brand was solidified.
They had borrowed tricks from Aku, an innovator in his own right. He played old music of his own preference, interpreted the news but peppered it with lots of opinion, and did something few competitors were doing at the time — “he was the first guy to put phone calls on the radio,” says Perry.
It was the crude origin of social media at a time when cell phones and Twitter were not yet invented.
The call-ins also later established a Perry & Price tradition: the creation of a radio posse, which provided the eyes and voices particularly in reporting crimes or providing clues on prevailing incidents, like a stolen car spotted by a listener after the victim reported a license plate number. Thus was born the catch phrase, “Nevah feah, da posse’s heah.”
Other jocks, including Kamasami Kong, Dave Lancaster and Dan Cooke, were competitors — as well as fans — who praise P&P’s power and accomplishments.
And ex-Kalihi boy Price provided budding comic and fellow Kalihian Augie T scholarship funding to finance college — one local supporting a needy local.
The special also notes another P&P phenom: the continuing popularity of a Saturday morning radio brunch show before a live audience enjoying a leisurely brunch. The format was “invented” when the duo needed to pump up usually boring Saturday mornings, when folks aren’t driving to work. Akin to a TV talk and variety show but minus the precious visuals of the tube, P&P assemble live performances and guests peddling a book or a charity walk, to fuel the imagination. The venues have changed over time; it started at the Top of the Ilikai and now it’s Jade Dynasty at Ala Moana Center.
It all comes down to the power of patter and chatter — or what Aku used to call “the coconut wireless” — with Perry on the left, Price on the right.
“PERRY & PRICE — VOICES OF HAWAII”
7 p.m. Oct. 12 and 26