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Friday, November 28, 2014         

LOOKING BACK


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Legendary newsman recalls long career at isle stations

By A.J. McWhorter

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During the decade of the 1970s, there were three news anchors who were the face and voices of their respective stations: Bob Sevey at KGMB, BJ Sams at KHON and Don Rockwell at KITV.

Today, Rockwell looks back at his nearly 30 years as a newsman in the islands, where he gave many journalists their first break in the business.

Rockwell originally hails from Jersey City, N.J. As a student at Rutgers University, he worked at WMTR in Morristown on Sundays opening the radio station, turning the transmitter on and spinning records. While earning a degree in rural sciences and aspiring to be a landscape architect, the news business fell into his lap.

"One time I overheard the news director saying he had no one to cover a city council meeting. I said, 'How about me?' and from then on I only did news," Rockwell said.

During his senior year he went to work for WCTC radio in New Brunswick, N.J. After college, he moved on to Columbus, Ohio, working at WCOL radio. A call-up to the Air Force Reserves sent him overseas during the Berlin Crisis, where he worked for the Armed Forces Network in Europe producing and anchoring newscasts.

After returning to the U.S., he got his first break in television news at top-rated WANE, the CBS affiliate in Fort Wayne, Ind.

In 1965, Rockwell moved west to Northern California, using his talents in rural sciences and media to work as a public relations specialist for the Council of California Growers. He later worked at news stations in Sacramento and Oakland.

When KHVH (now KITV) news director Jim Manke was on the mainland looking for news talent, he happened to look over Rockwell's file and caught him on the air at KTVU in Oakland.

"He looked great. We had a chat over a meal, and I asked him if he might be interested in an anchor job in Hawaii," Manke said.

Rockwell arrived in Honolulu in August 1969 and immediately started work as co-anchor of KHVH news with Chuck Henry. By 1970 he had become news director and continued to anchor the newscast over the decade with Ken Kashiwahara, Pat Brown, Tom McWilliams, Linda Coble, Warren Moran, Jacque Scott and Janet Zappala.

In 1979 he left the anchor chair to devoted himself full time to being news director at KITV, hiring familiar faces from the 1980s, including Rick Quan, Tim Tindall, Russell Shimooka and Lynne Waters.

"Don was the news director at KITV who, along with General Manager Dick Grimm, hired me and gave me my first anchor job in the islands. It was a huge leap forward in my career, going from a weekday weather girl in a little, one-station town in Texas to anchoring the nightly news in Honolulu. I'll never forget what those two did for me," Waters said.

It was Rockwell who told island viewers of some of the biggest news events of the 1970s, from Apollo missions to Vietnam and Watergate. But the biggest local news story was Hurricane Iwa in 1982. He recalls "the stress and 40 hours of no sleep in the newsroom."

In 1984, after 15 years with KITV, he moved over to KGMB as executive producer of the news when Sevey was still the anchor there. In 1986 he joined KHVH news radio as station manager, news director and program director.

Rockwell left the islands briefly in 1990 but returned to KGMB the following year. He retired in 1996 and eventually settled in Atlanta. He said he likes the city but misses Hawaii. "I still consider it home," he said.

A.J. McWhorter, a collector of film and videotape cataloging Hawaii's TV history, has worked as a producer, writer and researcher for both local and national media. His column runs on the second Sunday of each month. E-mail him at flashback@hawaii.rr.com.






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