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Radio veteran taking new job as full-time grandfather

By Erika Engle

LAST UPDATED: 2:26 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Jeff Coelho will retire later this year, signing off from his more than 40-year career in broadcasting. He is presently general manager of Salem Media of Hawaii Inc., encompassing KAIM-FM 95.5, KGU-FM 99.5/AM 760, KKOL-FM 107.9, KHNR-AM 690 and KHCM-AM 880.

"I'm packing it in," said the 64-year-old Coelho. "Every long-playing record comes to an end. It's time to put the LP back into the jacket and spend time with my grandchildren." The granddaughters, ages 2, 3 and 6, "are 5,000 miles away, so it's impossible. They win," said the soon-to-be Atlanta-bound granddad.

"Obviously, we're going to stay away from Atlanta when it's freezing," Coelho chuckled. "We'll come back a couple times a year," said the twice-weekly bodyboarder. He will maintain a home in Kailua.

Coelho started his radio career as a 17-year-old Farrington High School student at KORL-AM 650, working overnight shifts on weekends. Later, working his way up through myriad call letters and positions on air, in sales, sales management and station management mostly in Hawaii but also in Virginia and San Francisco, he became a station owner when he and a hui of local investors purchased KUMU-AM 1500 and FM 94.7. He was part owner from 1996 through 2000 when the stations were sold to Washington, D.C.-based Emerald City Radio Partners. He had hoped they would never have to sell, "but unfortunately the economy suffered and even though you have great dreams, you've got to live with reality," he said.

One highlight of his four-decade career was the "Brown Bags to Stardom" high school talent competition, which launched the careers of recording artists Na Leo and Glenn Medeiros. The trio of ladies, still recording, is currently touring Japan. Medeiros, whose local hit "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You" went national, went on to a teaching career. "They still call me Mr. Coelho," he chuckled.

Brown Bags started in the early 1980s on KIKI-AM 830, and in 1982 broadcasting legend Dick Clark came to the station to present KIKI with the national Promotions Station of the Year award.

Also under Coelho's watch, the station formerly known as KAHA-FM 105.9 "The Big Kahuna" was nominated by Radio & Records magazine as radio station of the year in 2003.

They weren't all gems, however, he said, citing the year one of his stations was to have a Christmas tree promotion at Aikahi Park Shopping Center "and you couldn't even get the radio station" on site, he said. Three days before Thanksgiving, before the lighting ceremony, "the tree burned down to the ground," he chuckled.

In 2002, Coelho ran for the City Council District 3 seat representing Kailua, Kaneohe and Waimanalo. He lost to Barbara Marshall but later served in Mayor Mufi Hannemann's Cabinet, first as managing director and then as director of Customer Services.

Despite the move to Atlanta, Coelho said he will continue to be active in local politics. "There are some very exciting races coming up next year," he said, "I think it's important to stay active. Hawaii's a special place, but we've got to keep it that way and more people have to get involved."

Meanwhile, back at the stations, his successor, Leilani Williams, will start her on-the-job training Aug. 1 as station cluster manager. Her broadcast career, primarily in sales, includes stints at New Planet Radio and Clear Channel Radio Hawaii. For the past two years she has served as chief operating officer of Williams Aerospace, a company founded by her husband. She'll fully take the reins in December.

In addition to getting her up to speed on all the nuts and bolts she'll need to know, Coelho is sure to pass on his philosophy about "three key things" the stations will need to do to stay relevant.

"One, tell me what time it is," he said, bemoaning the many stations that are unstaffed and don't announce the time. "Two, tell me what the heck I'm listening to and who you are. What's the station called," he said. "And three,interactivity." Radio "invented" the concept, he said.

Reach Erika Engle at

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