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For Kekaula, UH football play-by-play is dream job

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 8:26 p.m. HST, Jul 20, 2011

Ever since he first tried to get his then-size-14 foot in the door of professional broadcasting as a college student, Robert Kekaula has had his eyes on the prize: doing play-by-play of University of Hawaii football.

"I started in 1987 with News Radio 99 and Don Robbs," Kekaula said. "I had read in the paper they had gotten the UH contract, so I called up Don and tried to convince him that I should do the play-by-play for UH. That didn't work. So, I tried to convince him that I should do color. That didn't work, either.

"He (Robbs) convinced me I should do schlep work. That worked."

A quarter-century removed from carrying equipment, fetching drinks and performing microphone checks, Kekaula has landed the jackpot of sportscasting positions in Hawaii: the UH football TV play-by-play job. He'll debut with Oceanic Time Warner's pay-per-view and UH channel in September.

If there is celebration in that, there is also relief. "I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance (at UH play-by-play) because that job doesn't come open very often," Kekaula said. "You don't see many get the opportunity."

For much of his 46 years, those enviable jobs have been held by a small handful, with the iconic Jim Leahey the most recent caretaker of the lineage.

Now, Kekaula will succeed the 68-year-old Leahey, whose descriptive play-by-play accounts first captured his imagination decades ago as a Big Island youngster.

"Jim is the greatest storyteller I have ever known; I grew up watching him," Kekaula said. "When I first got in the business, I told him that."

Kekaula, a Kamehameha Schools and UH graduate, "never lacked for confidence — and I mean that in a good way," Robbs said. "Whatever he did he came well-prepared for. He always believed he could do radio and he worked to make it happen."

Kekaula had a voice in putting together the broadcast team that will also include Darren Hernandez and Nate Ilaoa. "I specifically wanted those guys because of their personalities," Kekaula said. "In talking to them, the idea I had is that we have to constantly think we're sitting on a couch and what would we say if we were describing the play we just saw. I want us to have good fun doing it. I want to step up the entertainment value and not lose the integrity of the game."

Kekaula said, "People pay good money for pay-per-view and we feel obligated to give them not only the X's and O's and ABCs and have some fun along with it. For example, the first successful shovel pass we come across I want Nate to explain to us exactly how that works. I've always thought Nate had to be a special cat to be able to turn his back on the defense and make that catch."

In forming his own team, Kekaula will be breaking up another. He and Bobby Curran have worked side-by-side on Warriors football for the past 12 years on KKEA 1420-AM radio. "I have nothing but good memories of those years," Kekaula said. "After I got the job and cleared everything with my people (at KITV) and everybody was on board and official, the first thing I did was call Bobby. Then, I drove out to his house and talked to him.

"He understood. He knew it was something I wanted to do for a long time."

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