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Career went from ‘Poi Boy’ to newsman

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    In 1971, Jack Kellner' became director of the Office of Information and Youth Affairs under Gov. John Burns.
    Jack Kellner's interview subjects included Gov. Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

Jack Kellner may have retired a decade ago, but his friends and colleagues remember his solid work and contributions in a career that spanned four decades in island broadcasting. Kellner looks back on his days in Honolulu where he worked as a KPOI "Poi Boy" disc jockey, TV news anchor, reporter, assignment editor and news director.

Kellner hails from Los Angeles where he attended Los Angeles City College, graduating from their broadcasting department in 1956. "I wanted to get into broadcasting from the time I was in high school," he said. His first broadcasting jobs were for radio stations in Kingman, Ariz., Banning, Calif., and Colorado Springs, before he was drafted by the Army as a broadcast specialist, shipping off to Korea in 1960.

Kellner met Don Robbs while stationed overseas. After his discharge in 1962, Kellner came to Honolulu and was soon hired to host the "Lucky Lager Dance Time" on KPOI radio. "Jack helped arrange a job for me as morning news guy," Robbs said. "I spent two years at KPOI, during which Jack and I became close friends. … He has one of the great broadcast voices of all time and is the funniest guy I have ever known."

Kellner was a "Poi Boy" along with Tom Moffatt, Bob "The Beard" Lowrie and Dave Donnelly. He moved on to KHVH radio, then owned by Henry Kaiser, working with Bob Sevey, Gene Good and Mason Altiery. He did the news for Lucky Luck’s radio program before going to work for the McCann-Erickson advertising agency.

In 1966 he joined KGMB. "Sevey asked me to help build the news department. We worked together and remained good friends," Kellner said. Working as a reporter, weekend anchor and assignment editor, Kellner’s colleagues included Bob Jones, Tim Tindall, Al Allen, Al Michaels, Bob Wernet, Bambi Weil, Jim Lathrop and Frank Valenti. "We worked six days a week with a small staff," he said.

Career highlights from that period include traveling to Miami for the 1968 Republican National Convention, presidential visits, Kalama Valley evictions over Hawaiian land rights, East-West Center gatherings of world leaders and covering the murder of state Sen. Larry Kuriyama. "Interesting times," said Kellner, who interviewed the likes of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple Black and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali).

Gov. John Burns tapped Kellner in 1971 to work as director of the Office of Information and Youth Affairs. In 1974 he returned to broadcasting as an assistant to Cec Heftel at KGMB, and later served as afternoon news announcer at KHVH.

KHON hired him in 1979 as assignment editor. Later, as news director, Kellner hired reporters Dalton Tanonaka, Chris Parsons and Barbara Marshall. He retired in 1999 after a stint as the station’s assistant news director for community affairs.

"I enjoyed my 20 years at KHON working for seven different owners and working with so many talented and terrific colleagues," Kellner said.

Kent Baker, former vice president and general manager at KHON, said he respected Kellner’s local knowledge and "clear perspective on the news, the people and the government of Hawaii."

"He deserves much of the credit for the stability of Channel 2 during that time. He provided advice, friendship and perspective to the journalists who made up the Channel 2 news department during those decades."

Kellner and wife Tomeko live in Sonoma, Calif., where he remains active in community affairs. "I have no problem no longer being involved in the broadcasting industry, as the business has gone through many changes, but I do miss the friends I enjoyed working with," 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 first Monday of each month. E-mail him at


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