A longtime local landmark, the 432-foot KGMB broadcast tower on Kapiolani Boulevard, is slowly being dismantled, but after nearly 50 years in place, it isn’t giving up easily.
Work began in late October, and the metal tower was supposed to be demolished by the end of the year. That date has been pushed back another month because of wind, rain and structural challenges, according to Rick Blangiardi, general manager of Hawaii News Now.
For years the tower stood out at night in the Honolulu skyline, emblazoned with the neon call letters "KGMB" and "AKU," for KGMB’s popular disc jockey J. Akuhead Pupule, aka Hal Lewis.
"It’s been such a landmark, and I’m sad to see it go," said Brock Whaley, radio personality and broadcast historian. "A lot of people think they’re an eyesore, but I like towers."
"It had the red neon Aku name, so kamaainas refer to it as the Aku Tower," Whaley said. "You knew where KGMB’s tower was because it lit up at night. That’s where everyone would aim their TV antenna, down that stretch of Kapiolani."
The tower was erected in 1962 and required a massive concrete pour, with pilings reaching 66 feet underground to support the structure, Blangiardi said. Dismantling it requires methodical planning. Sky Jack Communications, which is handling the job, has removed the 70-foot mast, cutting it into 1,500-pound pieces and lowering them to the ground, and is now working on the tower itself. Its legs will be unbolted in smaller sections to be lowered to the ground.
"They’re taking it down very slowly and very carefully," Blangiardi said. "This is delicate. It’s not like you’re out in a field. We’re taking this down in a neighborhood with people walking underneath on the sidewalk and cars going by on the street."
Built as a television and FM radio tower, the structure carried signals for KGMB Channel 9, KHET Hawaii Public Television and FM stations KGMB (now known as KSSK) and KQMQ. Aku worked at the headquarters at the foot of the tower, but his show was broadcast from a separate AM tower, Whaley said.
"As an AM station he was never broadcasting from that tower, but his name was on the tower," said Whaley, who believes the neon signs came down in the early ’80s. Aku adopted his nickname after a caller derided him as an "aku-head" when the radio man announced the wrong time of day. He died in 1983.
Once the tower comes down, KGMB’s former headquarters at 1534 Kapiolani Blvd. across from Nordstrom will be transformed into the Shops at Kapiolani, a collection of stores and restaurants with glass frontage. The site has 17,000 square feet of space, and about 7,000 feet has already been leased, said Donna Walden, principal in Lionking II LLC, which bought the property in early 2008 for $12.35 million.
"It has high visibility, lots of parking," Walden said. "It’s near Ala Moana and Waikiki. It’s a very attractive location, very desirable."
The venerable red-and-white tower had kept up with the times, most recently broadcasting digital signals for KGMB and KHON before being forced into retirement. KGMB vacated the Kapiolani site in October 2009, when it combined news operations with KHNL and KFVE. The three stations now work out of KHNL’s facility in Kalihi, and their signals are broadcast from towers at Palehua, in the mountains above Makakilo.
"We have our towers at Palehua Ridge, where we have stronger signals," Blangiardi said. "We can reach and serve the homes better. We were really getting to a point where we were compromised in our abilities from a technical standpoint."