We have been blessed to have local sports broadcasting legends grace the radio and TV airwaves over the years, from Les Keiter and Carlos Rivas to Chuck Leahey, but the dean of sports broadcasting to many of his colleagues was Frank Valenti.
In the early days of television in Honolulu in the 1950s, it was Valenti who kept sports fans up to date and entertained with his "Sports Editor" and "Biddy Boxing" shows on KGMB. Valenti, who died in 1992 at the age of 70, left a mark on the local sports and advertising communities.
He grew up in the San Francisco area and joined the San Francisco Chronicle as a reporter after serving in the Army. He came to Hawaii in 1948 to help set up the sports and news departments for KULA radio. In 1949 and 1950 he teamed up with Rivas and Keiter to do San Francisco Seals baseball re-creations for KPOA radio.
"He was a very talented man. People would bet on the games because they thought they were real," said Carmel Campbell, Valenti’s first wife. "He loved all sports, except for pro wrestling."
When KGMB signed on in December 1952 as Hawaii’s first television station, Valenti was hired as sports director, becoming the first TV sportscaster in the islands.
"We had a sports report on the 10 o’clock news right from the start," said Valenti in a 1989 interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. "When sports personalities came to town in those days, they stood out. We had a famous sports guest probably an average of three nights a week. And the interviews were done live — people like Jesse Owens, Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Unitas.
"The reason I had as much time as I wanted was because after me came the late-night movie and then the station signed off. So they didn’t give a damn when I ended," he said.
Former Hawaii Islanders baseball broadcaster Marty Chase considers Valenti something of a mentor and a friend. "When I arrived in Hawaii for first time in 1959, Frank had a late-night interview show on Channel 9 that was terrific — all the day’s sports rounded up and usually a first-rate interview as well, often with national sports celebrities," Chase said. "Remember, this was light-years before today’s 24/7 ESPN environment. At the time, I thought Frank’s show was far superior to many sports shows I had seen on Washington, D.C., stations. He was definitely far ahead of the curve on TV sports shows."
While at KGMB, Valenti served 15 years as sports director and hosted the "Sports Editor" show every Saturday night with a who’s who of guest athletes from the era: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sugar Ray Robinson, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.
"Frank had great connections with owners, GMs and other sports announcers on the mainland. He always seemed to know who would be coming to town and where they would be staying. When the Packers were the biggest story in football, he had Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Jerry Kramer on his show when they visited the isles," Chase said.
Valenti also knew big-time Hollywood celebrities, often entertaining them at home. "As a kid I remember having Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Sammy Davis Jr. over at our house in Alewa Heights," said Valenti’s son, Paul Valenti.
In 1955 the elder Valenti started writing for local ad agencies, and in 1957 he joined his good friend Ray Milici in his advertising firm. He picked up accolades in both sports and advertising, and was named Hawaii Sportscaster of the Year in 1961, 1964 and 1965, and Advertising Man of the Year in 1967.
Valenti left KGMB in 1968 to focus on the advertising business. He became chairman and chief executive officer of Milici Valenti in 1988. The company later teamed up with Nick Ng Pack to form one of the most successful advertising firms in the state. Valenti was also active in community affairs, helping bring the Pro Bowl to Honolulu and serving on the Aloha Stadium Authority and various civic boards.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.