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Music played in reporter’s background

    Former investigative reporter Scott Shirai in the 1970s, left, and today.

Scott Shirai was known to island viewers as an investigative reporter during the 1970s. In addition to reporting he has also been a disc jockey, singer and author. We look back on his time in the islands when investigative reporting first took shape and see what he is up to today.

Shirai was born in Honolulu and is an ‘Iolani graduate. He says reporting the news was far from his mind in those days. "Music was my first love. I started playing the saxophone in band in the fourth grade, then learned the guitar and began singing for parties and proms when I was 13," he said.

He would go on to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he majored in music (voice). "I had visions of being an opera singer," Shirai said.

While managing a consumer finance office, he sought part-time work at a radio station and landed a job at KORL radio, then later with KUMU where he spun records and read the news. Shirai moved to the Bay Area for a few years in the 1960s, returning to the islands in 1970, when he was hired as a newscaster for Tom Moffatt at KPOI radio.

With his radio experience, the local TV stations began to take notice. He was hired by KHON news director Bob Basso in 1973. "Scott was the first one in the newsroom in the morning and the last one to leave at night, always checking his facts, meeting sources anywhere, any time. He was the very definition of an investigative reporter long before local TV finally took the plunge much later," Basso said.

In the early 1970s, television news in Hawaii had already been around for 20 years. Investigative reporting began to be a focal point in television news both here and on the mainland. "Because this was the post-Watergate era, there was a lot of emphasis on investigative reporting. Since I was born and raised in Honolulu, I had sources on both sides of the street who fed me lots of information," Shirai said.

Uncovering the seedy underbelly of crime in the islands at a time when the shield law wasn’t in effect, reporters sometimes had to pay the price. "Reporters are generally supposed to cover the news and not be the center of it, and because I did so many investigative stories, I found myself in court on three separate occasions facing contempt of court charges for refusing to identify sources in some of the stories I aired," Shira said.

Some of Shirai’s KHON colleagues were BJ Sams, Barbara Tanabe, Ray Lovell, Joe Moore, John Adamek, Cliff Watson, Tom Garbisch and Norris Tanigawa. In addition to his reporting duties, Shirai would also work at KHON as an executive news producer and morning news anchor until 1980, when he joined KGU radio. In 1982, Shirai went to work for Hawaiian Electric Co. and later Hawaiian Electric Industries as community relations director.

For more than a decade Shirai taught noncredit karaoke classes at UH-Manoa and even wrote a book on the subject, "Karaoke: Sing Along Guide to Fun & Confidence." In 1999 he and wife MJ started National Karaoke Week, which occurs the third week of April.

The Shirais now live in Denver, where he now works as chief development officer for the nonprofit Nurse-Family Partnership.

"The mountains also give us some of the same solace and tranquility as the beaches did in Hawaii," 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. Email him at

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