Even with a head set clamped on tight, sportscaster and KHNL station manager Rick Blangiardi did not miss athletic director Stan Sheriff’s terse message during the 1984 University of Hawaii football season opener.
“ ‘If this (telecast) doesn’t get better in a hurry,’ ” Blangiardi recalls Sheriff telling him, “ ‘I’m going to pull the plug.’ ”
UH was on the way to an eventual 21-13 loss to Cal State Fullerton and Blangiardi, who had convinced station owners to invest more than $1 million in the project, was struggling to see the seat-of-the-pants idea that there was a niche for televising a wide array of UH sports live get off the ground.
First under KIKU call letters, then as KHNL and KFVE, the enterprise that came to bill itself as the “Home Team” made UH sports a free-over-the-air entertainment staple of homes islands-wide and a rallying point throughout the state.
Now, 27 years and nearly 3,000 telecasts later, the pioneering relationship with UH sports comes to an end this weekend as the Rainbows baseball team concludes its regular season with a series against San Jose State that opens tonight and runs through Sunday.
Oceanic Time Warner Cable, which holds the contract, takes over the production and distribution this summer and is preparing to launch an “all things UH” channel for the fall.
What KFVE and its predecessors gave Hawaii was the biggest TV sports breakthrough locally since “Lani Bird” in 1966. Officially the Intelsat II communications satellite, “Lani Bird” delivered the No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Michigan State football game — featuring local performers Bob Apisa, Dick Kenney and Charlie Wedemeyer — as the first live sports TV broadcast from the mainland.
The brilliance behind showing a full plate of UH sports wasn’t as quickly applauded, however. Blangiardi had to reinforce his shared vision with Sheriff and go around, sport by sport, to convince UH coaches that TV “wouldn’t cannibalize their audiences.”
“When we first said we were going to put Wahine volleyball in prime time out of Klum Gym, people scoffed at us,” Blangiardi said. “There was no evidence, except for a few appearances at Blaisdell on the way to the nationals, that people would watch.”
But when the first audience figures came in, Blangiardi recalls, “they rivaled football’s numbers.”
It was providential timing for UH sports in general and volleyball and baseball in particular. TV introduced women’s volleyball to a wider audience than what was capable or willing to cram itself into steamy, decrepit Klum Gym. The resulting following fueled the drive to build the on-campus arena that became the 10,300-seat Sheriff Center a decade later.
Meanwhile, baseball, which moved into then-Rainbow Stadium in 1984, was leading the nation in attendance two years after its games began to be shown on TV. It was TV that introduced the era of Yuval Katz in men’s volleyball to sold-out crowds and displayed the talents of Anthony Carter and Alika Smith in basketball.
Sunday, 27 years — and thousands of magic moments — after the innovation shakily jumped off the drawing board, they will “pull the plug” on KFVE’s televising of UH sports.
But it won’t be because it failed to achieve success. If anything, it became too popular for its originators to hold onto.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.