Tom Moffatt — radio disc jockey, concert promoter and one of the most influential figures in the Hawaii entertainment industry — died Monday. He was 85.
Longtime associate Barb Saito, operations manager and vice president of Tom Moffatt Productions, confirmed that Moffatt died Monday night at home after several months of declining health. She described the 35 years she worked with him as “an amazing ride.”
Born Dec. 30, 1930, in Detroit, Moffatt disliked city life and spent most of his teen years working on farms and going to school in small towns outside the Motor City. He came to Hawaii in 1950, enrolled in the University of Hawaii, gravitating toward a career in radio.
Moffatt was playing jazz on KIKI when he started getting requests for a unknown artist named Elvis Presley. With the station’s permission, Moffatt became the first “rock ‘n’ roll” disk jockey in Hawaii and one of the pioneers of modern Top 40 radio.
Moffatt developed the format with Hawaii-born Ron Jacobs at KHVH, KPOA and finally at KPOI — possibly the first time that a station’s call letters formed a pronounceable word. Moffatt, Jacobs and other deejays became the “Poi Boys,” and captivated Hawaii audiences with a seemingly endless series of contests, special events, staged “feuds” between Moffatt and Jacobs, and the “Marathon of Hits” — an annual countdown of the most popular songs in Hawaii as voted on by KPOI listeners. KPOI dominated the Hawaii radio market throughout the 1960s.
Moffatt got involved in concert promotion in the 1950s as an outgrowth of his work in radio. He presented musical revues of the hit artists of the day with the “Show of Stars” concerts and then helped open the Honolulu International Center (now the Neal S. Blaisdell Center) with the first in a series of “Million Dollar Parties.” In the decades that followed Moffatt presented almost every big name in the music business at least once — among his biggest productions were mega-concerts by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and the Eagles in Aloha Stadium. He also brokered reunion concerts by Cecilio & Kapono, Kalapana and Hui Ohana when conventional wisdom held that the members of the those acts would never work together again.
Moffatt’s involvement in the Hawaii record industry started in the late 1950s. He became a major figure in the Hawaii record industry in the 1970s and 1980s as the head of two labels — Paradise and Bluewater — that released Hoku Hanohano Award-winning recordings by Keola & Kapono Beamer, Andy Bumatai, Loyal Garner, the Aliis, the Kasuals, Rap Reiplinger, The Krush, Hui Ohana and Ledward Kaapana.
Early in his career — while he was still in his 20s, and for reasons now long forgotten — Moffatt’s teenage fans began calling him “Uncle Tom” and dubbed his radio studio as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Moffatt said in 2016 that only one person had ever seemed to take offense at the nickname — an African-American entertainer who arrived from the mainland and wanted to know “Who this ‘Uncle Tom’ guy is.” Prominent kamaaina members of Hawaii’s African-American community have said that although a disc jockey’s use of the name “Uncle Tom” could be problematic elsewhere in the country they found nothing offensive in Moffatt being known as “Uncle Tom” in Hawaii.
Moffatt continued to be active as a concert promoter and radio personality well into his 80s. He returned to radio in the 2000s hosting a Saturday morning program on Kool Gold 107.9 where he entertained listeners with stories about events from the 1950s to present and played songs from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s — in some cases song that had only been hits in Hawaii.
Moffatt is survived by his wife, Esther “Sweetie” Kealoha Cablay Moffatt, son Troy Moffatt, his brother Norman Moffatt and sister Alice Moffatt.
Funeral plans are pending.