Q and A

Moffatt, ready for the K-POI Donkey Race in 1965
Image: COURTESY TOM MOFFATT

The Man, The Myth, The Moffatt

Some say the history of pop music in Hawai‘i is the history of one man: Tom Moffatt.

He’s distinguished for spinning the first rock record on Hawaii airwaves: “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley & the Comets. Moffatt tells the story of how Jimi Hendrix played a one-night show at the Waikiki Shell, but backstage told Moffatt he wasn’t happy with the sound. Moffatt said to just go out and take a bow, but Hendrix went out and told the audience, “Keep your ticket stubs and come back Sunday night for a free concert!” So Moffatt had to do it. He’s brought some of the biggest acts to Hawaiian stages: Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, to namedrop a few. A new special airing Jan. 17 and 23, titled Tom Moffatt: The Show Must Go On, was produced by Phil Arnone, a media legend in his own right. The Weekly caught up with Arnone on the phone and Moffatt after his Saturday radio show.


“Uncle Tom” Moffatt

What I do is pretty much what I did years ago–relive the glory days of Hawaii. It’s like riding a bike. It all comes back to me every Saturday morning.

Phil Arnone

How long have you known Tom Moffatt?

It’s been quite a while. I started work in Hawaii on television in 1963 and somewhere in the early years at KGMB, I met Tom. He was a very active guy, and there were times where we could help each other. We’re friends and I respect his talent and his energy and ability to make things happen.

You’ve done features on the Brothers Cazimero, Iz, Eddie Aikau, Rap Reiplinger. Why did you decide to do a Moffatt show? Why now?

Well, [Robert Pennybacker, Lawrence Pacheco and I] have been working together on these shows . . . Robert wrote and Lawrence edited them all. We wanted to keep doing stories [on] the icons . . . and artists. Tom’s been doing this concert-promoting job for a long time and he still has the energy of a guy who isn’t 82 or 81. I just think it’s a great story to tell, because the story of Tom Moffatt is the same story of showbiz on Oahu. He has wonderful stories and an incredible memory for details. We approached him, and he was willing to do it.

What were some of the challenges of filming?

Tom is a busy, busy guy. I needed to sit down with a camera with him for two hours and talk about his life. Finding the time was hard, but it was well worth it.

What can we expect to see in The Show Must Go On?

It’s a bit of a chronological history; where he grew up, what his life was like [on a farm in Michigan]. . . how he got into radio and when he first came here . . . We sent a camera person to Michigan to interview his brother and sister . . . Mike Perry did the narration. Jimmy Buffett sent a pre-recorded message for us. We got about 25 different people to talk about Tom.

Do you consider Tom a Hawaiian icon, even though he’s from the mainland?

He’s definitely an icon to the people of Hawaii because everywhere he goes, people know him. I think this show will help people know who he is beyond just what you may get on the radio.

Tom Moffatt

Tom, the documentary covers your entire life, with footage from the Elvis shows you were involved in, as well as all the photographs and clips you’ve kept all these years. How does that feel?

I don’t know. It’s all just overwhelming; [Phil] went to somewhere in the south and interviewed Jimmy Buffett, talked to my goddaughter in L.A. and some of my associates who were in radio together . . . Phil got so much into it in less than one hour, so many different things. That’s what impressed me the most. I was very humbled.

How old are you?

I forget already!

Do you plan on retiring soon?

Nah, I’m having fun. I really enjoy what I do.

You’ve been in the radio industry for a very long time. What are your thoughts on the radio scene now?

Well, the technology is very different. What I do is pretty much what I did years ago–relive the glory days of Hawaii. It’s like riding a bike. It all comes back to me every Saturday morning. But radio today is not as spontaneous as it was in the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll radio of Hawaii.

Why is that?

[Corporations] screwed up a lot of things, and radio is one of them.

Is it harder to get acts today than it was before?

Yes, because many airlines don’t stop here anymore; they go straight through . . . Back in the ‘70s though, we got tons of acts.

Who would you say are the up-and-coming Tom Moffatts of Hawaii?

There’s a bunch of them. They come and go. There’s always competition and competition is good. Keeps you sharp and thinking.

What are the highlights of your career?

Elvis is definitely one of my highlights. I had the opportunity to introduce him to Hawaii, and whenever he came in, I was the guy with the microphone for his arrivals, sometimes the only one . . . [The] biggest show I’ve ever done is Michael Jackson. Double sell-out in one day at the stadium.

Were you involved with the Beatles when they came here?

Two of them came here, during the early days of Beatlemania, and I was introduced to John and George. John was very pleasant, but when I asked George, “How did you like Hawaii?” he said, “How would you like it if someone stuffed a mic in your face every time you stepped out?” They got swamped everywhere they went.

Ever thought about bringing Paul here?

I’d love to bring Paul here. That’s the one concert I want to do at the stadium. I’ve been trying, through Japan and the U.S. people I know . . . I had tickets to see him once in Japan . . . took the wrong train and only made it to the encore!

You’ve interviewed so many celebrities, brought so much talent to Hawaii. What do you love most about your job?

It’s still a thrill to me to meet performers and celebrities! I’ve never been nervous meeting, but I get kind of in awe. I’m still kind of a fan in talking to them.

Tom Moffatt: The Show Must Go On, Thu., 1/17, on KGMB at 7pm; Wed. 1/23, on KHNL at 9pm.