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Head of Ho‘ike Kaua‘i Community Television steps down after 22 years

LIHU‘E — After 22 years at the helm of Kaua‘i’s sole community TV station, J Robertson is stepping down as managing director of Ho‘ike Kaua‘i Community Television.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Robertson never planned on running a television station. Instead, his dream was to be a professional baseball player — a dream that would lead him to pitch for California State University, Northridge.

The team won the NCAA Division 2 championship Robertson’s freshman year. By the next season, Robertson gained the attention of a particularly passionate fan from Ecuador, Jose Freire.

“We bought him a trash can, gave him a broken bat and a cowbell,” Robertson said. “He tortured every visiting team. He sat right out their dugout, beat the crap out of that trash can, rang the bell every time we did something good. Every time they do something bad or make an error, he starts heckling them and razzing them, calling them names.”

As Robertson’s graduation neared, he found that Jose wasn’t just a fan of Northridge baseball. He also had connections with the owner of Emelec, an Ecuadorian baseball team — and Emelec wanted Robertson to play.

“When my senior year came, he asked me if I wanted to go to Ecuador to be a baseball star,” he said. “I was like, what? I was telling him, ‘That’s crazy, that’s stupid, that’s, that’s — no.’ He says, ‘Well, think about it.’ I woke up probably about 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning and go, ‘Jeez — I wonder if it’s too soon to call him.’ So I called him and got my passport, got a special visa arranged and flew down to Guayaquil.”

Robertson would spend two years in Ecuador playing for Emelec before a request from his father brought him to the Aloha state.

Robertson’s dad, an avid sailor, had traveled from California to Hawai‘i on his sailboat, exploring island after island. But by the time he reached Honolulu, the elder Robertson had grown tired of sailing, instead asking J to fly out to take the boat.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll come, but I will sail the boat back,’” Robertson said. “‘I don’t want to be in Hawai‘i. I don’t like Hawai‘i. I’ve been to South America. Hawai‘i is too bastardized. They’ve commercialized everything, they sold all their beaches, they have nothing but hotels and tourism, and I’m not really interested in being there. So I’ll fly out there on the condition that we leave within a day.’”

After two failed attempts to sail out — the latter of which snapped the boat’s rigging — Robertson’s father eventually flew back to the mainland, leaving J in Honolulu with the broken sailboat.

However, when Robertson was in college, several of his friends had moved to Kaua‘i from California. Remembering this, Robertson repaired his father’s boat, gathered a crew and sailed to the Garden Island — where he’s stayed ever since.

“The funny thing is at the time, I said, ‘Well, I’m not permanently here,’” he said. “‘But I’m here until I find a better place to live.’ And in 47 years, I haven’t found a better place to live.”

Robertson bounced around professions in Kaua‘i, working as a teacher, then a sports radio announcer, then a sales manager before becoming managing director of Ho‘ike in 2000.

During his tenure, Robertson facilitated the station’s move from analog to digital production, expanding both Ho‘ike’s reach and ability to serve the community.

“Ninety programs would go in the inventory,” he said. “Now we’ve got thousands in there. We also are streaming both of our channels — we have video on demand, so anybody can go online and look us up. We’re on Roku TV, we’re on Apple TV — so you could go to the Apple store and get the Ho‘ike app, and you’ve got it. So we’ve really done a lot of amazing technological advancement for the people of Kaua‘i.”

Robertson noted that one of his favorite accomplishments came in 2005, when a production on the Lights on Rice Street parade won Ho‘ike a national award at the ACM National Conference.

“We are honored and recognized nationally, and I take great pride in that,” he said. “We have a national reputation for a little tiny island.”

Still, Robertson added that, above all else, providing a valued community service comes first.

“I think gaining national recognition is one of those big things, but I think the most important thing is giving people a voice,” he said.

“I can’t begin to tell you all the people that have come here and used our open mic or community camera about issues that are really important to them — I mean, from their heart and soul. So, how do they get that out to people? How do they develop that? How do they get alliances? How do they collaborate with somebody else? This is the way.”

As for what’s next, Robertson says he expects to take things slower.

“I think it’s time to just chill,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing nothing.”

People interested in applying for managing director of Ho‘ike can learn more at www.hoike.org.

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Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-245-0427 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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