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Talk Story: Dickie Chang

Twenty-five years of “Wala‘au with Dickie Chang.”

Who would have believed it?

Chang smiles when asked for his thoughts about a quarter century of doing the TV program with his name.

“Well, it’s joyous. There’s a lot of nervousness. There’s a lot of pride. It’s an honor. It’s been an honor,” he said. “I look back and I think to myself, ‘Nobody would have ever thought that it would be possible.’ ‘You don’t know what you’re doing.’ ‘You think you’re doing it on a wing.’ ‘Is this going to work?’ ‘Is this going to fly?’ It actually took off. Obviously there’s been a lot of changes in 25 years. All I can do is reflect back and think it’s a true story. We did it.”

“I hope it touched a lot of people,” he added.

Chang and his one-man camera crew, Bruce Smalling, are tossing a 25th anniversary party from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday, June 30, at Kilohana luau pavilion. It will include music, entertainment, special guests, emcees, prizes, a silent auction and a “dress like Chang” contest. So, wear loud aloha shirts and even louder shorts.

Tickets are $25. Kupuna 70 and over are free.

He appreciates all the support of his viewers, guests and sponsors.

“I really want to humbly thank the island of Kauai. I want to say, ‘Hey, come on over,’” Chang said. “I just want to bring everybody together.”

Kilohana luau pavilion, he added, is where it all began for him on Kauai.

“So we’re going to go a full circle,” he said.

Chang believes “Wala‘au” may be the only business left on the island from those that took out business licenses in1994 and still have the same name, owner and employee.

“I don’t think it’s boastful,” he said. “I think it’s truthful.”

Chang will naturally take the microphone for at least a short time at the big party, but he promises not to talk too long.

“Less is more,” he said, laughing.

But on a serious side, he said it will be a highlight to thank everyone for their support and for being part of history.

“I do look at it as part of history,” he said.

How did “Wala‘au” succeed for this long?

What made it work was for a lot of the old-time local residents, back then there were two different cable companies. One was Kauai Cable, the one other was Garden Island Telecommunications. Kauai Cable took care of one half of the island, Garden Island Cable took care of the other half of the island. Unfortunately, the program content was not the same. What I think made it work was a slightly ingenious idea.

I figured how can we get both companies to merge? That’s when I thought about doing a timer. What I did, I implemented a timer in which case I could intercept both signals so they would come together and the whole island would have one show. The difficulty of that part was, in order to link up the shows, sometimes it was a minute apart, 40 seconds apart, 3 seconds apart and it looked like a cheap Chinese kung fu movie. While my lips were talking the cover shots were there. It wasn’t syncing up. It took a lot of schmoozing, a lot of coordination, but I finally was able to get the time to sync at that exact second. So when the show started people on the west, people on the North Shore, people within the greater Lihue area, on the South Shore, all said, ‘What is this? This is different,’ because everybody could see the same show at the same time.

I think that was a very integral part of bonding the whole island.

You and Bruce Smalling have been the “Wala‘au” team from day one?

Bruce has been with me from day number one. Loyally and faithfully staying with me. Bruce never thought it was going to fly because they had tried local television shows before. They had great thoughts, great ideas, great personalities, but they didn’t have any marketing expertise. They didn’t have anybody selling advertising. So they were given a chance to have fun, to get exposure, but the bottom line, nobody was out there to go pay the bills. They pulled the plug.

I figured if I can get out there and sell the sponsorships and market the show, then as long as we paid the bills, we’re going to last. I can tell you something, Bruce looked at me and watched me and wondered ‘Why is this guy being so persistent?’ Because every single dime we had, I gave it to Bruce. I made sure I paid my bills, so he was the important guy. He’s the guy that makes it all happen. He’s got to shoot it. He’s got to edit it and people look back way back when, this was not an easy process. We had what we called quarter-inch tapes and you gotta sync, you have to be precise and put it in, then you gotta edit it. It took hours and hours and hours just to produce a show. We would be up until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning trying to put something together. And mind you, I didn’t know nothing about cameras and I certainly didn’t know nothing about editing. And we put a different show every week, 52 weeks a year, with three or four different segments on one show. It’s not easy to fill up an hour show.

The commercial part of it was big. To have your commercial and your business on television, that was huge. Advertising as you know, was a lot different back then — the electronic world then versus the fast world today.

Is the show easier or harder today?

I think it’s gotten easier with technology. And of course, Bruce and I know each other not just as brothers, but the way we think. I would like to humbly say, he does all the work. I’m the guy who gets the glory or the credit. But he’s the guy that does all the work. Everybody likes him, everybody loves him. He’s a nice, great guy, funny guy, fun guy. He’s even-keel. In my opinion it’s gotten easier but business has gotten a lot tougher.

When you say tougher, you mean the financial side?

The old days, everybody watched TV. They still do. But now, they get information from so many places.

I do want to let people know it is a bit of a fundraiser for “Wala‘au.” I don’t want to say it or I don’t want to admit, but with the rising cost of doing business, with changes with local programming and local television, to be able to sustain business labor wise and administration wise, I have to raise money.

When you mentioned, how long will you keep going, right now, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Every month, we lose money, which is why I have five jobs. Unbeknownst to the public, I work. I personally work. I pay the bills.

If I can raise some money to stay afloat and keep it going, where there is a will, there is a way. Much of my money is trying to keep this afloat. It’s not just a passion. I think it’s important.

So what’s ahead for you?

At our 20th, I remember being on stage and there was a quiet moment and Bruce leaned over and said, ‘What, five more years?’ And I was in shock because he doesn’t talk that way. Five more years? I said, ‘Look, I’ll make a deal with you. When I die, we’re done. When you die, we’re done.’ So I hope that that still sticks, not only would it still stick, it’s a true story. Nobody can replace Bruce. We’re going to make it last as long as we can. It’s important just to try our best to keep it going.

I would be saddened for reason if we had to end it. There’s always an end, but I would be lost. I would be bummed. I don’t need a slap on the back, but it’s been a livelihood. It’s been a lifestyle. If somebody needs help, if someone has a great story, it’s great to show that story for history. We got so much footage, you know who the biggest fan of “Wala‘au” is? It’s me. I go down memory lane and I look at old tapes and I’m crying. I’m looking and seeing the passions of the people. It means so much to them. People hear it and they see it and they feel the passion, they feel the movement and that’s the kind of stuff that I would miss.

You look like you’re always having fun with your show. What about bloopers, when things go wrong?

We would start cracking up and then you would have to wait seconds if not minutes to regroup yourself to try again.

It’s hard to pull the straight face when you’re looking at each other and you started cracking up. You have to take a breather when the stuff that is said is so funny, things just go on and you laugh about it.

We’re not doing it live. I wish I could do it live. I’ve always said, if I had it my way, I would love to do a news show just on Kauai and I would love to anchor the show. How cool would that be? If it’s on the right time slot, I think it would be a great show for Kauai because Kauai people would see Kauai news.

You’re Dickie Chang, the guy who is always happy and upbeat. Do you get mad?

I don’t think I get mad. I cannot recall the last time I was mad (he recounts a story of recently being mad when a water faucet broke in his kitchen and things got a little flooded).

Deep down inside, we all have our own personal trials and tribulations, and with that being said, I can relate. It’s not an easy world out there, and I understand that.

So you try to help others as best you can. That’s what I’ve tried to do.

You’ve lived on Kauai more than 30 years. What are your thoughts about this island today?

I love it. Yes, there’s growth, but the beauty is in its people. Every time I drive around the island or I walk around the island, I can tell you I pray minimum a dozen times and every time I look at something I thank the Lord. ‘Wow, how can this be so beautiful?’ I can walk, I can breath, I can talk, I can touch. I don’t take anything for granted — the flowers, the fruit. I’m thankful.

You served two, two-year terms on the County Council. Will you return to politics?

I don’t think so. I think now as a private citizen. With “Wala‘au,” I think I can help the county much more with the resources and the contacts I have on the outside. As you know, I served with Mayor Derek Kawakami. I served with most of the councilmembers. Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and I have been friends for a long time.

I think that way I can be more effective in other ways. We have a great mayor and a great administration. If I can do anything to help, I’m there.

Do you think you’ll ever leave Kauai?

I only semi-seriously thought about leaving Kauai once, and that would have been disastrous, in my opinion. It was a point in time when I lost the election, there was stuff going on on the island of Lanai, and I had conversations, “maybe I’ll go to Lanai and see what that’s all about.” The more I thought about it, 2,200 people, less than 3,000, everybody knows everybody, after I really thought about it, I didn’t think I would enjoy it. That thought lasted less than 24 hours.

Kauai is my home.

•••

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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