Monday, October 14, 2013

J. Aku Head Pupule

Many people in media take on stages names. It may be to appear more ethnically neutral, but more often it is to make their name simpler, shorter and easier to remember. He was born Herschel Hohenstein, and was using the name Hal Lewis. But on the radio he used the on air name J. Aku Head Pupule.  The word "Aku" is a type of fish, also called a bonito, it's used often in sushi. The word "pupule" is Hawaiian for crazy. Thus Aku Head Puple means Crazy Fish Head.. In 1975 he actually sued Mr. Earle E. Aku for misappropriating his stage-name. At one point in the 1950s it was said that Pupule was the highest paid DJ in the world. Estimates ran as high as half a million dollars a year. This will take some explaining.

A native New Yorker, all accounts have him relocating to Hawaii from San Francisco in 1947. He was playing fiddle as an entertainer on a cruise-liner and jumped ship in Honolulu where he waltzed into KGMB-AM and became an announcer. He was young, and broke and slept on the beach. He was fired for insubordination about 2 months later. He scraped by writing for the Hilo Hattie program and writing for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Then he stumbled into a morning slot at KPOA-AM.

While treating that lucky break a bit too seriously he began identifying the time a little too often. Then he gave it incorrectly. A caller called him an aku-head. He kept the name and his style evolved. He mixed cranky political commentary with pranks, stunts and all the zany bells, buzzers and whistles of a Spike Jones routine.

In 1957 in a publicity stunt, Mr. Akuhead then at KHVH-AM and  Don Sherwood at KSFO-AM switched places. It was said that consternation and hilarity ensued. When Hawaii became a state in 1959 he covered the event with all due seriousness on air. This was only 8 years after he had announced yet another prank.

He moved on to 650 KORL-AM around 1960 then 760 KGU-AM before returning to KGMB in 1965. He remained there for 17 years. He was also on KMVI in that window. Hal died in 1983. He knew he was dying. He read a heartfelt farewell message. But shortly before his death he pranked Honolulu one last time with coverage of a parade which included a fictitious appearance by Tom Selleck. Yes Magnum P.I. jokes to the bitter end.