Monday, February 12, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 12, 2001

New director to turn camera on Hawai'i

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Mike McCartney, new president and CEO of the Hawaii Public Television Foundation, likens television to politics.


New job: President and CEO of Hawai
i Public Television

Birthplace: Kahaluu, Oahu

Lives in: Kaneohe

Age: 41 (born Dec. 17, 1959)

Marital status: Divorced; father of two.

Education: Castle High School, Class of 1977; attended Hawaii Loa College, earned bachelor’s of science degree from Pacific University, Forest Grove, Ore.; University of Hawaii-Manoa Graduate Studies in Mediation, Peace Keeping and Conflict Resolution.

Political experience: Aide to Sen. Charles Toguchi, 1982-84; three-term state senator, 1988-1998; chaired committees on education, higher education, government operations, and labor and human resources; served as senate vice-president and co-majority leader.

Public service: Hawaii Medical Service Association analyst, 1984; Hawaii State Teachers Association. negotiations special/field representative, 1984-88; Hawaii Loa College assistant athletic director and head coach of cross country team, 1991-92; director, Department of Human Resources Development, 1999-00.

Other business: Hawaii Stars Presents Inc., 1993-00; Hawaii Stars Studios Inc., 1995-98; Star Telecom Network-Pacific LLC, 1996-present).

"Your viewers are your constituents, and you are accountable to your viewers," said McCartney, a former state senator and a co-founder of TV’s popular karaoke show, "Hawai
i’s Stars." "And just like elective office, you have to get involved in fund-raising."

McCartney, 41, said he’s eager to hear the ideas of viewers, immerse himself in fund-raising, and help shape Hawaii Public Television, now that it has made the switch from a state-financed operation to a private-sector, nonprofit organization.

Hawaii Public Television severed its ties with the state about eight months ago, and officially came under the direction of the newly formed foundation on July 1. Now the station must find its sources of support largely outside the public sector. A Public Broadcasting System affiliate, it also must convert to digital technology by 2003.

This makes for a challenging journey for McCartney, whose goal is to create a "brand" for the foundation and to launch a strategic plan to acquire and/or build permanent new quarters.

"We need to brand who we are; we’re PBS Hawaii; and of all the media in the state, we’re the only one owned by the people of the state," said McCartney, who cut his leadership teeth as a senator in the state legislature from 1988 through 1998. In addition to serving in the state Senate, he has held a negotiation post with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, and was director of the state Department of Human Resources Development.

"The dream and the goal is to create quality local programs," he said. "But we need to define who we are as a people — culturally, politically, economically — and there’s a lot to share about life in our island state."

He figures his experience as a public servant and politician will help him achieve his goals; his previous colleagues think he’s got what it takes to smooth the public television station’s transition.

"He really seems to buy into our mission," said Neil Hannahs, public television board chairman. "He understands the need to utilize our resources to showcase the culture of the people of Hawaii, to create stories about us. With his TV background, he has great ideas and recognizes stories that need to be told."

Hannahs said that, in selecting the successor to Don Robbs, who resigned the post but remains involved as a consultant, the board "needed a CEO who would bring aboard a lot of energy and the ability to take the staff and boost morale, someone who could keep that vision lamp lit."

'Mike gets things going'

"He has the ability to bring people together," said state Sen. Les Ihara Jr., D-10th (Waikiki, Kaimuki). "Mike sees all sides, all points of view, which make for effective collaborative skills. In this day and age, partnerships and collaborations are what make things happen."

Sen. Avery B. Chumbley, D-6th (E. Maui, N. Kauai), another of McCartney’s former colleagues in the Legislature, said he "has outstanding vision and tireless energy. I think these attributes will bring to Hawaii Public Television a renewed level of enthusiasm and focus. And Mike gets things going."

He gets along with everyone, said Carole Kai, co-host of "Hawaii Stars," the talent show that became an instant hit after McCartney pitched it to her. "He has the ability to see the overall picture." For eight years, the show has been the No. 1-rated locally produced series.

The very local spirit of "Hawaii Stars" is at the heart of his vision for Hawaii Public Television: "to showcase Hawaii to the rest of the world and the Mainland; programs that define how we fit into America."

One special being negotiated is a Tom Coffman project on the Korean-American experience, pegged to the 100th anniversary of Korean immigration to Hawaii.

Operates: KHET-TV Channel 11 (Oceanic 10), KMEB Channel 10 (Maui)

Annual budget: $5 million.

Funds needed for digital conversion: $6 million.

Current staff: 35, a reduction from 66 (while station was state-run).

Top show: "Antiques Roadshow."

Located: 2350 Dole St., in space leased from the University of Hawaii through 2005; needs to build its own facility.

Another show that McCartney would like to see is a TV version of the Brother Noland book, "Lessons of Aloha." "Noland and James Grant Benton could go around the state, finding people who make a difference, showing how special Hawai
i is," he said.

Going all digital not only will satisfy the FCC mandate but also is necessary for Hawaii Public Television to keep its broadcast license and PBS affiliation. McCartney sees it as an opportunity to grow.

Visions of multiple channels

Digital conversion will give the station the capacity to field two or three channels. McCartney’s dream is to have one channel for local programming, another for educational program for children and a third for PBS programming. "That way, not only will we be able to expand our viewer base, but lure partners who can co-produce local programming," McCartney said.

McCartney’s earliest recollection of public television was black-and-white sex education programs beamed to the classrooms at Heeia Elementary School.

"I think I was an avid TV watcher," he said. "But my father, who was an English professor who came to Hawaii to teach at Maui High School, used to call TV the idiot box.’ "

2.1 grade-point average

McCartney wasn’t a great student in high school (Castle, Class of 1977). His chances of being accepted into college seemed slim.

"I remember, Carole Kai was our graduation speaker at Castle, and when she was making her speech, I was in the audience, lighting firecrackers. I was that kind of a kid."

He said high school did teach him one thing: "You can have all the brains in the world, but unless you can get along with people, your ideas are worthless."

With a 2.1 grade point average, however, he couldn’t get into the University of Hawaii.

"They rejected me and my dad was devastated," McCartney said.

His mom, a special education teacher, pleaded with Hawaii Loa College administrators to admit her son.

They agreed; he managed to keep up good grades and transferred to Pacific University in Oregon, where he played football, ran track, and became student body president.

"That’s how I got into politics."

Upon graduation, McCartney worked on a House of Representatives campaign for educator Charles Toguchi, "who taught me how to be human, to maintain the personal touch. I walked house to house with him for 8, 10 hours. I held signs and waved along Likelike Highway; I worked for him for two years, from 1983-84, and I would say that that was my master’s degree. From that, I learned to run a campaign, work with HSTA and teachers negotiations, head committees."

At 28, in 1988, he ran as a Democrat for Toguchi’s seat, D-8th (Laie-Kaneohe) and won, serving for a decade. He also worked as a campaign co-manager for Gov. Ben Cayetano.

"The legislative process was not made to be fast," he said of his tenure as a legislator. "It’s all about debate, pros and cons; but the critics, in general, say the legislature does nothing."

Walking away from politics

He never thought about being a career politician. That’s why he walked away from a dream he once had of running for lieutenant governor. "Ten years seemed right; I still miss the people," he said. "There was a time when I thought I would run for lieutenant governor because it felt right and it felt good, but it took me a couple of whacks on the head to look at myself, look at my kids, and wonder if I could be a good father and a good candidate at the same time."

Divorced from wife Darlene, McCartney shares custody of sons Bricen, 11, and Jaren, 7. It was an amicable split: "She is a good lady; she and I coach the kids, she does basketball and I do baseball."

He got into TV after he got the idea for "Hawaii Stars," which he developed with Kai and co-producer Dirk Fukushima. McCartney served as executive producer and creative consultant to that show, and other productions produced by Hawaii Stars Presents. He resigned his post when he was appointed to the public television job.

Quest for an identity

Of Hawaii Public Television today, he said, "We’re lean, efficient, in the black, and willing to change with the marketplace. But we have a loyal core of viewers. What will sustain us over the years is our donor audience."

Underwriters, he said, are like campaign fund donors."It’s all about trust; you cannot expect people to donate funds if you cannot deliver your promises, in this case, our programming."

He’s excited about the idea of a PBS store and news casts in Hawaiian. "Why not news in Hawaiian, on Hawaii’s channel?"

As the station seeks an identity and the financial support to back it, McCartney said autonomy ultimately will be better.

"We can be entrepreneurial ... make faster decisions. We will be prudent and fiscally sound."

Correction: Hawaii Public Television has a staff of 35 people and severed its ties with the state government eight months ago. Incorrect figures were publishes in a previous version of this story.

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