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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Moments in Emme's fascinating career

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Lynne Waters, left, hosts a one-hour program on Island broadcast veteran Emme Tomimbang tomorrow on KHON 2.

Robert Pennybacker

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9 p.m. tomorrow (repeating at 3 p.m. Nov. 6)


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They've turned the tables on broadcast personality Emme Tomimbang, who answers the questions tomorrow on "Life on the Air: 30 Years of Emme."

The show marks the 11th season of Tomimbang's "Emme's Island Moments" and three decades since her TV debut in 1975.

This portrait of Tomimbang, known for her breezy profiles of folks, famous and not, is a kind of "This Is Your Life" endeavor, hosted by one of her early on-air colleagues, Lynne Waters.

It also revisits people and events that have altered the pulse of this community.

Tomimbang, now an independent producer-hostess, was raised by her father, Tommy Tomimbang, after her parents' divorce. He was integral in the history of local broadcasting as the founder of the first Filipino-language radio station (KISA) and a pioneer on local TV.

As a reporter for ABC affiliate KITV 4, Emme Tomimbang rubbed elbows with the late Peter Jennings in London, got valuable tips from Barbara Walters in New York, and interviewed many celebs, including Muhammed Ali and Jane Fonda.

Her first news feature was a 1975 concert by Loggins & Messina, then a fledgling act. She went full circle when she reconnected with Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina, who maintained personal friendships with Tomimbang through the years, at their recent show at Blaisdell Arena.

In tomorrow's show, the rockers recall how they had to re-do that first interview, because Tomimbang lost the audio for the original "take."

Tomimbang wasn't terribly confident when, in 1985, she became KITV's 10 o'clock co-anchor with Tim Tindall, who, according to Tomimbang, told her minutes before her first show, "You're not going to be here tomorrow."

Tindall later gave her a thumb's up, saying, "Kiddo, you're not bad. I think you can do it," but she left the news slot after two years.

Kent Baker, then with KHON-2, called her to offer a job, but Tomimbang had plans to marry James Burns, now a judge, and stalled a return to the airwaves on Channel 2's Morning News. She did finally join the news team, where she also developed a following.

Today, she produces independent features for KHON.

The one-hour special shares some of Tomimbang's career milestones.

Among the highs: an interview with the Nakatani family of Maui, who lost three sons; a trek to the Big Apple, after the horror of 9/11; documentaries on Vietnam veterans and O'ahu's homeless people.

Among the lows: the death of her father in August 1993.

Among her triumphs: foodie features with Pacific Rim chefs like Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi; an inspirational interview with navigator Nainoa Thompson.

Among the funny moments: Her still-talked-about comment about Jim Nabors "watching his nuts grow"; Cecilio Rodriguez's candid comments about Cecilio & Kapono's first encounter with Tomimbang and her fluttering eyelashes.

Tomimbang found access to, and cooperation from, her retinue of profilees. Former KHON cameraman Alan Johnson comments, "She is connected ... everyone loved her." Others particularly Imelda Marcos trusted and respected her.

In some of the vintage video, the images are fuzzy, the lone irritant in an otherwise fascinating portrait.


Secrets shared on "Life on the Air: 30 Years of Emme" ...

  • At 10, Tomimbang hosted a teen segment on her dad's KOHO radio show.

  • In high school, she was a drummer in a rock band and a cheerleader at Farrington High.

  • An early stint on TV was as a midday prize-giveaway hostess on KITV; later, she handled weather.

  • Her local idol: Linda Coble, then on KGMB-9, because "she did the fun stories ... had a great social life."

  • Shared wisdom from Barbara Walters: "You should be glad you're doing features; (they're) happy, glad (stories)."

  • Biggest decision: Turning down an invitation with a nudge from Connie Chung to apply for an NBC job in New York, because "I need to see the sun (of Hawai'i)."

  • Her most daunting assignment: Covering Ferdinand Marcos, the exiled Philippines president, who took refuge in Hawai'i.

  • Next up: a special on the Filipino centennial in Hawai'i.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.