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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 7:18 p.m., Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pioneering Hawaii newsman Altiery dies

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mason Altiery, former Channel 4 television news director, anchor.

Courtesy of Lisa Altiery Sosa

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mason Altiery, circa 1970.

Courtesy of Lisa Altiery Sosa

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Mason Altiery, a pioneering local television newsman, author, Hawaiian historian and politician who made Hawai'i broadcasting history in 1966, died Saturday at his daughter's Åliamanu home at age 80.

As Kaiser Broadcasting's news director and anchor of KHVH Channel 4's No. 1-rated newscast in the mid-Sixties, Altiery was scheduled to interview then-Gov. John Burns on Waikiki beach at halftime of the 1966 Michigan State-Notre Dame football game — the first live satellite telecast of an event in Hawai'i — but the governor was unable to do the interview.

The ABC network had specifically requested a political interview from the beach at halftime by its local affiliate, recalled then KHVH executive Bob Berger, whose relationship with Altiery dates back over 40 years.

Altiery interviewed the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink in the first live satellite broadcast from Hawai'i.

In a telephone interview from his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Berger described Altiery as "the best newsperson I ever dealt with."

"He knew Hawai'i politics back and forth," Berger said. "He was a realist and whatever (the politicians) said, he knew what they did."

Retired legendary Hawai'i newsman Bob Sevey, who anchored KGMB's top-rated 6 p.m. newscasts for 20 years, worked with Altiery at KHVH in the early 1960s. Sevey was the 6 p.m. news anchor and Altiery headed the 10 p.m. newscast.

"Mason and I were entirely different, he was far, far more liberal in politics than I was but we got along," Sevey said from his Olympia, Wash., home. "He was a very bright guy with a dry sense of humor."

Altiery was born March 17, 1928. He grew up in Kalihi and Kaimukî, graduated from Roosevelt High, served in the Air Force, attended the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, and was a descendent of Eugene Bal of Maui, a 19th century French-Hawaiian dairy owner. His Hawaiian ancestors include the Nakaahiki and Nai'lii'li families of Maui, according to his family.

Altiery joined Channel 4 in 1957, left in the late Sixties, and returned in 1974. He produced extended special reports from Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, and also covered the Six Day War from Israel for the local station in 1967. Altiery also worked at KHON-TV and for television station KUAM in Guam, where he was reunited with Berger.

Altiery left broadcasting to work as Mink's administrative assistant in Washington, D.C. in 1968. He returned to Hawai'i and won a seat in the State Senate in 1970. Two years later, he was defeated by Frank Fasi in a run for Honolulu mayor.

Altiery authored two books, the first on President John F. Kennedy's 1963 Hawai'i visit in the year of his assassination and the second titled "The Last Village in Kona" in 1986 which incorporated issues of land loss, cultural threats and politics jeopardizing Native Hawaiians.

Altiery also served as press secretary of the Marshall Islands, now known as the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and as corporate communications manager for Occidental Underwriters of Hawaii.

"Mason never knew exactly what he wanted to do but he was always wanting to do something," Berger said.

A celebration of his life will be held June 21 at 10 a.m. at the Honolulu Elks Lodge in Waikiki followed by a scattering of ashes at sea.

Survivors include daughter Lisa Altiery Sosa, former wife Mona (Melrose) Altiery, brother Marvin Zoller, and sister Emma Louise Reigle of Omaha.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.