Webley Edwards was born November 11, 1902 in Corvallis, Oregon. He attended Oregon Agricultural College (OAC – it was later named Oregon State University) where he became the first student manager of campus radio, KOAC.
As an OAC student, Webley “made good grades, was a popular athlete, and became the best ukulele player on campus, in an era when skill with the instrument was considered a sure way to a woman’s heart.” (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
After graduating from OAC in 1927, Webley moved to Hawaiʻi in 1928 to work as a car salesman and play semi-pro football. Fascinated with the local music, in 1935, he arranged for a two-week trial run for a radio show of “authentic” Hawaiian music.
On July 3, 1935, Edwards created and first aired a radio program called “Hawaiʻi Calls” featuring Hawaiian music and entertainment.
The first show reached the West Coast of the continental US through shortwave radio. Although the program enjoyed a growing popularity on the mainland, Edwards initially had a hard time making ends meet and solicited support from the Hawaiʻi Tourist Bureau.
Hawaiʻi was calling, he seemed to suggest, and to the home-bound listener freezing through an Iowa or Montana winter, making a vow to one day visit the Islands became irresistible.
From about 40,000 visitors annually in the 1930s, the number had grown to 500,000 by the time the show ended its run more than 35 years later. (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
Except for an apparent break during World War II, the radio program aired continuously since its inception.
Edwards was the first to broadcast news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In his own words, “the real McCoy. All army, navy and marine personnel report to duty.” (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
During the war, Edwards worked as a reporter for CBS Radio and landed exclusives including an interview with Colonel Paul W Tibbetts (the pilot of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, who dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.)
He had been chosen by lottery to be the chief announcer for the shipboard ceremony that ended hostilities between the United States and Japan and aboard the USS Missouri reported on the surrender ceremony that brought the conflict to its close. (Ankeny)
“Attention, peoples of the world! World War II is about to come to its official closing, three years, eight months and 25 days since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese delegation has just arrived.”
“Lined up before us are officers and men with high-ranking stars and gold braid. The deck of the Missouri stretches out before us … its great guns pointed skyward to allow for more room …” (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
From the time of inception until January of 1972, Webley Edwards was Hawaiʻi Calls’ announcer and leading personality.
Each show opened with the sounds of the pounding surf and the enthusiastic bounding voice of Webley Edwards proclaiming “The sound of the waves on the beach at Waikiki.”
Usually that radio program was broadcast to the Mainland at about sundown. The announcer always described the beautiful sunset including the words, “and now the beautiful sun is a ball of fire, sinking, sinking, ever so slowly over the edge of the ocean–there it goes.” (Green)
The weekly program was typically taped before a live audience at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki. Periodically, they took the show on the road and broadcast from a neighbor island.
In its heyday, the show was heard on over 600 radio stations in North America and scores of others in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South America, Africa and the Far East. It was also heard on the Voice of Freedom (the predecessor to the Voice of America) and on Armed Forces Radio throughout the world. (Hula Records)
Throughout the 1950s, Edwards compiled and produced a series of Hawaiian music collections for Capitol Records. He even wrote songs under a pseudonym, John Kalapana.
In all, Hawaiʻi Calls spanned 40-years, along the way popularizing tunes including “Lovely Hula Hands,” “Beyond the Reef,” “Little Brown Gal” and “The Hawaiian Wedding Song.”
“Sweet Leilani,” which Edwards debuted in 1936, won an Academy Award after Bing Crosby’s powerful, yet gentle, rendition from the movie ‘Waikiki Wedding’ thrilled people throughout the world. (Hula Records)
In addition, he helped promote local performers, including Alfred Apaka, George Kainapau, Haleloke, and Simeon and Andy Bright. (Ankeny) In addition, Al Jolson and Arthur Godfrey were among the many guests featured on the program.
After Edwards left the program, Danny Kaleikini, a well-known Hawaiʻi entertainer and singer, was the announcer and a performer for the program. (US District Court Records) The program ended August 16, 1975.
Late in his career, Edwards made a successful run at politics, serving for more than 14-years in Hawaiʻi’s territorial legislature and then the state legislature.
Spending his last few months in a Honolulu assisted-living facility, he died October 5, 1977, after suffering a heart attack.
On October 3, 1992 there was a temporary return of Hawaiʻi Calls, taped at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s beachside Tropics Showroom, then transmitted via satellite to affiliates. It ran for about a year, but it failed to attract enough financial support to continue.