General Manager

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Michael Titterton

 

Born into a struggling family in the east end of London, books and radio offered young Michael Titterton a glimpse into a different life. His insatiable curiosity led him to travel around the world, eventually landing him in Hawai‘i, where he took on the challenge of turning around a faltering Hawai‘i Public Radio. Under his leadership as President and General Manager, HPR has grown into the vital and trusted radio network it is today, serving the entire state. This month, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance will be recognizing Titterton as their 2016 Alfred Preis Honoree for his lifetime support of the arts.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 10, at 4:00 pm.

 

Michael Titterton Audio

 

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Transcript

 

There are very few human behaviors that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. Any time we pass knowledge from generation to generation, you know, if we don’t have a written language or anything, which we haven’t for most of the history … and it’s how we bond. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized. That’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

Michael Titterton has been in the business of storytelling most of his life. Yet, it’s only one of the many skills that he needed to transform Hawaii Public Radio from a small faltering station into a robust statewide network. Michael Titterton, distinguished 2016 Alfred Preiss Honoree, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Michael Andrew Titterton moved to Hawai‘i in 1999 to take over as president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its reach as a vital community resource, broadcasting on every island, and serving the entire state. He stepped down in June of 2016. This conversation took place six months later, after he did some traveling with his wife, artist Madeleine McKay. Travel and moving on have always been Michael Titterton’s passion. In fact, his time in Hawaii was to be just another stop in his roaming life journey. But after ending seventeen years at Hawaii Public Radio, he’s still living happily in Honolulu. Michael Titterton started out life in postwar London. He’s restrained in that very English way, in the way he describes tough times.

 

At the time I was growing up, the part of the east end that I grew up in was the most populated, most densely populated urban area in the world, with the exception of Calcutta. I was born immediately after World War II. And the east end of London being industrial, was an area that was a focus of attention for the German air force during World War II and so, a great deal of bomb damage. Every block, you know, for as far as I can remember had houses that were missing or that were just walls. You know, earliest memories is walking around the block and looking at houses, and into rooms that had two walls left, and the other two walls were gone, so you could look in and see pictures still hanging on the wall, and wallpaper, and looking into people’s intimate lives. And it was a routine, very routine occurrence. Never thought it was odd.

 

Did you feel unsafe?

 

No, not at all. Not at all.

 

So, it was kind of a homogenous diverse neighborhood?

 

Not that diverse; it was mostly Irish.

 

And your family is, by background, Irish as well?

 

No; not at all. My father is English, my mother is Welsh. So, you know, yeah, we were outliers, I suppose. But it never really seemed that way. Life was sufficiently challenging that you didn’t give any thought to social standing, or any of that. It was later in life, I became acutely aware of it, and acutely aware that I was motivated to leave. I didn’t want to stay there. Once I became aware that everybody didn’t live this way, then I began to form the idea of a wall that I had to sort of scale and get over, and I tried all sorts of ways to do that.

 

Did you feel deprived of anything as you were growing up?

 

Only books. My my father was not an unintelligent man, but he was very uneducated and was quite defensive about that. And he wouldn’t have books in the house.

 

Oh … and you loved books?

 

Yes, perversely, as one does, you know, forbidden fruit.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And … yeah. I developed a relationship with the local library, and smuggled books into the house. And I’ve had a romance with books ever since. And that was how I found out, ultimately. That, and radio. That, and radio.

 

That’s how you found out that you were living a life that many people did not live.

 

Yes, yes, yes. It was my first glimpse over the wall. And it was an intoxicating one, and it’s one from which I’ve never sobered up, at all.

 

So, how did you scale that wall to get out of the east end?

 

Oh, well, I left school at fifteen, as everyone did. Moved out on my own. I did an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker. Factories, you know, was the thing. You went on the line, or you learned a trade.

 

Was it expected that that’s pretty much what you would do?

 

M-hm; that, or become a criminal, which was quite popular option. But that was the skill that I had early on, and I parlayed that into a little business which I ran for a while, making specialty parts for racing engines. Very long story; we don’t have time for that.

 

Because you love autos, too; right?

 

Well, it was an automobile environment. Dagenham was the principal factory area where I grew up. And that’s the Ford Motor Company. And it was all about automobiles, and you know, this was the 50s. And yeah, I have gasoline in my veins, I think.

 

So, you did build a business.

 

I built a little business. Just a very modest thing, but it was quite successful in a surprisingly short amount of time. But I had no judgement; I was very young.   And I took in a partner who brought in a little capital which I desperately needed. And he developed a romantic association with another one of the employees, and they disappeared to Australia with all the fluid assets of the company. And that got me quite vexed. [CHUCKLE] And actually exhausted the last of my patience, and I liquidated everything. Sold off machinery and whatnot to make payroll, couple other people working for me. And I was reduced to a minivan and a couple of sleeping bags, and I took off to Europe. I just wanted to be anywhere other than England at that point. I was just really quite over it.

 

Without much more than the clothes on his back, Michael Titterton left home. He had no plan, other than to see the world. Now, he didn’t have to mention to us his stint in a foreign jail over an incident involving the concentrated form of marijuana, known as hashish, but he did. Because that’s part of his story, and he is a storyteller.

 

I just took the ferry across to France, to Callet. And spent little over two years, I think, going from place to place. North Africa, Middle East, and Europe, Western Europe, doing odd jobs.

 

What were some of your odd jobs?

 

Oh, working in garages. I could always pick that up. A a job in Marseilles for a while, cleaning boats, you know. I had a job on a trawler in the North Sea, and some disgusting adventures.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That you don’t want to hear about. Just things like that. And then, every now and again, I’d go back to Dagenham and I’d get a job on the line at the Ford Motor Company.

 

And essentially, you were always making a living with your hands.

 

Oh, yeah; yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

And what did you aspire to? Were you happy with that? Were you …

 

I was thoroughly occupied with that. It was wonderful. I was getting to see the world, or at least a part of it. And I remember a moment when I was still an apprentice toolmaker, and we’d clock in, you know. And the clock was at this counter outside where you could see up. And I was coming in for a night shift, and I looked up and I saw the moon. You know, regular old moon. But I had this moment when it occurred to me that this moon could be seen just like this by people who weren’t in Dagenham, but were all over the world. And they must have thoughts just like that. And I knew I wanted to meet some of them. I couldn’t meet all of them, but I’d like to meet some of them. And that we had this experience in common. And that moment has just always haunted me. I think that might have been a propellant. But I’ve always had this real need. It is a need to travel, and see different things. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to gratify it in all sorts of ways, some more comfortable than others.

 

Well, when you approach a new city, or a new region, how do you decide you’re going to see it? There are so many vantage points.

 

Well, in those days, it was simply a matter of how am in gonna manage breakfast, and how am I gonna make the money to, you know, buy the next tank of gas. Or after a while, actually, I sold the van, and so, it was, you know, little more survival oriented even than that. So, it was how do I get by, especially when you don’t speak the language anywhere.

 

Were you all on your own?

 

M-hm; for most of the time. I mean, I had the occasional traveling companion. But no, pretty much on my own.

 

So, you were just living day-to-day.

 

Absolutely; yeah, moment-to-moment, really.

 

That’s a great formative—

 

It was the best time of my life.

 

Was it? Even though you must have been anxious, too.

 

I was anxious, I was uncomfortable, I was wet. A lot of the time it was too hot, a lot of the time I had rocks in my shoes. I mean, it was horrible by any rational measure, but it was a joyful, wonderful time.

 

Because everything was new?

 

Yes; yes. And there was no safety net, but at the same time, there were no barriers.

 

Did you ever fall into a hole that you thought you couldn’t get out of?

 

Oh, yes. It happened in Morocco, and it went on for about three months. And I really didn’t think I was gonna get out of that one, but ultimately did. It had to do with a camel saddle that I had, I thought, quite skillfully repackaged. Took the stuffing—you know what a camel saddle is; yeah?

 

What is it?

 

What is it? Well, [CHUCKLE] I’m not sure I’ll ever go near a camel. But it’s shaped like a saddle on the camel, and it has a cushion on the top, and it’s used as a piece of furniture. And tourists like to take them home and call them camel saddles. So, I replaced the stuffing in the top of this camel saddle with a quantity of very pure white hashish. You’ve heard of hashish?

 

Yes, yes.

 

Yeah. And attempted to mail it back to myself in London, and enlisted the help of a young man to do this. And he agreed, ‘cause you know, you can get anybody to do anything in Morocco. And he took it into a post office with this. And I thought that would be the sensible thing for me to do. And he did, and he disappeared. Oh, he didn’t disappear, he just didn’t come back for a long time. And I got curious and a little antsy after a while, and I poked my head in the door and this was another moment that I shan’t forget, the tableaux, this young is standing up against a counter. And as I poked my head in, I see him and the camel saddle, which has been ripped apart. And there’s two or three officials behind the counter there, and the child is in the process of turning around, you know. [INDISTINCT]. And you know, That’s the man. And that was that, really. I was the center of attention for a little while. And three months later, I find myself hitchhiking away from Tangier.

 

It sounds like you were lucky to get off with three months.

 

Oh, yes. I had one visitor, the young man that I’d been rooming with. And he sold my van and he got for me a lawyer, or at least some sort of representation. And I’m sure a portion of the money went to the legal representation, and another portion went to whatever happens to money that flies around in Tangier at that time. And to my immense surprise, I was in a room with uh, with a number of other people. Suddenly, I had a visit from the attorney type, and I had no confidence in this at all, but a week or two later, I was summoned into a court, with no preparation, no fanfare at all. The proceedings went on that I didn’t understand a word of, and within half an hour so, I found myself back on the street. And that was that.

 

You could have been left there a long time, and …

 

It was the one point at which I’ve ever considered suicide as a rational alternative. And in that sense, it’s been extremely useful. Because, you know, life has had its bumps, as life does, but it’s a wonderful thing to know, or at least believe that you know what your limits are, how bad things really have to get.

 

You could have ended up locked up and wasted away.

 

I could have. Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

Instead of in management.

 

Michael Titterton next went to Greece, where he met a young American woman who traveled with him to Israel, where they both worked in a kibbutz. She returned to the United States to attend college, and he later followed.

 

So, love brought you to America.

 

Yeah; yeah, pretty much. Well, I knew I wanted to come to America anyway, ‘cause I just hadn’t been there yet. But yeah, it was very romantic. And this young lady hitchhiked out from Oregon and met me in New York, and we spent a little while there, and I bought a car from a junkyard in New Jersey for, I think, ninety dollars; 1962 Tempest.

 

But you could fix it.

 

Yes, I could. Yes; I’m a very capable fellow. And fixed this thing up, and we drove it back to Ann Arbor, which was where her family was. I worked at odd jobs in Ann Arbor for a little while, and then got convinced that I really needed to investigate higher education. So, that’s what I did. And it was a little dodgy, because I hadn’t finished high school in any technical sense, but found that I could go to school in Canada, which wasn’t far away.

 

I notice you got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.

 

Rhetoric; yes.

 

Why did you choose that?

 

Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually, and coming into ’72. And I knew the US was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility, and meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And it’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that. Wayne State had a particularly strong rhetoric department, and that was where I found myself, with a lot of wonderfully eccentric people.

 

And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.

 

Well, everybody does. Yeah. But I did. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is. That’s what life is, it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—

 

Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.

 

Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling, I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there are few human behaviors that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.

 

And radio has that intimate quality.

 

Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best of radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?

 

Michael Titterton started his career in radio by volunteering at his campus radio station, which he helped to become one of the first national public radio stations. From this valuable experience, he went on to spend the next twenty years building, managing, and consulting for public radio stations across the United States. He was thinking of moving on to a new career, when an unexpected opportunity arose.

 

Hawaii advertised this job at Public Radio for someone to take a very troubled station and make something of it, and you said, That’s for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh; yes. And actually, it was funny the way it came about. Because I’d been consulting for a couple years, going around fixing broken stations. And that was great fun. But I’d reached a point where I thought, this Public Radio thing has been wonderful. And it really has. I mean, I’ve never regretted a moment I’ve spent with it. But I’ve done everything I really want to do. You know, I’ve been an operations manager, I’ve been a reporter, I’ve been a producer, I’ve been, you know, pretty much every position, and I’ve been building stations and running them. Time for me to go back to Europe now and reinvent myself again, and see what happens next. And I was in the process of doing that. I had my house on the market. I was winding up all my little business things. I hadn’t known about the situation in Hawaii, and I had three phone calls in the space of a few days from different people that I knew. And essentially, the message was, If you like broken stations, have I got a broken station for you. Anyway, I wrote to the folks here. In all honesty, I thought, you know, this will be one more fix-it job, and then—you know. But I came out and met with the board, and they were all very interesting people. They were clearly all agents of change. That’s why they were doing what they were doing and were so committed to it. There was a real will, there was a real spirit about the organization, [INDISTINCT]. It just felt right. And we reached an agreement, and I came out and went with them.

 

There was a real will, there was a real spirit about the organization, [INDISTINCT]. It just felt right. And we reached an agreement, and I came out and went with them. Uh, as I say, Honolulu was a big surprise. I—uh, you know, you have this idea of a tropical paradise, and Honolulu is anything but. You know, it’s a—it’s an intense, very densely populated city with a lot of uh, um … issues of its own. Uh, it’s uh, multiethnic beyond imagination. It’s uh, like all those planets that shows up in Star Wars Trilogy, you know. Um, everybody’s from somewhere else. And HPR was that way. I—when I met uh, the crew, everyone was from somewhere else. It was like taking over the Enterprise. You know, there were people from different planets. Um … and, yeah, grateful, jump in, and uh …

 

How did you get it to rise, when it was definitely in the hole in the ground?

 

[CHUCKLE] I think probably the … the lever that had the most benefit to it was the one of taking on the challenge of convincing a community that had begun to really give up on this. You know, this is a good idea, but it’s just not gonna happen. And convince them that it was a success. That it was a success. Not that it could be a success, but that it was a success. And in that first year, we did three fundraisers, and we’ve been doing two a year ever since.

 

And were you on the desk for HPR? You were handling the pledge interviews and appeals?

 

Oh, sure. Oh, yeah.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah, yeah; yeah. I’ve always enjoyed pledge drives. I get a lot of credit for being a fundraiser. I’m really not, but I love this business, and the pledge drives are a means to an end. You’ve got to have the money. The money is a means to an end. It’s not about the money itself. And I believe in the thing sufficiently, that getting on air and begging and pleading doesn’t bother me that much, because I believe in what we’re raising it for. And it was successful, and it seemed to turn around the consciousness somehow. And if people believe you are a success, then they’re gonna get behind you.

 

And there was always another problem after the one you solved; right? Because you were facing a situation that was layered, upon layered, upon layered with, you know, obstacles, which is exactly what brought you here.

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] yeah. I mean, I just thought it was gonna be, you know, another quick gig in this exotic circumstance. But then, you know, the idea got hatched of, Well, we seemed to have stabilized this, now there are a number of things technically wrong with the thing. You know, the old KIPO transmitter, and the fact that we weren’t heard in a great part of Oahu, much less the rest of the State. And we built the station in Hilo just because we happened to have a license that was about to expire. We were very motivated to build that station, which we did. And that got us to the point where, Well, you know—

 

Let’s go statewide.

 

Let’s go statewide; we’re Hawaii Public Radio, after all, and let’s try and make it so. And that was the narrative for the next two years.

 

Do you reach farther than for-profit radio stations with your broadcast signal?

 

Oh, absolutely; yeah. Yeah, we’re the only radio station with statewide reach. Yeah; absolutely. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here in Hawaii with the industry that I love so much. I like to think that Hawaii is an even better place now, than it was before we developed our Public Radio the way it is. It’s grown up now, it can stand on its own however many feet it has.

 

Hawaii Public Radio has received national recognition as a nonprofit organization for its achievements in news programming, fundraising, and fiscal responsibility. Michael Titterton, now HPR’s former president and general manager, was awarded the 2016 Alfred Preiss Honor by the Hawaii Arts Alliance for his lifetime support of the arts and community building. Mahalo to Michael Titterton of Makiki, Honolulu, for putting his skills and service to work for our community, and for delightfully sharing some of his many stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Looking back at how much physical ground you’ve traveled, and then of course, how much emotional and social ground you’ve traveled, you’ve had a chance to reflect a little bit on your life, and how you were gonna be a tool die guy.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, with a business, and all of a sudden, you’re getting a master’s degree and getting into public media, and being a turnaround expert.

 

Well, yeah. I never expected any of it. In terms of reflection, I’m still coming to terms with all of that. I feel enormously grateful. I mean, I don’t want to be too sloppy about it, but not everybody has the breaks that I’ve had. And I’ve been fortunate. I used to think it was a rotten break, but I was fortunate enough not to be born wealthy. Life is good; life is good. It’s been a fascinating journey, and it doesn’t seem to be quite done yet.

 

[END]

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Monty Richards

 

Original air date: Tues., July 6, 2010

 

Pioneering Rancher & Farmer and Community Volunteer

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Monty Richards, fifth-generation family member of a ranching dynasty and former President/General Manager of Kahua Ranch on Hawaii island. Known for his pioneering efforts in high intensity rapid rotational grazing techniques and diversified operations like hydroponic farming, Richards is also recognized as a lifetime community volunteer.

 

Monty Richards Audio

 

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Transcript

 

When you see other families suffering … I don’t get comfort out of that. I just try to work harder and figure there’s gotta be a better way, there’s gotta be a better way. Somebody upstairs knows better than me. Come on, give me a hint, and let’s go try.

 

Big Island ranching pioneer and lifetime community volunteer, Herbert Montague Richards Jr. shares his love of the land … next on LONG STORY SHORT.

 

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Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha Mai Kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. High in the Kohala Mountains on the northern tip of the Big Island is Kahua Ranch, Kahua meaning the beginning, the source, the foundation. Herbert Montague Richards, Jr.—better known as Monty Richards—is a third-generation member of the Kahua Ranch family business and a fifth-generation kamaaina descended from Protestant missionaries. As the former President and General Manager of Kahua Ranch, Monty Richards spent over half-century with his late wife Phyllis on the homestead while raising a family of four and their grandchildren. His dream of a career in ranching came to him while spending childhood vacations at Kahua. In 1953, with an agriculture degree in hand Monty began work for the company. His initiation was learning the ropes at the company slaughterhouse in Honolulu.

 

I did most of the jobs they had there, including rolling hides, which is … whew, if you’ve never rolled hides, you have no idea.

 

What is rolling hide?

 

Rolling hides is—these are hides that are taken off the animal. And they go in a salt pack. You actually salt them down. Lay ‘em out on the ground, and shovelfuls of salt put. And then when they’re cured, you have to fold them up and in those days, we used to have to tie ‘em up, and then they’re loaded on a flat trailer. And I think we were shipping some to the mainland, some to Korea in those days.

 

What for? What do they use the hides for?

 

Well, shoes, belts, handbags; all the rest of those good things. The smell was out of sight. And the hides are heavy; they’re sixty pounds and that sort. And I have Haole hands, and we use hide rope, which is a sisal type rope, which can cut. Because you’re in salt; boy, it used to burn.

 

So you graduated with this degree, and then came back and did this kind of a junk job.

 

You have to learn. You have to learn. Maybe you were told how to do the job, but until you get out and do it, you don’t realize how hard the work is. And when you are gonna give orders to get people to do it, they know that you have done it; and that makes all the difference in the world. In terms of labor, that’s probably one of the toughest jobs. You used to do that on Saturdays, which is, you don’t work five days and then you get two days off. But there are all kinds of jobs. I delivered meat. And in those days you used a pickup truck.

 

You didn’t have these nice, big vans with all the chill and all. You just—pickup truck, you cover ‘em with a canvas, and you drive down and Chinatown and all, you double park, and you load quarters of beef on your shoulder, and you take ‘em into the market. But those quarters weigh about a hundred and a quarter, 150 pounds, and you’re walking through a narrow aisle with people buying all around. You gotta be careful you don’t knock anybody down as you swing, because it’s sticking out about three feet in front.

 

Were they deliberately giving you the roughest jobs, because they needed to see whether—

 

I think so.

 

They were testing you.

 

I think so.

 

And—

 

And it should be done that way.

 

So they didn’t give you any chance?

 

No.

 

Any break.

 

No. And if you were wrong, you were politely told where you were wrong. So you just do it. Then later on, they transferred me to the Big Island.

 

So you were one of the hands.

 

That’s right. And you rode your horse, you saddled, you caught horse at six-thirty in the morning, and off you went.

 

Did you like it? Were you saying about then, were you saying, Why did I want to get into this business?

 

Depends on the weather. If the weather is fine, no. If it’s raining, yes. And the wind is howling at about twenty to thirty miles and hour, and you’re hunched over and your horse is hunched over, and you hope he doesn’t buck you off, and your slicker is hitting the horse and all, you wonder, What am I doing here? You just keep remembering that many of the people that you went to school with are junior accountants in a bank in New York City, and think of the life that those folks lead. The Wall Street folks would just wait ‘til Friday afternoon, and they’d jump in their car and they’d go to The Farm. They’d have about an hour and a half drive, and then they would spend a day and a half on The Farm. Listen, clown, you’re living it all life, you’re living it every day, so don’t grumble, you got it made.

 

Monty Richards is recognized for his pioneering efforts in high-intensity rapid- rotational-grazing techniques, and also for diversifying the business. This includes experiments with hydroponic farming and eco-friendly energy sources such as wind and solar power. Tourists are also invited to visit and explore Kahua’s breathtaking scenery.

 

I’ve been looked upon … kind of a maverick that does things differently. For instance, I started with motorcycles here. I got started on that. And people thought it was terrible, and it probably was. So to try to make it work a little better, I referred to them as Japanese quarter horses. So to have a little bit of the pizzazz still left in it. We use ATVs now, and all—most ranches do. They make the ranch must smaller, because you’re able to move around, and you’re able to get things done. So you never know; some things work well, others don’t work well.

 

And of course, cattle aren’t the only things you grow.

 

No, we grow sheep. We’re the largest sheep ranch here in the State. Which doesn’t say much; we have about eight hundred ewes.

 

How many cattle?

 

Well, mother cows, Kahua has about four thousands.

 

And you’re doing these hybrid.

 

Yeah; yeah. We’re crossing in—within the four thousand … we work with Wagyu cattle, Kobe beef. That’s what we raise. And the unfortunate thing is, so much of our cattle go to the mainland to be raised and fed. Getting the Wagyu in is working well with grass fed. We are able to kill a bunch of cattle here and we run a little store at the ranch, and we sell sheep and cattle, and Wagyu. In the case of cattle, the gestation period is nine months. So if you breed a cow, nine months later, hopefully, you get a calf. She stays with mama about eight months, so here we are; now we’re up seventeen months. Now you raise it on on grass another three months. Then you’re about four months in feeding the animal, before it is harvested. It’s a long time.

 

It’s expensive.

 

Oh, yes. But it’s experimental, and you’ve got to figure which ones are gonna do the best job for you. And when you’re experimenting, you’ve got a long wait. They’re not like chickens that turn over generations extremely quickly.

 

So how is your experiment working? You’ve done this for generations of—

 

M-hm.

 

—of cows.

 

Well, the Wagyu, for instance, you can’t get any matter out of Japan. In other words, they won’t ship any more semen to you for AI, or anything like that. So you’ve got to use what you have in the United States, and breed up with them, and try to get to the highest percentage that you can. We started at Kahua breeding artificially; the first calves hit the ground in 1966. And we were using Hereford and Angus at that time. And we’ve since moved on and we’re continuing to breed Angus and Hereford; but it takes a long time.

 

So how have your customers changed? Who do you sell to now, versus who you sold to before?

 

Well … there’s been quite a change from the before. We ended up shipping to the mainland in about, I don’t know, I’m guess about ten years ago, I’ve forgotten, when we closed down all the meat facilities here. I was president of Kahua Beef Sales and Kahua Meat Company here on Oahu. Parker Ranch closed the Hawaii Meat Company and all the rest. So that was quite a break. In those days prior to that, we used to sell to the Foodlands and the Times, and the Stars, and all the rest. And that’s the majority of the meat that was raised here, was sold here. Now that we’ve gone to the mainland by far, most all the meat is sold on the mainland.

 

Why is that?

 

Well, we’re not bringing it back, because it’s too hard to ship it, both ways and you have to keep the—a good point is, this the original meat that came here, and all the rest. I laughingly say that people say you are what you eat, so you all ought—always ought to eat Hawaiian beef. Reason is, because our Hawaiian beef on the mainland has had an ocean voyage. Now, how many steaks have had an ocean voyage?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And then when you come to the mainland, when you come to either Canada or California, gotta have a nice, long truck ride. So it’s had the ability to see the country.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So your cattle are well acclimated to having traveled. So if you eat that beef, you’re getting some of that in you, and that’s gotta be extremely healthy.

 

[CHUCKLE] Why do you ship them away? Why can’t they just live their entire lives here, and be consumed here?

 

We are trying to do that. We need new slaughterhouse; we need that. We do not have the facilities. We’ve got to get the infrastructure back that we lost at the time they were sold.

 

So—

 

At the time it was closed, people in Honolulu wanted US Choice meat.

 

Ah.

 

Didn’t want any of this grass fed stuff anymore. Nope; didn’t want it. Now, the whole thing has changed. Now, people, because of the health thing, want grass fed. Okay, now you got—

 

Because it’s leaner steak?

 

Leaner, tastes better, it’s better for you, et cetera, et cetera. But now, we’ve gotta build back the infrastructure that was lost, and that’s extremely expensive. And the expense is caused by, number one, that time has—that we live in, and number two, is the amount of Federal regulation—

 

M-hm.

 

—that is involved. So you pretty much have to start with a clean sheet of paper.

 

Cattle ranching in 2010 presents a challenge to ranch owners who are struggling economically. Kahua Ranch is no exception.

 

My feeling is that if you have a piece of land, the land must work for you. You work with it, but it must work for you. Now, you can have cattle on it, and that’s fine. But your land isn’t really working. The amount of money you can harvest from one animal, the amount—not enough. You’ve gotta make the land do something else. That’s why we have the visitor industry on it. ATV riding, taking people, letting them see things, see a ranch going; there, you begin to make the land work. You are, number one, you are educating people that come on the place as to what you’re doing, and you’re showing people why they’re coming to Hawaii, because they’ll agriculture in operation. We’ve hit this tough times now. That’s slowed way down. I think we’ll be able to pick it up, but you always have to realize that the end game in land is houses. Once you get in houses, the game’s up.

 

Have—

 

Do you really want to do that?

 

Have people approached you with some nice, big offers for your land?

 

Well, I fend them off. I don’t get down serious. We could sell it; be no problem. It’s some of the most beautiful land in the State. But there’s more to being a landowner than only looking for the so-called highest and best use. And the highest and best use of any land is subdivision. You ought to be smarter and make the land work for you, and help you, which in turn helps your fellow man.

 

But on the other hand, you’ve tried all kinds of things, and the economy hasn’t helped, and the weather often hasn’t helped. How are you doing at this point in 2010 with the family business?

 

Not very well. But you don’t give up. You don’t give up.

 

How much does it wear on you? I mean, you employ people, your family’s living on the property.

 

When you see other families suffering … I don’t get comfort out of that. I just try to work harder and figure there’s gotta be a better way, there’s gotta be a better way. Somebody upstairs knows better than me. Come on, give me a hint, and let’s go try. And that’s … I mean, you’re getting into my philosophy of life. But that’s the way I looked at it.

 

Never give up.

 

Nope.

 

Keep trying.

 

That’s right.

 

And what about—at what point do you consider taking an extreme right or left turn, as opposed to persevering and moving in that same direction?

 

I haven’t gotten there yet; I don’t know.

 

How was it when you turned over the reins of the business to your son, Tim, a few years ago—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—after being the boss for a long time, decades?

 

[CHUCKLE] It’s interesting. When you decide to do that. You … that’s a switch. You’re either full-on, or you’re full-off. You better go full-on, if that’s what you want, and you turn it over. My tongue is two inches shorter.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The protein that I’ve eaten has been my tongue.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I’ve tried to stay positive.

 

And support him as he—

 

Yes.

 

—runs the business.

 

That’s correct.

 

But you do things …

 

I do—

 

Some things differently.

 

—some things differently; yup. Yup.

 

At what point do you step back and say, Hey, gotta listen to me on this one?

 

You wait for him to come and ask you. And that’s a difficult point.

 

M-hm.

 

And sometimes, oftentimes—don’t use the word often; oftentimes, his ideas are better than yours.

 

Maybe—perhaps in ranching, it’s different, but it just seems that it’s very hard to keep a family business or dynasty going.

 

Extremely difficult; extremely difficult. And it has to do with family dynamics. What you’re really looking at, do you want the family farm, because you’re rapidly running out of family farms from the tax standpoint. Do you want all big corporate farms? Do you want a meeting held weekly in X County … Ohio, where about ten people decide what the price of corn will be, or the price of soybeans?

 

M-hm.

 

A different ten people. Do you want that? Is that gonna be in the best interest of the United States? I think not. But how many people think that through? How many face that question?

 

How many people can withstand tough times?

 

That’s right. How many people have got the guts to stand up fulltime? Listen; if you want to wear a sword, you better be prepared to draw the sword and get into the fight.

 

I think of your living in a place where King Kamehameha the Great is said to have trained for battle. It’s just steeped in antiquity at the same time—

 

M-hm.

 

—it serves you today. Any thoughts about that?

 

The area that he was suppo—his guard were trained and all, is Kahua land. I would certainly like to be able to keep it the way it is now, or improve it from an agricultural standpoint. But not split it up to house sites. We did sell a bunch. Kohala Ranch was part of Kahua at one time. And that was it. But we stopped at a line below the cinder cones, because this other shows where Kamehameha was.

 

And do you foresee a time when there might be family dissention about whether to sell off land?

 

Yup.

 

For housing.

 

Yup.

 

For real estate purposes.

 

Yup. Oh, yeah; oh, yeah. Because if a person owns a ranch and you’re not making money, it’s costing you money; what are you gonna do? And we’ve gotta be smart enough to make sure that they’re profitable.

 

Do you know what … whatever you’re hoping for, what do you think might be the next best thing for the ranch?

 

Well you make the land do something. Visitors, that sort, which keep it in agriculture, but nevertheless, let more and more people enjoy it. And when—if you do a job, you can charge for it, and everybody is happy.

 

So it sounds like you don’t look for … easy work.

 

No, I just look for work. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] And do you like it when it has a physical element to it?

 

Yeah. That’s fine. I mean, when you talk about physical, and I won’t ride a horse anymore, I won’t even get on a horse. If you fall down off a horse, when you get to be about my age, and something busts … it may heal, but it’ll be a long time. And it may never heal. So don’t put yourself in that position.

 

A neighbor islander, and especially a Hawaii Islander, has a different sensibility about life in Hawaii.

 

Probably do. M-hm.

 

And what should people in Honolulu know about Hawaii, as seen through your eyes?

 

Well … you mean, what do they look at the Big Island, and they don’t see?

 

M-hm.

 

I’ll tell you one thing; East Hawaii versus West Hawaii. To me, that is terrible. That is one island; you better damn well realize that it’s an island. Hawaii Island Economic Development Board is about twenty-some years old. I was the first president of that. I fought to make sure that people would realize that the Island of Hawaii is the Island of Hawaii; there’s not East Hawaii, and West Hawaii. And that has dogged that island for now—well, as far as I know, and including now. Because you will find that the East Hawaii seems to have better roads, they seem to—all of that stuff. Why? Because where is the head hall, so to speak, is in Hilo. What’s gonna come about is, West Hawaii, with all the housing and all that’s going on, all the millionaire homes, that’s gonna be where your tax money is gonna come from. And they’re not gonna sit still to have East Hawaii get everything, and here, here’s a little pinch for West Hawaii. You have to have the Island of Hawaii. And I said, You wait ‘til you get a mayor from West Hawaii—

 

M-m.

 

—and you see what’s gonna happen. You think you guys know what’s coming? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Because they’re gonna take you apart. You’ve got to realize you’re a whole island; you’re one island, and they’ve even gone so far as to have, Well, maybe we should have two separate mayors and two separate police force. Ridiculous. Ridicuous.

 

With no desire to run for public office like his father before him, Monty Richards, a lifelong Republican, has instead served as a volunteer for countless civic organizations and on government boards. For 16 years he was a member of the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents and a Board Director for Bank of Hawaii. Taking a leadership role with another organization helped him work through a lifelong problem with stuttering.

 

When I was in grade school, I could hardly get a word out.

 

M-m.

 

It would get a little better, a little worse, little better, little worse. When I went to the ranch, I would stammer a lot more than I do now. But I became a— became the president of a rotary club.

 

M-hm.

 

And boy, that’s a bear. ‘Cause every week, you’ve got to run the meeting, and you better be prepared. So my first meeting, I remember, I stood up, looked at everybody; I said, Okay … I’ll be doing this every week. You boys are gonna want to sit in the front row, it’s up to you, but I suggest you bring umbrellas and raincoats, because—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—[CHUCKLE] because you might get wet before this thing’s over. Well, by my going over and doing that, I find it actually helped the stammer. Look at many of the people with real handicaps, the people with one leg, the people who have … well, I’ve got a very good friend. I call him a very good friend. Name is Senator Inouye. Look how he has done with one arm. And he’s carrying  shrapnel inside, and he’s eighty-four years old, or something like that. There’s a man that has done something. There’s a man that is really doing something. You gotta take your hat off to him. Those are the people that you got to admire … when you see what they’ve done.

 

How do you … how different do you feel than twenty years ago? You still feel the same inside?

 

About the same. Except, I huff and puff a little more. But other than that, you get up in the morning, and you listen. If you don’t hear nice music—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—you figure, hey, it’s all right. Then you get up, and you look around. If you don’t see the Grim Reaper with a scythe, you’re okay. If you do see him, run faster. That’s about the only way to do it.

 

With the latest smartphone in hand Monty Richards continues to utilize and promote innovative technology. In addition to his role as chair and trustee of Kahua ranch, he is spending his retirement continuing to serve and advocate for Hawaii’s agricultural community. Mahalo, Monty Richards in North Kohala, for sharing your “Long Story Short,” and thank YOU for watching and supporting PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A Hui Hou Kakou.

 

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

Do you think missionaries have gotten a bad rap in today’s history of Hawaii?

 

Yup. And it’s unfortunate.

 

How do you look back on it?

 

I look back on it, I think it’s bound to be. Any time you have any envy, you always try to chop down something else. And that’s part of life. But you’re—if you’re the chopper or the choppee [CHUCKLE], it makes a difference. If you’re the chopper, why, ain’t bad; if you’re the choppee, it actually hurts a little.

 

M-hm.

 

But you have to push on. You have to push on. And when asked, don’t be afraid to say, No, because this, that, and the other. But you don’t go looking for a fight. But if they want to fight, you give it to them.