By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Melvin “Mynah Bird” Medeiros, both beloved and controversial as the signature voice of Hilo’s radio airwaves for more than five decades, died Thursday morning in Fremont, Calif. He was 72.
“He was a radio icon,” said longtime former radio personality “Captain” Craig Kamahele, who worked with Medeiros at KPUA and KHBC radio.
Family members say Medeiros had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, which is described on the National Institutes of Health website as “scarring or thickening of the lungs without a known cause,” for about a year. He was being taken by his wife, Barbara, and son, Mel Jr., to visit a physician at Stanford Medical Center when he became unresponsive.
“I could not ask for a better father. He was a great dad,” Medeiros Jr. said. “I’d never known him to not be on the radio. Growing up, he was on the radio longer than I’ve been alive. I grew up on the radio with him. I’d go in with him some mornings and he’d let me talk on the radio sometimes.”
Medeiros’ first radio job was at KIPA in 1957, while he was still in high school. He served as a Navy radioman for four years after graduating from Hilo High School, then resumed his radio career at KIMO. He later went to work at KHBC, KPUA, back to KIPA, and then moved to another station which had taken the KHBC call letters. His career ended when KHBC went dark and its owner filed for bankruptcy in October 2010.
“The last day at KHBC, only he and I were in the office,” Kamahele recalled. “We were talking about all the years we had together, and I thought, 37, 38 years for me was a really long time, and I can move on to do other things. But when he told me he’d been on the air 50-something years, I went, ‘Wow, that makes 38 years seem like nothing.’ And it’s kind of sad, because he never worked on the radio again.
“I listened to Mynah Bird with my parents when I was a kid. He and (the late KPUA general manager) Hal Boudreau got me into radio and I finished my career with him at KHBC.”
Medeiros Jr. said it took his father “awhile to get over” his forced retirement.
“He got up every morning at 4:30; he had a lifestyle of doing that,” he said. “But he started to enjoy being home. Not too long after that, he got sick, in October of last year.”
Mynah Bird’s morning drive program was a tradition for generations of Big Islanders, with entire families listening at the breakfast table and en route to work and school. His style was influenced by the late Hal “Aku” Lewis, who for decades dominated Honolulu morning radio. He was known for news and political commentary, which both Lewis and Medeiros referred to as “interpreting the news,” and “talking story” with callers on the air. People tuned in to hear whose name was on the police blotter and to check what was available on the “Trading Post,” as folks called in to buy, sell and trade everything from opihi to automobiles.
Cars were also a passion for Medeiros, and he owned numerous classic vehicles, including a 1927 Ford Model T C-Cab pickup truck, a 1930 Ford Model A, a 1957 MG and a 1966 Ford Fairlane that was bought new by Medeiros’ father and “tricked out” by his son Malcolm.
“That’s one thing my dad and I shared, the love for cars,” said Malcolm Medeiros, who owns XXX Towing. “I remember coming home from school in the afternoon. Forget the homework, I’m out in the garage with my dad, playing with cars. Me and my dad were real close.”
Medeiros was also a sought-after emcee, presiding over events as diverse as concerts, pageants, wedding receptions and baby luaus. He was honored with the Hilo Jaycees’ 1971 Distinguished Service Award for his “contributions to the community, leadership ability and business excellence.” In 1973, he was named Outstanding Young Man of the Year by the Passarinho de Portugal Folklore Troupe for his “well-known work in the field of radio broadcasting.”
The attention turned negative in February 1990, when Medeiros pleaded no contest to attempted kidnapping of a 14-year-old boy “with intent to subject (the victim) to a sexual offense.” He was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation, was ordered to register as a sex offender and remained on the registry for the rest of his life.
Medeiros was granted work release and allowed to return to his radio show on KIPA a month after sentencing, while still incarcerated, provoking outrage among some. He apologized to listeners but maintained his innocence on the air, saying he entered the plea to spare his family the ordeal of a trial.
Despite the conviction and lower public profile, Medeiros retained his on-air mojo, weathering a storm of negative publicity that would have ended the career of a lesser talent.
“He was able to persevere through adversity,” Medeiros Jr. said. “He loved to make people laugh.”
Other survivors include son Jason and three grandchildren, with a great-granddaughter due to be born in January.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.