Love and laughs are always in the air (and on the airwaves) with Hawai‘i’s first couple of radio, Gregg and Shawnee Hammer.
Of all the wacky things radio personality Gregg Hammer has ever said or done over the years, his finest onair moment surprisingly involved no sidesplitting joke, no clever impersonation.
It did, however, call for a bit of audacity.
“I practically had the freeway shut down to do it,” recalls Gregg of this memorable occasion, which required members of his promotion team to hang three signs on consecutive overpasses of the H-1 while traffic snarled, and then allow drivers listening to KIKI’s Hot I-94 program do the rest.
That they did, as seconds after the last placard was in place, the station’s phone lines began blowing up. Callers were begging Gregg’s co-worker and girlfriend at the time, the mononymous Shawnee, “to get out here and see these signs!”
But Shawnee couldn’t just leave the studio during broadcast. Instead, she continued to press callers until they finally revealed the contents of the message:
“Shawnee. Will You. Marry Me?”
As the unexpected news was sent out over the airwaves, Gregg immediately burst into the studio, got down on bended knee and presented her with a ring. Naturally, Shawnee didn’t disappoint her audience, and when she emphatically said “Yes!” to the proposal, program listeners cheered, cried, laughed and high-fived one another.
That moment happened nearly two decades ago, and the amazing thing is that today, people are still cheering, crying, laughing and high-fiving one another whenever it involves Hawai‘i’s first couple of radio, Gregg and Shawnee Hammer. In fact, for the past six and a half years, the duo’s “HammerTime” program on Krater 96 (KRTR-FM) has been one of the hottest acts around simply because they (along with the third member of the team, operations manager and program director Wayne Maria) make morning radio so much fun for scores of listeners.
“It’s been one of the greatest joys to share our lives with audiences,” says Shawnee, who tied the knot with Gregg in 2002. “People have been with us through our ups and downs, and I think our personal on-air moments are our favorites because they’ve allowed us to bring people into our lives.”
Much of the show is geared toward the considerable comedic talents of Gregg. After all, he is the captain of comebacks, the master of quips, the boss of improvisation. And his manifold of on-air characters, most notably the overly effeminate kumu Bubbles and the gossipy Hollywood reporter LaFonda Jenkins, always leaves listeners in stitches.
But Shawnee, who mostly plays it straight when delivering the program’s news and commentary, has learned a thing or two from her husband, and is always willing to serve up her own zingers.
“She’s the kindest, most loving human being I’ve ever known,” states Gregg when naming some of Shawnee’s best characteristics. “We’ve been married for 17 years, so I have no reason to suck up to her when I say this: If I had to define someone who is kind and long-suffering, that’s Shawnee.”
“Well,” his infinitely patient mate replies, “I have been waiting a long time for you to mature!”
In his defense, Gregg’s abilities as a skillful imitator have actually aged quite well. That “cool ability to hear something and imitate it,” as Shawnee puts it, was apparent from a young age.
Case in point: When Gregg was about 8, he would stand in front of his bedroom window and watch while city trash collectors rolled down his street in Waipahu. Then, when the truck was close enough, he’d start messing with the driver by tricking him into braking prematurely.
“I would go, ‘Eh!’ and whistle — and they would stop,” Gregg explains. “See in those days, the garbage men rode on the back of the truck, and when it was time to stop and throw the garbage, they would whistle to the driver.
“But I would do it loud enough from the window that the driver would stop.”
“Such a naughty little boy,” Shawnee chuckles.
Born in Colombia and raised by an adoptive family in Oregon, Shawnee Krebs made her way to O‘ahu in 1998. She tried college for a bit, but after finding herself “in and out of class” too often, she began looking elsewhere.
Enter Star 101.9, which offered her a radio internship.
“I didn’t know one thing about broadcasting before I started interning,” she admits. Thankfully, there were mentors available who were willing to show her the industry’s ropes. “Everything I learned was pretty much on the job and from the people I worked with,” she says appreciatively.
Yet as fortunate and happy as she was with her career choice, her true kismet lay just down the hall at sister station I-94, which happened to be where Gregg was employed.
As he recalls, “I was walking into the station with a co-worker one day and I saw Shawnee making coffee, and I was like, ‘Who is that?!'”
The two struck up a conversation, and although Shawnee acknowledges initial interest, she felt the need to get other opinions “about this Gregg Hammer guy.”
“So I went back into the studio with this deejay I was working with and I asked her about Gregg, and she tells me, ‘Stay away from him!'” Shawnee says, laughing. “That piqued my interest and, of course, I didn’t listen to her advice.”
Gregg wound up making the first move — although he waited almost a year to do so.
“I left Shawnee a voicemail and about a week or so went by before she finally called me back,” he says, playfully adding: “I literally waited by the phone and had to have someone come by to dust me off!”
“It wasn’t on purpose,” Shawnee clarifies. “I knew that I really liked him … I think it was just that I didn’t want to seem so eager.”
Fortunately, Gregg — a former cop who began transitioning out of Honolulu Police Department in 1995 to pursue a career in radio — didn’t lose heart. Even when he secretly started learning Spanish to impress Shawnee, only to later find out that she didn’t know a lick of the language (“He assumed I spoke Spanish because I was born in Colombia, and wound up wasting his money. But I thought that was so sweet,” she notes), Gregg refused to despair.
“There was always that burning hope in me that she would see past all my misgivings,” he deadpans.
Part of what makes the Hammers resonate with their audience is a willingness to be open about their own marital challenges. They credit their faith with guiding them through trying times.
“Gregg and I have always been really honest about our struggles,” says Shawnee, adding that they “began to understand marriage and how to rely upon something bigger than us” once they attended Christ Centered Community Church in Kāhala.
“Our faith really keeps us grounded and able to be in the same room with each other,” Gregg explains. “I would assume it would be difficult if we didn’t have that shared faith because we have different perspectives on everything, but we’re still able to treat each other with grace and forgiveness.”
Because of their own success story as a renewed husband-and-wife team, the Hammers have been reaching out and leading other troubled couples to the church’s marriage ministry classes. These classes, they explain, are more about support and encouragement, and “are open to anybody because marital issues are not limited to someone’s faith,” notes Gregg, an ordained pastor.
“We’re not professional counselors — in fact, we’re not even amateur counselors!” he quips, never missing a moment to inject humor into any conversation. “But seriously, we’ve been through a lot … we’ve been through a long dark period, and we kind of know the ways to get out of that. And I think that’s why it’s in our heart to help other couples with their problems.”
“We’ve gone through professional counseling ourselves, so if that’s what’s needed, we’ll definitely point these couples in that direction,” Shawnee continues. “For us, it’s just a mentoring thing. We basically say to these couples, ‘Here’s how we got to a better place.'”
In her spare moments, the place Shawnee loves to be in is on a trail. For Gregg, it’s behind the handle-bars of a motorcycle or the steering wheel of an American muscle car. Somehow, these two find ways to make their varied interests intersect on O‘ahu’s streets and hills.
Shawnee: “We don’t necessarily like the same things …” Gregg: “It’s not so much that I don’t like hikes, it’s just that I don’t want to end up in the basket of a helicopter!”
Shawnee: “… but we both do what each other likes because we love to see the other person enjoying the time.”
Gregg certainly has plenty of time to spare for Shawnee because, as he claims, “I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do in life.”
To which a giggling Shawnee responds, “Yep, he has no goals left!”
“We’re at different stages, and Shawnee is still at the go-getter stage where the world is her oyster,” he explains. “So that gives me the ability to sit back and help Shawnee with increasing her joy.”
That’s a good goal to have because Shawnee is already feeling like an empty nester these days. The couple has one daughter together — 16-year-old Zoe — and two adult sons from Gregg’s previous marriage — Jon and Skylar.
“We’re looking at the whole college thing right now for Zoe,” says Shawnee. “She’s excited, of course, because her biology is telling her to leave and mine is telling her never to go and … ”
“I’m helping her pack already,” interrupts her husband.
Yes, the jokes never end with the Hammers.