Meet Mr. Sunrise

‘MidWeek' sits down with the guy you see every morning on Hawaii News Now and finds Steve Uyehara is the same nice guy off the air as he is on camera

‘MidWeek’ sits down with the guy you see every morning on Hawaii News Now and finds Steve Uyehara is the same nice guy off the air as he is on camera

You know his face. You have seen it a thousand times: Emceeing charity events, doing promos for the Super Bowl and even still shots in this very paper advertising his morning news show, Sunrise.

But what do you really know about Steve Uyehara, beyond his boyish good looks and sly, understated smile? After all, he has only been coming into your home for 270 minutes a day for the last nine years, so we figured it was time to learn about Uyehara.

His roots are right here in the community, a true Hawaii poi dog boasting seven different ethnicities and a misspelled Okinawan last name (the Y was inexplicably added when his grandfather came to the Islands). He graduated from Damien, where he played volleyball and football, but also excelled in speech, even making it to the state finals one year.

So with a sports background and a gift for gab, his natural career choice would be … comic book artist?

“When I was a kid, I really liked to write. I wrote little short stories; I wanted to be a comic book writer,” says Uyehara, shaking his head.

“My dad told me, ‘You know there is no money in that, you know I can get you into the shipyard.'”

But neither his father nor his vision of being the next Stan Lee ultimately decided his path: It was some courses on reporting at Cal State Northridge that took hold of Uyehara. He returned home, started interning at KITV, got picked up by KHON and then, as this business is wont to do, found himself on the wrong side of budget cuts and was looking at getting into teaching.

But the man who had to let him go with one hand, general manager Rick Blangiardi,

extended to him his other and brought him over to team up with Liz Chun as the KGMB sports team.

“Funny how that works, one week I am completely depressed, thinking I am out of luck and I got nothing, then a week later Rick called me and told me, ‘I think I have something for you,'” says Uyehara.

Little did he know he had gained more than a partner in sports, for Chun would eventually become his partner in life. Working seven days a week together, side-by-side, can go only a couple of ways, and soon romance was in the offing. The only problem being that they were the whole department. The algorithm for dating was difficult.

“There was a long time where we couldn’t have a relationship because of our whole dynamic as a two-per-son sports department,” says Uyehara. “If one of us had vacation, the other one had to work. There was no way to jet off together or even have a dinner.”

Fortunately, the sports department was just a stepping-stone for both of them. Chun now serves as director of philanthropy at Pali Momi Medical Center, while Uyehara got tapped for a new take on an old idea. The local morning newscast had been set aside, but in 2007 they decided to give it a new twist and teamed up the affable Grace Lee and Uyehara as their anchors.

“The critics scoffed at the idea of people wanting the weather and traffic here. The weather never changes and the traffic, you are stuck in it anyway,” remembers Uyehara. “We were the first ones to put up the traffic cameras, and it became this big thing. That is what people want to know about, even if you know all the alternate routes are going to be clogged. People want to know why. There is a lot of curiosity with traffic.”

Another thing they looked to change was to concentrate on real news as it happens and to give the Sunrise team a staff dedicated to this task.

“It is nice to be part of Sunrise because, No. 1, we started something. And No. 2, I honestly feel like we were the first station that treated the morning show like it wasn’t just the JV team,” says Uyehara. “They invested in us and gave us everything we need and let us focus on our show. It was nice how Rick set that up, that this was going to be one of the cornerstones for our franchise.”

While giving them the tools to succeed was important, Blangiardi knew that the anchors of the broadcast had to be people that the viewers of Hawaii could trust.

“Steve has become an accomplished and versatile morning-show anchor for many reasons, but in my opinion, ever since the first day we broadcast our new morning show, Sunrise, in September 2007, Steve flipped his switch to ‘on’ with a passion, tireless work ethic and giant personality, which quickly endeared him to thousands of morning viewers,” says Blangiardi.

“He has embraced the myriad of uncertainties and challenges that naturally happen during the production of four-and-a-half hours of ‘live’ TV weekday mornings with an ease and style that our viewers have come to trust and appreciate, even when the situation involves the most difficult stories.”

The downside of the job for all of them is, of course, the hours. Uyehara is up at 2 a.m. to drive in from Mililani for the 3 a.m. meetings and to comb through the Internet looking for the stories they are going to feature that morning. His desk is shrouded in sports jackets and ties with an old trophy serving as a makeshift coat rack. But by 4 a.m., the chaos of his off-air desk is abandoned for the sleek lines of the Hawaii News Now one and they are filming cut-ins before beginning their daily marathon at 4:30.

During the next few hours, all their careful planning and laying out of the show will be ruined by breaking news and constant adlibbing by everyone involved.

“Something that people don’t realize is they are sitting there going through scripts they have worked on, but they are also changing things as they happen,” says Chun. “Commercial breaks aren’t really breaks; they are reading stories off the AP wire and producers are constantly talking in their ear. The collaboration is nonstop, from start to finish, and they imagined one show that was going to happen in the rundown and then it is changing while they are on the set.”

This constant state of change could be flummoxing for some, but Uyehara credits the camaraderie of his team to help them survive the bumps.

“It’s rough, but because we can kind of feed off each other, there are a lot of jokes that go on off the camera, jokes that aren’t meant for TV, that is what keeps us going,” says Uyehara.

“What makes it a lot easier is that we have such a good family base here on the show with Howard (Dicus), Grace and Dan (Cooke). It is a unique situation where everybody gets along, everyone knows their role. You don’t always have to be the one to shine — there is always someone that is going to pick it up. A lot of times we are just talking to each other rather than talking to the camera; it is less showmanship and more just relating to other people.”

It is this accessibility that draws people to him, both on the screen and off.

“He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he takes what he does seriously,” says Chun. “He brings to daytime television that local sense, relatable guy, and people on the street don’t hesitate to come up to him, and I think people like that the guy they wake up to is the same guy they bump into in the store.”

The grocery store is often where you will find him, because after the show wraps at 9, they have recap meetings and then it is time for the newsman to turn into Mr. Mom.

Chun gives him his marching orders for the day and he cleans up the house, picks up the supplies for dinner and, if he is lucky, gets in a nap before picking up their children Jace and Kayla.

Then he is cooking dinner and is off to bed with the children at 8:30 to prepare for another day at the station. Chun takes the morning shift with the children, during which they can share time with dad while he tells them about the day.

“It is interesting being at home in the morning with the kids and watching what Steve and the whole team does and appreciating it more because now I am that mom worried about the drive time, and if there is anything impactful happening here locally, they are on top of it,” says Chun. “It is neat being on the other side, because that is what morning news is: It doesn’t just help wake you up, but gives you a good perspective on your day.”

Seriously? Your two preschool-age kids watch the news while enjoying their pancakes or peanut butter toast?

“I do have to admit to Steve, cause he will always ask if I watched, I probably saw a little bit but the kids will rule Sesame Street over Sunrise,” says Chun with a laugh. “They like to watch dad for a second and wave at him, then they are done!”