John Berger: Journalist! Columnist! Author!

Berger started his journalism gig in 1972-78, writing for Sunbums, a now-defunct biweekly newspaper that was known as the Rolling Stone of Hawaii. He reviewed for radio KKUA from 1977 to 1995, and in 1985 joined Michael Qseng’s Morning Madness crew at KQMQ reviewing concerts, local recordings and theatre until 1994. His last two years in radio were at KIKI, where he reviewed movies four days a week.

Berger started writing about entertainment for Honolulu daily papers in 1988, first with the Star-Bulletin, moving to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in 2010. In those years he also has reviewed books, movies and Waikiki shows.

“Nightlife in Honolulu has evolved,” he observes. “People still go out for the same reason, to have fun with friends and family. But the market is changing because of population redistribution, legal considerations (raising drinking age), and the proliferation of home entertainment choices.”

When asked to pick the best shows he’s seen, Berger hesitates and asserts, “There’s no correlation between quality and popular success. Things very unimaginative can be successful commercially if they entertain people.

“As a reviewer, it’s important to keep in mind who the target audience is. The reviewer’s job is to tell the audience what the show is, how well it’s done for what it’s supposed to be, and why I feel that way about it,” he says.

How did Berger become an entertainment critic?

“I owe it all to Smokey Robinson,” he says.

When the legendary Motown recording artist appeared in Honolulu on his farewell tour in 1972, Berger wrote to the editor of Sunbums offering to do a review and claiming he could do a better job than the regular contributor.

The editor called his bluff and sent tickets to the brash critic. That was more than 5,000 reviews ago. Berger has been a fixture at local concerts, stage productions, nightclub shows and events ever since.

Local actor Scott Robertson, writing on Hitting the Stage web-site, says, “When he is in the audience we are all nervous about it … everyone wants a good review. When we get a good review, we are never shy to crow about it. Of course, we all disagree with his bad reviews. Or do we?”

Well, that’s a wrap on John Berger.

Even while working those crazy hours when most of us are asleep, Berger says he loves the nightlife and hopes his journalistic gig has a long run. As for the Hawaiian music book, he plans to “maintain and update it for the rest of my productive life.”

Take a bow, Mr. Berger. You’re a rock star. And you’re on the cover of MidWeek.

What more could you want for Christmas?

Hawaiian Music and Musicians, published by Mutual Publishing, is available at retail stores and online at

For a limited time only, subscribe to the Star-Advertiser and get the book for free. Mention “Holiday Subscription Offer” by calling 538-NEWS.


Tips for Entertainment Success

1) Learn as much as you can about the “business” side of the business.

2) Never be content with “good enough for Hawaii” unless that’s as far as you want to go.

3) Accept criticism. Learn from it and try not to take it personally.

4) Knowledgeable trustworthy representation – manager and/or an agent – is essential.

5) Don’t sign anything until a qualified attorney has reviewed it.

6) Put in the time to master your craft.

7) Learn to show up early and fully prepared to do what you do.

8) Study thoroughly what it is that makes something a hit. Don’t just copy what someone else has done. They’ve already done it.

9) Almost every “overnight success” puts in years of work before the market discovers them. Those who haven’t rarely last longer than the proverbial 15 minutes.

10) Don’t burn bridges. People you pass on the way up will be waiting for you on your way down.