Mr. Talk Story

He can sure talk, but what makes Dickie Chang’s show Wala‘au must-see TV is that he’s also a good listener. He’s pictured here with cameraman Bruce Smalling

He can talk, but being a good listener is what makes dickie chang’s show must-see tV

Dickie Chang could becrowned the king of talk story. His bubbly personality and effortless ability to shoot the breeze catches the attention of nearly every person he encounters.

Consequently, it makes sense that he hosts the aptly named local television show Wala’au.

Created by Chang some 20 years ago, the program covers events and positive stories from sources around the island and brings them into people’s living rooms every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and midnight on Oceanic Cable Channel 6.

“It’s a source of information for people,” he says about the show.

It also is a source of their joy.

“I like the fact that the people we interview are always on such a high,” says Chang.

The same individuals who are engulfed in nerves about being on camera ultimately appreciate watching themselves on TV when the program airs.

“My show is not about sovereignty or GMOs or other hot-topic conversations,” says Chang. “My show is more about something good happening, something heartwarming. It’s a feel-good kind of deal. You see people – you see keiki, you see kupuna; they see themselves. They get their five or six minutes of TV time. They’re like rock stars.”

One of Chang’s most memorable episodes was an interview with a fisherman and the two men he helped rescue who had been lost at sea for 29 days. The men were presumed dead, and had gone so far as to etch goodbyes to their families and friends on their paddles, when the fisherman discovered them.

“I lose it a lot,” says Chang, regarding the emotional nature of some interviews such as this one. “I’m into it. When I’m looking at someone, I can feel what happened.”

Noticeable tears also are in Chang’s eyes when he describes his friendship with the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

“I think I was the last person to interview him,” he says. “The guy was an icon and I’m glad he was my friend.”

But Chang doesn’t simply remember the names of celebrities; he has a real knack for recalling the names and faces of almost everyone he meets.

“He’s very comfortable in front of people and he knows everybody,” says Bruce Smalling, Wala’au cameraman and editor, and Chang’s long-time friend.

It is a trait Chang says he picked up while working in the visitor industry years ago, particularly while driving tour buses for companies that led outings across the state, and serving as concierge for the former Westin Kaua’i at Kalapaki (now the Kaua’i Marriott Resort and Beach Club).

“The better I am, the more tips,” he jokes.

Some of his fondest memories are from the Westin, where he regularly enjoyed spending his days hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

“It was happening,” he says about the hotel, which housed more than 800 rooms and employed some 1,600 people at the time.

He only spent a few years at the hotel, however, from its opening in the late 1980s until it was ravaged by Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992.

“We were watching the whole hurricane come down,” says Chang, recalling the catastrophic event – when he shuffled some 1,800 guests from the ballroom and corridors to the “back of the house” as the chandeliers started to shake – as if it were yesterday.

Chang, who moved to the island in 1987 from Oahu to help open the hotel, ended up taking a marketing job at the Hyatt because after the natural disaster, he says, “The Westin was at a standstill.”

“I took that job because, for me, it felt like the right thing to do to get the island back; to start booking groups,” he says. “I wanted to see Kaua’i rebound. I didn’t leave like (many people) did. I chose to stay.”

Eventually, however, Chang switched gears to become a cab driver – a financially humbling experience.

“It was really like survival of the fittest,” he says, reflecting on his days of waiting for hours on end for customers at the airport. “If I had a quarter, I’d be stoked.”

Nonetheless, things quickly turned around for Chang shortly thereafter when he met Smalling, with whom he teamed to develop Wala’au.

“He was very enthusiastic, I should say,” says Smalling, when reminiscing about their first meeting. “I can’t say enough about Dickie Chang. He’s really dedicated and wants to see the best for Kaua’i.”

“We’re the odd couple,” jokes Chang about his working relationship with Smalling. “Bruce is a dedicated guy and an incredible friend.”

Their first episode featured the devastation at the Westin and its restoration process. The duo’s teamwork persists to this day, covering events such as the Visitor Industry Charity Walk and the Garden Island Orchid Society’s annual showcase.

“It’s fun and it keeps me busy,” says Smalling about the show, which is still his primary breadwinner. “It gets me out in the community and it’s fun working with Dickie. He’s very island-oriented toward positive things for the island, and he doesn’t like to dwell on the negative aspects for our show. He’s generally a very upbeat kind of person; very personable.”

Though Chang was born and raised in Wahiawa on Oahu, he considers Kaua’i his home.

He even served the community for four years on the Kaua’i County Council.

“I always wanted to help the people and I thought on the government side I could,” he says.

Even though it was upsetting for him not to be re-elected last year, he now has more time to spend collecting puka shells and making necklaces, walking or riding his bike and gardening.

“I’m what I call a white-collar farmer,” he says, with a laugh, about maintaining his garden filled with taro, papayas, arugula, basil, avocado and ‘ulu.

On top of hosting the lu’au at Sheraton Kaua’i Resort, Chang also plans to continue reaching new areas of the island and, ideally, the state and even the globe with his production.

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