Maleko McDonnell, News anchor, radio host, digital program director and founder, KITV, IHeartMedia Honolulu, HNLNow
As a radio DJ, announcer, master of ceremonies, concert host, sportscaster, actor and now news reporter, Maleko McDonnell has a lot going on, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Known as DJ Maleko on iHeartMedia alternative music station Star 101.9 for the past 17 years, McDonnell can trace his passion for broadcasting back to his high school days doing morning news announcements on the closed-circuit classroom TVs at Saint Louis. After graduating from Northwest Missouri State University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, McDonnell returned to Hawai‘i in the late 1990s and got a job in promotions at Star 101.9, later taking over for an evening DJ and eventually earning an afternoon timeslot. A big part of his success comes from his ability to tell stories and connect with audiences.
“When you’re on the radio, it’s about knowing how to talk to your audience as one person. It’s you and me in the car, I’m sitting in the passenger seat, and we’re going on a trip. It’s a different conversation than if you’re standing on the street corner, yelling at a hundred people,” McDonnell says. “That’s one of the things I learned in college that’s been with me my whole life: skills to assess a situation and how to talk to people in different environments. I don’t know if I could instantly teach that to someone who just walked into the studio for the first time.”
This year McDonnell made the jump from radio to TV, first as a reporter and then as a news anchor for KITV. The hours are long, McDonnell says, but the job is a dream. At 2 a.m., he gets up and heads to work at KITV until he’s off the air at 7 a.m. McDonnell sticks around for some news reporting, goes home for a nap, eats some lunch and then it’s right back out to host “Maleko’s Room” on Star 101.9 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. “It’s probably a 22-hour-a-day gig,” McDonnell says with a laugh. “News is always breaking and I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie for that, so I’m always watching for stories. Friday and Saturday are really the only nights I have. Sundays, I make sure to do nothing. Go to the beach or hang out, that’s my day off.”
Luckily for McDonnell, news and radio create a balance in his life. At KITV, things are bustling. The newsroom is an editorial bullpen filled with reporters writing, making phone calls and yelling to each other across the room in preparation for the next broadcast. The spirit is collaborative. McDonnell finishes a story and sends it to another reporter, a news director or an assignment editor for review. It’s not uncommon for different people to add a few lines of information or edit text out. After this process, it goes to the on-air anchor, who might make changes on the fly.
“Everyone’s trying to get stories done. And you’re working against the clock because there are only a certain number of hours in the day before the newscast happens,” McDonnell says. “I could be halfway done with a story in the newsroom when a fire breaks out across town. I’d have to drop everything, run out and cover the fire, come back and write a story on the fire, and then go back and finish my original story—all within the original timeframe before the news begins. It’s incredibly stressful work.”
Radio is the yin in McDonnell’s life to the yang of news reporting. At the radio station, he’s the only one in the room and all of the content is curated by him. “Radio has always been my serenity. Years ago, I was hanging out with a friend and saw what time it was and said I have to go to work. And she said, what are you talking about? You’re not going to work, you’re just going into a studio to play music for a while. And she was right; at the radio, I’m just playing music and having fun.”
In addition to both jobs, McDonnell also has regular hosting gigs. He emcees sporting events, concerts and other events. In 2006 he launched hnlnow.com, a free online platform for Hawai‘i promoters and venues to submit listings for shows and other happenings around town, which is still going strong today.
Throughout everything he’s done and all of the career choices he’s made, one thing has been a constant. “I want to [be] in Hawai‘i,” McDonnell says. “Once you meet people and start to entrench yourself in the community here, it gets hard to leave. And for the short time I’ve lived in other places, it just teaches you to appreciate Hawai‘i more. Whatever it is I’m doing next, I want to make sure I’m doing it here.”