Satellite broadcast of the Elvis Hawaiian concert

Sept. 11, 2020
by Mark Ollig

Monday, I attended the funeral of my aunt, who lived in Silver Lake.

She was as much a fan of Elvis Presley as I have been, and when we got together, we would talk Elvis concerts and the songs he performed.

We sang his songs whenever we heard them playing.

She liked how I could sing like Elvis, and told me (more than once), “At my funeral, I want you to sing “How Great Thou Art.”

Monday, I sang “How Great Thou Art” at her funeral.

Many people at her funeral talked about her love for Elvis music and his concerts.

Recorded Elvis gospel songs played in the background during her wake.

My personal favorite Elvis concert was the 1973 NBC-TV broadcast of the “Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Via Satellite” concert special.

The Honolulu International Center Arena in Honolulu, HI, would be the venue for this concert.

All the concert proceeds and donations went to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund.

Kuiokalani “Kui” Lee was born July 31, 1932. He was a popular Hawaiian singer-songwriter, and achieved international fame when Don Ho began performing and recording his arrangements.

Ho began promoting Lee as the songwriter for a new generation of Hawaiian music.

Lee died of lymph gland cancer Dec. 6, 1966, at the age of 34.

The total donation to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund from the 1973 Elvis Concert in Hawaii amounted to $75,000.

The concert was historically significant, as it was the first time a live concert show was beamed to countries worldwide via satellite.

The concert took place Jan. 14, 1973, at 12:30 a.m. Hawaiian time, and was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people.

Of course, today, it is common for satellites to broadcast music and sporting events, but 47 years ago, it was uncommon.

Elvis was so insistent on having a great concert; he did a practice concert in front of a live audience the night before the satellite broadcast.

“How could one satellite beam its signal to every part of the planet?” I thought.

A live broadcast to all parts of the planet would require the broadcast signal to be relayed among many other geostationary orbiting satellites transmitting the signal to satellite receiving stations on the ground.

The satellite for the Elvis Hawaii concert broadcast was the Globecam Intelsat IV F-4 geostationary communications satellite.

Intelsat stands for International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium.

The Intelsat IV F-4 satellite launched Jan. 23, 1972, from Cape Canaveral, FL.

According to NASA, the Intelsat IV F-4 “served as a Pacific link.”

Details on the Intelsat IV F-4 from the NASA website:

• Launch vehicle: Atlas-Centaur.

• Weight: 3,058 pounds.

• Shape: cylindrical with an antenna mounted on one end.

• Height: 17 feet, 7 inches.

• Diameter: 7 feet, 9 inches.

• Power source: solar cells and nickel-cadmium batteries.

The satellite provided a commercial communications support from synchronous orbit above the Pacific equator, capable of 3,000 to 9,000 telephone circuits or 12 color TV channels, or a combination of telephone, TV, data, and other forms of communications.

The Intelsat IV F-4 was located over the Pacific Ocean and transmitted the Elvis concert live to Australia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, The Philippines, South Vietnam, and other countries.

Elvis’s Hawaiian performance was recorded on videotape and seen by 30 other countries the same day of the concert.

The concert aired in the United States Wednesday, April 4, 1973, with 51 percent of the television viewing audience watching.

An edited version (including some extra songs Elvis performed on stage after the concert) broadcast on NBC-TV. I vividly recall watching this concert with my mom and dad, and a few of my siblings.

I recall my mom enjoyed watching Elvis at the peak of his stardom singing on the stage that Wednesday evening.

My dad, noticing how attentively my mother was watching the younger Elvis sing, didn’t seem too interested in the concert.

Elvis did have a powerful presence on stage when singing each song.

I liked how he would jokingly interact directly with the audience, and while singing, Elvis would generate excitement by throwing scarves to the many outstretched hands of the audience. From that day, I became an Elvis fan.

During the last songs, Elvis threw his American Eagle belt and cape out into the audience, which generated a frenzy.

One of Elvis’s songs during the 1973 Hawaiian concert, “I’ll Remember You,” was written by Kui Lee.

Aunt Susie, I’ll remember you.

Be safe out there.

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