Former KITV president valued public service, Hawaii community
By Erika Engle
Retired KITV President and General Manager Mike Rosenberg worked at the network television level in Chicago before finding his forever home in Hawaii in 1986.
He died in his sleep Sunday at his home. He was 67, according to close friend Jeff Portnoy.
Rosenberg retired from KITV at the end of July 2010 and was succeeded by Andrew Jackson.
“I can tell you that Mike was always somebody who put people first,” Jackson said.
“He had such a love of the community of Hawaii and was instrumental for many years in getting the Merrie Monarch Festival” on television, Jackson said.
He took seriously his TV station’s role “as a community service, and honored that in the way he conducted his life — and as a total bonus, he was funny as hell. I owe him a ton.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rosenberg’s broadcast career started with ABC-TV, working his way through various positions in sales and management from 1972 through 1986, when he came to Hawaii to join KHON-TV as vice president and station manager. Three years later he was promoted to president and general manager, and in 1995 made the move to KITV.
During his time at KITV Rosenberg oversaw the station’s move from Ala Moana Boulevard, where the Hokua condominium tower now sits, to the $15 million facility at 801 S. King St. where KITV became the first all-digital TV station in the U.S. Its Federal Communications Commission construction permit was numbered CP-001, Rosenberg told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2006.
As part of the leadership of the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters, he worked for nearly a decade on the relocation of broadcast transmitters for various reasons, perhaps most notably for the benefit of the Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel, an endangered seabird.
That the state’s largest known breeding population of 650 pairs of the seabird chose Haleakala on Maui as its nesting ground caused Hawaii’s transition from analog to digital broadcasting to occur in January 2009, one month earlier than the rest of the nation.
“I consider him to be a giant in the local broadcast industry,” said Bill Gaeth, retired general sales manager at KITV who worked alongside Rosenberg for some 15 years.
“He was an excellent leader, and I think it’s not a coincidence that KHON and KITV enjoyed some of their greatest financial success under his leadership,” Gaeth said.
“I know he was perceived (by parent company) Hearst in New York to be one of the most talented and successful general managers in the group.”
In addition to originating the statewide broadcast of Hawaii island’s Merrie Monarch Festival and supporting keiki hula, Rosenberg served several nonprofit organizations over the years, including the Better Business Bureau Foundation of Hawaii and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, to name two.
However, likely most of his nonprofit labors were for the benefit of Manoa Valley Theatre.
He served on the board of directors for 25 years, said Producing Director Dwight Martin, who marked his own 34th anniversary with the theater Monday.
“He just really was very insightful on the value of theater and the importance of it to our community,” Martin said. Given his understanding of Hawaii’s demographics, Rosenberg through various positions on the MVT board was instrumental in deciding which plays would and, perhaps more important, would not be staged in the theater.
“Mike really had a good sense of balance between the mission of the theater and the practicality of fulfilling that mission,” said Martin. “I’m just so beholden to him. … He did not let one side overshadow the other. He was as committed to the quality of our art as he was to the viability of producing that as a sellable product.
“Manoa Valley Theatre will feel his energy and his love for many years to come.”
Professionally, Rosenberg “helped a tremendous number of broadcasters in the community, and journalists,” said Portnoy, an attorney who was perhaps Rosenberg’s closest friend.
The two and their respective spouses traveled the world together, “but he was a world traveler even when he was young,” Portnoy said.
Closer to home the couples regularly would have dinner-and-a-movie nights, he said.
Rosenberg also was an avid golfer, until recently playing every Saturday at Oahu Country Club.
“He was my Fantasy Football partner up until the night he died,” Portnoy said.
Rosenberg is survived by his wife, Alberta, son Dan and three grandchildren. Arrangements are pending, but donations may be made in his honor to Manoa Valley Theatre, Portnoy said.