She is Leslyn Mililani Paleka, becoming over 22 years KPOA Radio’s most popular on-air personality.
Better known by her stage moniker, Alaka‘i, the name for the second in command at hula schools, the morning deejay and frequent master of ceremonies at local events is number one in morning radio and is heard on the Internet by mainlanders who want their Maui fix.
One of Maui’s most charismatic characters — not counting Blackie Gadarian (Voices, July 25, 2008) — Alaka‘i insists the goddess nickname should be with a small “g,” as to not to offend the one and only God.
Her philosophy of life is best summed up by her voice mail that begins with her singing “We have been blessed with another day,” and ends with “Have a blessed day and know that you are loved.”
Aspiring to be a missionary from her school days in Paia, where she was mentored by a Filipino missionary, she said she wanted to go to that country to “save them for Jesus.”
My charming wife, when told Ala wanted to be a missionary, quipped, “She may not be a missionary, but she’s a missionary of music.” How true, since she has mentored many local groups.
Ala has known musicians all her life through her father, Danny “Bully” Paleka, a 100 percent pure Hawaiian who made a living playing piano and operating Maui nightclubs. Musicians were always around; Ala plays the ukulele and a bit of piano
Danny Paleka met and married his wife (100 percent German) while serving as a Marine in California. She was a student at USC.
Settling in Maui after marriage, they eventually sent their musically inclined daughter to prestigious Kamehameha Schools. There she was enmeshed in Hawaiian culture and its musical tradition.
Ala was encouraged to get a degree in police science at Maui Community College — a mistake, she said.
She did serve a stretch as a parole officer in Hilo, where she had moved earlier with her parents.
Describing herself as a Maui girl, Ala moved back to Maui hoping to get a prison job at the county jail. She ended up fixing up a house she acquired and hanging out for a year when the county showed no interest in a female guard.
Then, at the suggestion of a friend, she applied for a job the KPOA Lahaina studios. “I started February 5, 1985,” she said with precision, and has been with the station all but four years since.
As a deejay doubling as a security officer, she began with an afternoon time slot. Her success secret? Over time, “I had to learn my craft — to be brash. I showed up and I showed well.”
Later, she was switched to a weekend show where she grew popular, and finally to a 6 to 10 a.m. program where she has spun records (and later CDs) for the past 17 years. Today she doubles as KPOA program director.
The goddess is so comfortable on the air — she answers a columnist’s questions between commercials, on air phone calls and songs, switching between one task and another without pause (written by a guy who sometimes gets nervous in front of a microphone).
When not on radio, Ala seems to be everywhere as emcee at countless festivals and music gigs, two nights a week at Royal Lahaina Luau and at charity events.
Ala is so charismatic with her funny patter and quick quips and jibes at musicians, she often gets equal billing — and, it seems, equal time — with the musicians. Eventually, she lets them play.
Asked where her charisma comes from, she ascribed it to “an appreciation of life,” noting, “I have a Haole mother and a Hawaiian father. Luckily my brain belongs to my mother. She always thought education was the best gift.
“My father was all about aloha. I am fortunate that I have the Hawaiian part. You want to know a lot of different things and be eclectic, but you should always start with love and class and sophistication. That’s what I learned from my father.”
One of those loves is Maui. “This is one of the few places on Earth people really have a passion for. If you are going to live on Maui, you have to have a passion for it.”
KPOA’s Alaka‘i Paleka (left) holds a live radio show on the last Sunday of the month at Kaanapali Beach Hotel.