Chapter 4: Post 23 — Terrapins and Television

October 8, 1964
We have two channels operating at present and expect the third to be on shortly. Our building, the only air-conditioned structure on the island, is considered quite a showplace. Troops of visitors are constantly streaming in to examine the new wonder of video. The governor seems to show up about every second day to see what’s going on. I sometimes wonder if it’s us or the air- conditioning that attracts them.


The H. Rex Lee auditorium, known to everyone as The Turtle.

The H. Rex Lee auditorium, known to everyone as The Turtle.

The educational future of the children of a tiny Polynesian island was entrusted to two men from the landlocked center of America. The first was H. Rex Lee, a farm specialist who was plucked from potato-loving Idaho and appointed as governor in 1961. Lee championed the untested concept of televised teaching for the island and brought in Vernon Bronson to implement his program. The second was Michael J. Kirwan, the Democratic representative from Ohio who pushed through millions of dollars to actually fund the program. Kirwan’s son John was the assistant director of the U.S. Department of Interior office that was responsible for overseeing American Samoa, and got his father on board with the project. Each man was rewarded with an important building in Samoa named in their honor, yet if a tourist asked anyone on the island for directions to the H. Rex Lee Auditorium or the Michael J. Kirwan Studio, they would have been met with a blank look and a shrug.

The Honorable H. Rex Lee, governor of American Samoa.

The Honorable H. Rex Lee, governor of American Samoa.

The Lee Auditorium was an oval-shaped, low-slung building with a rounded roof that, from overhead, looked exactly like a terrapin shell. A smaller round fale adjacent to the roof resembled the head of the animal within the shell. Therefore, the building that stood as a timeless memorial to one of Samoa’s most influential governors was simply known as The Turtle. The Turtle was a large open space that could be reconfigured for conferences, pageants or productions. It was also the setting for shows performed by The Island Community Theater. Since most of the teachers were comfortable in front of the camera, it seemed natural that they would want to perform in their spare time as well.

Directly across the parking lot from The Turtle was the Michael J. Kirwan Educational Studio, a name never used because it was known simply as KVZK, the new television station that had been built to broadcast the teaching program. The entrance had large, bright teal doors painted exactly the same color as the doors of the Ta’funa houses. This state-of-the-art studio was central to the ambitious educational project, and teachers had been working and planning for nearly a year to try to get the programs on the air.

Monday is D-day as for as the studio is concerned. We are supposed to begin broadcasting at 7:45 A.M. with a speech from the governor. Everyone has their fingers crossed because they just put the finishing touches on the transmitter last Friday, and the engineers are working over the weekend to get the antennas up in the schools before Monday morning. The whole project is about a half-year behind schedule since the original plans had called for them to start transmitting last February. Naturally, they ran into untold unanticipated problems peculiar to the area. They’ve had all kinds of equipment problems because of the humidity. Even though the building is air-conditioned, much of the electronic doo-dads are becoming covered with a thin film of rust, mold, crud, or what have you.

We’ve also had supply problems. So far we only have enough videotape to record a week ahead, and everyone is apprehensive about having such a short cushion to rely upon. They keep promising more tape is coming, but they keep saying the same thing about our furniture and I don’t believe that, either.



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One Comment to “Chapter 4: Post 23 — Terrapins and Television”

  1. I just wanted to add what to me and most of the High School Basketball players ( male & females) was a real HUGE thing!!! Once a Athletic Director ( Mr. Stan Eckert/RIP) was hired and arrived on Island he began organized Athlectic programs between the then 4 High Schools. With the great strides made with the Sports rogram Me Eckert worked with the TV people to telivise Basketball, Vollyball and Football between the Schools. The ” Turtle was the venue for Basketball and some Vollyball games. It was so exciteing to play a game in the TURTLE and then be able to see it played back so all with TV’s on Island could veiw. I also have some memories of going to watch some Boxing matchs in the Turtle? Does any one else remember that??


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