By Michael Werner (Cologne, Germany) with Bianca Weber
In January 1973, Elvis and his entire crew delivered a show of superlatives that is still known to many people who are not dedicated Elvis fans. I myself was too young back then to be aware of it, but when I started getting excited about Elvis in 1981, the first thing my parents (who were far from being Elvis fans) mentioned to me was the 'Hawaiian concert that was broadcast to the whole world live via satellite'. That impressed them a lot, and of course, it impressed me even more. It did so for more than 30 years until I wanted to find out what really happened. Bianca Weber – also a dedicated Elvis fan, and above all, a fan of accurate facts – was driven by the same curiosity, so together we invested more than half a year of concentrated research to shed light on several aspects regarding this event.
Now the time has come to present a few basic thoughts as well as some largely unknown or ignored facts about this very complex story and its circumstances to a broader public. As it is often the case with Elvis, a few beloved legends and myths are entwined around this event, and the factual errors associated with them lead a long and almost inextinguishable life of their own. Unfortunately, we will have to kill some sacred cows first. However, we find it much more important to highlight the true achievements of that evening in Hawaii that are vastly buried under these myths.
Above all, the existence of this show itself proves that the view often held among fans, that Colonel Parker was no longer up-to-date as an artist manager in the 1970s, is false. This satellite spectacle was his idea, which made him far ahead of his time. It was a pioneering achievement that has remained unrivaled in its uniqueness and success to this very day, and the initial spark came from the old Dutchman, watching President Richard Nixon's 1972 state visit to China live on TV, transmitted by a satellite. If the President could do it, then Elvis certainly could do it, too.
When NBC's recommended director Marty Pasetta (who was also responsible for staging the Academy Awards Show) came up with new ideas like the catwalk, mirrors on stage, and a lavish light installation, Parker initially reacted dismissively, as for him this probably felt like too much meddling from an outsider, leading to too much change with too much modern bells and whistles. Elvis, on the other hand, was thrilled by Pasetta's concept, so it was played out because Elvis always had the final word. Elvis was less enthusiastic, however, as Pasetta - who had previously attended an Elvis concert - confronted him with the fact that he had found his show boring and his physical appearance severely overweight; but Elvis took the criticism to heart, reworked his program and lost about 10 pounds.
Let's take a look at the myths now: The most popular one is that the show had been broadcast live around the world, which even my parents believed in.
The geostationary satellite 'Intelsat IV F-4' (launched on 22 January 1972 from Cape Canaveral to its position at 174° East over the Pacific Ocean) transmitted the show live only to Australia, parts of Asia and the oceanic island world of the Pacific; it didn't have more range, technically. Everywhere else the show had to be broadcast from videotape, days, weeks, or even several months later. For an actual worldwide live telecast several satellites would have to be connected in parallel. But that would have been pointless, because due to the different time zones on the globe, in most countries the show would have run at a very unfavorable time when no one sits in front of the TV. Of course, a hardcore Elvis fan would surely tune in at 5 in the morning to see his idol, but Parker wanted to reach the masses, and that would only have been possible at a time that was acceptable for the average consumer.
'Worldwide' is also not true, if you keep in mind, where the show actually was NOT broadcast: In the entire communist Eastern Bloc (i.e. in all states of the Warsaw Pact, including the Soviet Empire), in China, in India, throughout the whole African continent, in Central and South America (except Brazil), and in the Arab-Islamic culture (except Iran which was not Islamic back then). Even on the British Isles, where Elvis had the most loyal fan base outside of his American homeland, the show did not run until after his death.
So how did it come to the legend of the worldwide broadcast? Well, beforehand Colonel Parker and his staff had really done everything to give that impression, and the following factors have helped make it work:
• First of all, there was a press statement by RCA, co-authored by Colonel Parker, which reads: 'RCA Record Tours will present Elvis in a one-hour concert from Hawaii which will be beamed worldwide via GLOBCOM Satellite. It is expected that the largest audience in excess of one billion people ever to see a television show will view it on successive evenings beginning January 15, 1973. The concert will be televised from the Honolulu International Center which will be set up to accommodate over five thousand for the show on January 14, 1973, at 1:00 AM Local Hawaiian Time. The live performance will be viewed in prime time in Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and South Vietnam. The following night it will be shown in 28 countries in Europe via a Eurovision simulcast. NBC will show the program in the United States at a later date'.
• At the Las Vegas Hilton press conference on September 4, 1972, which was held in order to announce the show, Parker proudly presented a board with 33 straw hats, bearing the names of the countries allegedly involved in the broadcast; three more spaces were left empty in order to symbolize some mystical countries to be added soon.
• Parker had the rumor spread that they were even negotiating with the Soviets and the Chinese to take part in the broadcast. (It may be doubted if such negotiations really took place, but even if so, they definitely turned out unsuccessful.)
• In the opening title of the televised show, the word 'Elvis' appears in a variety of fonts, including: Hindi, Greek, Mandarin, Cyrillic and Arabic, although the show was not shown in any of the countries where these fonts are used. (The Cyrillic transcription was wrong, by the way, correctly it spells 'Елвис' instead of 'ЕлвNс'.)
• The inside cover of the album displays a map of the world, where most countries are pointed to by an arrow with the slogan 'We love Elvis' written in the respective national language and writing. China, India, the Soviet Union, and several more countries where the show actually was not broadcast have such arrows, though.
• The cover photo of the LP with the globe and the satellite beaming on it does the rest to suggest a worldwide (live) broadcast.
All of this promotion was so elaborate that until today it is believed that the show could be watched worldwide, or at least in most parts of the world, and live, too.
We wanted to know for sure and thus contacted fan clubs, newspapers, and TV stations around the world to find out where the Aloha concert was actually broadcast and who else could have seen it under what circumstances. The answers were, to put it mildly, very enlightening. Let's start with the countries named on the 33 straw hats that Parker virtually sold as a safe bet, from top left to bottom right, and to each country we add all information we could get:
Live broadcast via satellite at 19:30h local time on NTV.
Broadcast on Sunday, January 20, 1973 at 21:00h on DR1.
No broadcast. However, small parts of northern Italy were able to watch the broadcast from Austria and Switzerland.
No broadcast. Some wealthier Mexican Elvis fans rented rooms in international hotels to watch the show on American cable TV there.
No broadcast. Israel was quite backward TV-wise at this time time, mainly due to the fierce influence of Orthodox Jews. In 1968 there was the first official television station, and since 1981 they had color TV. It was exactly that year when 'Aloha' was shown for the first time in Israel.
Broadcast on Friday, April 27, 1973 on Nederland 1.
7. United States
Broadcast - supplemented by the insert songs - on Wednesday, April 4, 1973 at 20:30h on NBC.
Broadcast on Saturday, January 20, 1973 at 21:00h on TV2 (today svt2).
9. United Kingdom
No broadcast. The show ran for the first time on Monday, March 5, 1978 at 19:15h on BBC.
Broadcast on Monday, February 19, 1973 on NRK (now NRK1).
Broadcast on Tuesday, April 17, 1973 on Rede Globo.
12. Hong Kong
Live broadcast via satellite at 18:30h local time on TVB.
Broadcast on Thursday, January 25, 1973 on television on ORTF and already on Friday, January 19, 1973 on the radio.
No broadcast. For the first time on Monday, August 24, 1981 on MTV Finland.
No broadcast. However, almost a year later, on December 1, 1973, a 30-minute compilation was shown on TV. For all love - that does not count.
Live broadcast via satellite at 19:30h (AWST) or 21:30h (AEST) local time
18 West Germany
Broadcast on Monday, March 12, 1973 at 21:00h on ARD.
19. South Africa
No broadcast. This straw hat was a 'snow job' par excellence, because South Africa didn't even have TV before 1976.
Live broadcast via satellite at 18:30h local time on ABS-CBN.
21 South Vietnam
Live broadcast via satellite at 17:30h local time on VTV.
22 South Korea
Live broadcast via satellite at 19:30h local time on KBS.
Spanish fans told us that the show was broadcast there, but unfortunately nobody knows exactly when. The figures vary from 'the very next day' to 'several weeks later', the former being more than unlikely.
Broadcast on Saturday, January 20, 1973 on TV4 from a borrowed black-and-white videotape recording of the Japanese live broadcast.
Broadcast on Monday, March 12, 1973 at 21:00h on ORF, coinciding with Germany, as part of the German license.
26 New Zealand
No broadcast. In 1973, New Zealand did not have any nationwide television, let alone access to satellite broadcasts.
Broadcast on Thursday, March 8, 1973 on DRS (today SRF1), as part of the German license.
In this special case it's difficult to come up with hard facts because since the fall of the Shah in 1979 Iran is not a free country with full Internet access and official Elvis fan clubs. Our mails to Iranian TV stations remained unanswered. We only have the accounts of two Iranian Elvis fans who both reported that the show was shown on Persian television at the time and it was a great success. However, both also said that it was a live broadcast, but this is impossible because the satellite could not reach the national territory of Iran. Anyway, we are inclined to believe that Iran, under the Western-oriented Shah, somehow got to see the show from a videotape at that time and we therefore generously list it.
Displaying Guam here as an own country is a joke in itself because this small island of about two thirds the size of Memphis, Tennessee, with just 91,000 inhabitants in 1973 is – just like Puerto Rico – a not incorporated territory of the USA. So Guam belongs to the United States. All we know is that Guam – despite its position within the coverage area of the satellite – could not participate in the live transmission due to lack of available technology. Whether the show ran delayed, possibly parallel to the US, can no longer be affirmed because there is neither a tape of the show nor a record of a broadcast in the archives of the former NBC partner channel KGTF-TV (now PBS Guam), which leads to the assumption that there was no broadcast there. Unfortunately, no one from back then is still working at the TV station, and an Elvis fan club could not be spotted on Guam either. So there remains a question mark with a tendency to 'no', but since Guam is not a real country, it doesn't count anyway.
Despite all efforts, we could not get definitive statements; all requests to Turkey remained unanswered, and our Turkish-born friends in Germany are either too young or have nothing to do with Elvis. But a broadcast is more than unlikely: Turkey was way behind technologically in 1973, they didn't even have color television before 1982. At the beginning of the 1970's there was television only in the capital of Ankara, and later on, in the middle of the decade, in the agglomerations of Istanbul, Izmir, and Edirne; however, only very few people could afford the expensive luxury of a TV set. In addition, there was no widespread interest in Western pop culture in Turkey. Hardly anyone there knew Elvis Presley. Even today, in Istanbul, the country's 'westernmost' metropolis after all, you have to spend a long time looking for Elvis CDs in record stores. Realistically, we can therefore assume that Turkey was not involved in this spectacle.
Broadcast on Sunday, 21 January 1973 at 20:25h and then again at 22:10h, first on Flemish BRT (today VRT) and later on French RTBF.
Since this unexpectedly low result has surprised us a lot, we have taken other countries in assumption that could possibly have broadcast the show without having a 'straw hat' or otherwise being announced, e.g. Portugal or Luxembourg. Portugal was a dictatorship back then, where Elvis was virtually forbidden, but at least the Luxembourgers were able to watch the broadcasts from Germany, Belgium and France therefore had the pleasure four times. The same with Liechtenstein, where you could enjoy the Austrian and Swiss broadcast. Likewise, the Monacans could watch the French broadcast. And of course, people could illegally watch the spectacle in parts of East Germany on West German television. We hoped to come up lucky in Malaysia, because Elvis was very popular over there, the country lay in the broadcasting area of the satellite, and they were also technically up to date – but Aloha was first shown there on TV many years later. We only found a single country actually involved that was never mentioned, namely Canada, where the show ran simultaneously with the US broadcast.
All the publications dealing with the Aloha show – whether web sites of any kind (including the official Elvis website), Elvis magazines, books, or even serious press – are always mentioning 'more than 40 countries involved in the broadcast'. Where they got that number from, and why it's been repeated over and over and written off from each other unevaluated for four decades, remains a mystery to us, as well as why no one has ever questioned these numbers or even pursued anything that might have been an approach to serious research.
In fact, only 21 countries were actually involved in the television broadcast, 6 of them live and 15 more countries delayed (some of them for several weeks or even months). In 1973 there were more than 160 states on this planet. That means that the spectacle was only shown in one-eighth of all countries of the world; among them only one single highly populated territorial state, namely the US, since all others - China, India, and the USSR - were left out.
January 14, 1973 : 'Aloha from Hawaii'.
The 2013 Legacy Edition's booklet claims (as well as most other sources) that the show aired in 30 European countries, even though Parker's press release only spoke of 28 countries. In 1973, however, there were only 33 countries in Europe altogether, if you count in stamp-sized small states such as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican, as well as the Soviet Union and Turkey, of which smaller parts were on the European continent. Eight of these countries belonged to the communist Eastern Bloc, where the show was not allowed to be shown. So only 25 European countries would have been eligible to take part in the broadcast - if all had taken part, which they did not do. In fact, there were only 10 European countries taking part, one third of what is claimed everywhere. The number of 30 European countries is thus the result of more or less bad research, or rather no research at all.
Part of the 'worldwide' myth is also the claim that the show aired on the 'Eurovision' network (of virtually the whole of Europe) the following evening, as it was announced in the press release. This was originally thought of, but it already failed in the negotiation phase with the European broadcasters and the 'Eurovision' headquarters in Geneva. Nonetheless, still today EPE claims that it did. The above list with the exact broadcast dates proves, however, that this was not the case in any single European country. The videotape was sent to the 10 participating European countries days later, sometimes even weeks or months later; the earliest broadcast date in Europe was January 20 (Sweden and Denmark). Above all, Eurovision had nothing to do with it.
Let's face the facts: 'Live' is not applicable with only 6 countries actually taking part in the live broadcast, and 'worldwide' – with only 21 out of more than 160 countries taking part – is more than exaggerated.
The second big myth is the number of viewers: Even serious publications state that there were one billion viewers, nowadays you even read about 1.5 billion. Ultimately, this only proves that Parker's ingenious roll reverberates loudly even 45 years later, because he himself had boastfully stated the figure of 'more than a billion' at the press conference announcing the show. Mind you, beforehand, when he did not yet know where the broadcast could actually be seen, let alone how many people would finally tune in. It's downright odd that since then, everyone believes this nice canard at face value and keeps parroting it beyond the shadow of a doubt, even though it comes from a man that a majority of the Elvis fans most probably would not even have bought a used car from.
Let's take a look again at the countries where the Aloha show actually ran as part of the original broadcast (live or time-delayed) and add to it the population figures of 1973:
- Japan: 108 million
- Denmark: 5 million
- Netherlands: 13.4 million
- United States 215 million
- Sweden: 8.1 million
- Norway: 3.9 million
- Brazil: 103 million
- Hong Kong: 4.2 million
- France: 53.2 million
- Australia: 13.3 million
- West Germany: 62.1 million
- Philippines: 38.6 million
- South Vietnam: 19 million
- South Korea: 33 million
- Spain: 34.8 million
- Thailand: 40.2 million
- Austria: 7.5 million
- Switzerland: 6.3 million
- Iran: 31 million
- Belgium: 9.7 million
- Canada: 22.3 million
Fact is: The entire broadcasting area, i.e. all 21 countries involved, had only about 831.6 million inhabitants in 1973. Let's very generously add countries where the show was not aired, but could partially be seen by receiving the TV signal from neighboring countries, such as Monaco (24,605 inhabitants in 1973), Luxembourg (350,000 inhabitants in 1973), Liechtenstein (23,000 inhabitants in 1973), parts of northern Italy (about 5 million inhabitants in 1973) and the GDR (16.9 million inhabitants in 1973, minus the 15% who were unable to receive West television in the Dresden area, called 'The Valley of the Unknowing', which makes it only 14.4 million). Considering this, we come to a number of about 851 million people who could possibly have seen the Aloha show. Even a few Portuguese (8.8 million inhabitants in total in 1973) who might have been able to watch the Spanish broadcast (if it really took place) in the border area, won't make a notable change. You can turn it as you like: Elvis' great spectacle could not have reached one billion (let alone 1.5 billion) viewers, even if everyone in the broadcasting area really watched it, from infants to old people; in addition, there are the deaf, the blind, the terminally ill, the poor people without TV or even without electricity, as well as the policemen, doctors, nurses, firefighters, truck drivers, and all the others who had to work at the time of the broadcast. It should be clear to everyone that it is more than improbable, if not impossible, that all inhabitants of eligible countries had tuned in.
Sensational viewing rates are often stated, e.g. in the Philippines, where you always read about a record 91.8%; However, such a number is more than doubtful, because the Philippines at that time had no serious survey of ratings. And there are some other factors to be added. Let's look at a few statistical data: In 2013, there were about 188 TV sets per 1,000 inhabitants in the Philippines. (For comparison: 950 in the US and 743 in Germany.) While in the US almost every resident has a TV set of his own nowadays, not even one in five people in the Philippines has one. Mind you, this is today! What would it have looked like in 1973? Let's take a look at the history book: At that time, the Philippines was a poor country, ruled by dictator Ferdinand Marcos with an iron hand, with large parts of the population outside the few bigger cities not even having electricity, let alone a TV set. This luxury was reserved for the privileged upper class, which relativizes this 91.8% in absolute terms - to perhaps a few thousand spectators. In addition, on that January 14, 1973, only a single television program ran, so they had the choice: Either watch Elvis, or have the TV switched off. Thus, this viewing record is no big deal. Incidentally, Elvis' spectacle was shown there only because one of General Marcos' henchmen was an Elvis fan and personally lobbied for the Aloha show being broadcast in the Philippines.
Looking at South Vietnam, which also claimed a high viewing rate, it should be kept in mind that they had television for only 8 years, and that the country was in the midst of a terrible war in early 1973, which had particularly affected the civilian population, with the Viet Cong of the communist north appearing more and more unstoppable. Since these people certainly had other problems than watching Elvis and determine exact ratings, most viewers in Vietnam may well have been US soldiers fortunate enough to have a night off duty.
January 14, 1973 : 'Aloha from Hawaii'.
Since Parker's ingenious propaganda even comes up with countries where the show never ran, one can legitimately question all these grandiose, record-breaking viewing rates. Of all the countries whose ratings are read endlessly in Elvis-related publications, the numbers from the US and Japan, which was already technically advanced in 1973, are the only reliable ones. The same would apply to the ratings of most European countries, but interestingly, nothing is said about that anywhere. The reason may be that the interest in Elvis in Europe was not nearly as big as often stated. All we could find out was a modest viewing rate of 12% in Germany – the only country outside the USA where Elvis ever resided, be it only to fulfill his patriotic duties.
Even in Elvis' homeland, the United States, where he achieved his greatest successes and enjoyed the highest profile, the videotaped show was broadcast only on a Wednesday night - not a prime timer. On that April 4, 1973, the show scored 33.8% in the Nielsen ratings (the NBC special of 1968 was more successful with 42%), making it a 51% market share of the people sitting in front of their TVs during the broadcast. All those who did anything other than watch TV during this time did not take part in this census. This means that only a third of all households who owned a TV set and turned it on that night actually watched the spectacle.
Taking into account the fact that in many other countries, the interest in Elvis - for cultural reasons - was significantly lower than in his homeland, and also that not every household owned a television set, and on top of that some of these countries belonged to the Third World, or were technically and economically far behind the West, you can confidently assume that in the entire broadcasting area Elvis might have reached on average of about 20% of the population. Thus, a number of actual viewers between 150 and 200 million would be most likely. And even if we generously subordinate the American quota of one third to all other countries, it would make 280 million viewers, which is just a little bit more than a quarter of that fabled 'billion'. But no matter if 150 or 280 million - that's still an incredibly high number! The undeniable success of this first – and so far only – show like this by a single entertainer does not need a fantasy billion, it can easily get along with a much lower, but realistic number.
Of course, this number of viewers is only our rough guess, we cannot prove it, but at least we are providing here for the first time the facts needed to form a qualified opinion, namely the countries actually involved and their population of 1973. So now even those who adamantly want to believe that during the broadcast each individual inhabitant of all countries involved was sitting fascinated in front of a TV screen to watch Elvis (which wasn't even the case in the USA) will now have to admit that you still don't come close to one billion, let alone to 1,5 billion.
Consequently, we also have to bury the myth that more people have watched 'Aloha From Hawaii' than the moon landing on the 20th / 21st of July 1969. This myth could arise only because the Aloha billion was commonly believed in. The moon landing was allegedly followed by about 500 to 600 million people on television - and (mostly) really live! Half of the world's existing television stations took part in the broadcast; let alone all stations in the US, so you had no choice what else to watch. This is quite a number, compared to the only 21 channels worldwide that transmitted the Aloha show. Even though the moon landing's viewing numbers are also an estimation because in most of the participating countries there were no serious rates, but with all our love for the King in mind, it should be obvious that a historic technological world sensation like man's first walk on the moon might have attracted a lot more people than an Elvis concert. Especially since every person in the world knows the moon, whereas in 1973 Elvis was almost completely unknown in many cultures, because Anglo-American pop music had by no means reached every corner of the planet back then; especially countries with bizarre dictators or other anti-Western political or religious systems.
In addition, some more absurd penny dreadful theories circulate among fans and even professionals, in order to drive the possible number of viewers to further unknown heights. For example, we heard that the Soviets and the Chinese, as well as some Southeast Asian countries, had secretly wiretapped the satellite signal and aired the show illegally. Supposedly even Colonel Parker himself planted this rumor. At that point, you can hardly resist a hearty laugh over Parker's chutzpah. The problem with all discussions and publications on this subject is that most of those who comment on it have neither an idea about the political, economic, and social conditions of the year 1973 in the countries allegedly involved, nor do they have basic knowledge about the technological complexity of a satellite TV broadcast in the early days.
Let's play through it mentally and check it for the possible: The Russians – even if they had wanted – could not have received the signal because the satellite did not reach Soviet territory at any point. The Chinese would have been able to do so geographically, but in 1973 they did not have the technology necessary. In 1978, five years later, just 10 million Chinese (of a billion!) had access to terrestrial television at all. Other countries in Southeast Asia shared the same fate. Even New Zealand – after all, part of the Western capitalist world – was unable to broadcast the show due to a lack of access to satellite technology. (For the same reason, the New Zealanders, by the way, had to forgo a live broadcast of the moon landing three and a half years earlier and could only watch it with a few hours delay via videotapes rushed in by plane from Australia.)
Furthermore, it is often ignored that throughout the world analogue, terrestrial broadcast television had three incompatible standards: NTSC (America), PAL (Europe) and SECAM (France and the Eastern Bloc). This didn't make it any easier to just wiretap and broadcast the satellite signal.
To return to the Soviets and Chinese: Neither Leonid Brezhnev nor Mao Tse-Tung were known to have had a penchant for Rock'n'Roll. A glitter-caped Elvis in his American Eagle Suit with 'American Trilogy' in his repertoire must have looked like the epitome of Western decadence and the spearhead of American cultural imperialism in the eyes of those communist despots; he was the personified class enemy. In the USSR, Elvis records were available – if at all – only at the black market at unaffordable prices, while in China they were not available at all. Most of the population of both empires had never even heard the name Elvis Presley. It is almost certain that neither the Soviets nor the Chinese ever thought of doing technical pull-ups to snatch an Elvis concert telecast behind the Colonel's broad capitalist back. On the contrary, they would probably have done anything to prevent such a broadcast at any price, because the appearance of the multimillionaire Presley with a flagitiously expensive rock on each finger would only have brought their peoples' own misery clearer to their minds.
A few side-notes from the history book to give you a rough idea of the political situation at the time: The Soviets still regarded Elvis with utmost skepticism in 1973; 13 years earlier he served as the most prominent soldier of the NATO forces in West Germany. It was not until 1989 that the first official Elvis records were available in the USSR (with material from the 1950s). In 1994, the first Elvis film was released in Russia – three years after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The People's Republic of China was a supporter of communist North Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, which was at war with the United States; so the US was actually regarded as an enemy country. Gentle political approaches took place much later: In 1979 Elton John was the first Western rock star who – under the most difficult conditions and strictest censorship – was allowed to undertake a short tour of the Soviet Union, which was limited to the cities of Moscow and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). No normal Russian could afford a ticket, so there were only apparatchiks of the CPSU plus their relatives and friends in the audience. In 1986 the group 'Wham!' was the first Western pop act to be allowed to perform in China, also under the strictest control of state power. Concert visitors who jumped up from their seats to dance were immediately arrested. Whereby both Elton John and the guys of 'Wham!' were British, not Americans! All those who still believe that in these countries, in 1973, an Elvis concert was televised, might also believe in the tooth fairy.
January 14, 1973 : 'Aloha from Hawaii'.
Another thought on the famous billion: Had the number of viewers actually been so high, then the associated double LP would surely be one of the best-selling and most successful albums of all time – which it is not. The album was successful, but measured by the propagated television success, its selling rates were rather modest. (Unless most of the alleged billion viewers found the concert so boring they abstained from buying the record, but let's not assume that.) The album remained at the top of the American record charts for just one week. At first, that does not mean much, because it's not the highest position that matters, but the time spent in the charts. For a quick comparison: The album 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' by Pink Floyd, which lost its only one-week lead by Elvis' Aloha-LP, was in the Billboard Charts for a total of 741 weeks (from 1973 to 1988). In addition, 50 million units were sold, without having previously attracted attention with the promotional help a 'worldwide' satellite concert. That's quite a figure – not to mention Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'! The Aloha album was – after all – in the US charts for a year (and thus belongs, beside 'G.I. Blues' and 'Blue Hawaii', as one of Elvis' most successful albums) and had sold about 2.25 million copies at the time; in Germany – even more noteworthy – it sold 1.2 million units, although making only #38 in the charts, (as it did in the Netherlands). In the UK (where the show was not broadcast before 1978) the album made #11 on the charts. In total, five million units are said to have been sold in the US alone by 2010, but that's still low, considering the fact that a third of all Americans watched the show on television. Unfortunately, we do not have more figures to offer.
However, the album indeed holds a record: It is the only Quadrophonic disc ever to be number one in the charts. This record, however, was achieved because the first edition was available only in Quadrophonic. Those who wanted to own a copy of the album as soon as possible had to buy the Quadro version. Which was not a problem since the quadrophonic technique was downwardly compatible, so you could play a Quadro record on any conventional turntable, with the result being stereo. The actual stereo album, however, was issued later.
So it's only too obvious that this supposed billion was just pure PR, an out of the box number that sounded impressive. The day after the show – when the live broadcast had been viewed in only 6 countries with a total of 216 million inhabitants – the press already spoke of one billion viewers, as well as after the US television broadcast in April later that year. The billion remained, although only after 27 April 1973, when the Netherlands as the last participating country went on air, an actual total viewing number could have been presented, if there had been one. But that never happened. From day one to the present day, it remained a number that stems from a press release by Colonel Parker two months prior to the show, which was never ever subject to even an approach of factual research.
So we could simply take this billion as a symbol of immense success, had it not become clear in numerous discussions that most fans adhere to this figure with almost religious eagerness, as if official statisticians had personally counted every single viewer. Hardly anyone wants to hear the truth or even exact numbers. To most Elvis fans, questioning this legend comes close to regicide or even blasphemy. It seems that in a sense, fans need this mystical billion to make Elvis' success and meaning shine a lot larger than life. Perhaps this record number is also a substitute for the disappointed expectations of many fans who found Elvis' performance that night in Honolulu a bit too 'reserved'. (Compared to the Elvis of the 1950s) However, I believe that Elvis himself does not need this number. Fans should not define their favorite artist by quantity but rather by quality. And quality is the one thing that Elvis has more than enough to offer.
To reassure all those who, despite of all these 'evil' facts and figures, still want to believe in one billion spectators: Considering the myriad reruns of this show on numerous TV channels around the world, the opening of the former Eastern Bloc to Western pop culture, the scores of releases on VHS and DVD over the last few decades, plus all the views on streaming platforms like YouTube, the billion is likely to be full by now. Chapeau!
Another beloved myth is that with the Aloha show Elvis had written music history. However, this view only exists in hardcore fan circles, where the same is often said about Elvis' legendary 'From The Waist Up' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, or the 68 TV Special, or the Madison Square Garden Concerts. All of this, of course, is wishful thinking based on a misunderstood definition of the term 'music history'. To write music history, you need to – purely musically! – accomplish something that has never been done before and that has a lasting impact on the further development of music. None of this happened that night in Hawaii, so there is no standard music history book in which the Aloha show is even mentioned. The fans' desire to praise Elvis' merits as high as possible is understandable, but redefining general terms is going too far.
Besides all the satellite sensation, the event is known to have served a good cause: People in the audience could freely determine the ticket price depending on their budget, and the money went to Hawaiian columnist Eddie Sherman's recently founded 'Kui Lee Cancer Fund', a donation fund in honor of the Hawaiian singer and songwriter Kuiokalani 'Kui' Lee, who died of lymphoma cancer on December 3, 1966, whose most famous song 'I'll Remember You' was presented by Elvis in both shows. According to Elvis' announcement, each show raised $ 75,000, which means, however, that each of the 6,000 spectators donated an average of only 12 to 13 dollars, which was about the then usual admission fee for an Elvis concert. Elvis and Parker – who had bought tickets themselves – rounded sum in the end. However, there is still a question mark here, because since then you never heard of this cancer fund again, and it does not appear in the lists of the American Cancer Society (ACS). Nobody knows about the whereabouts of the donations, but neither Elvis nor Parker can be blamed for that: Undoubtedly, both – who were always quite generous when it came to charity – acted to the best of their knowledge and belief. Therefore, there's no reason to take a deeper look at this matter, so we mentioned it only for the sake of completeness.
There is further confusion about the exact date of the shows: Every record says that the rehearsal show took place on January 12, and the main event took place two days later on January 14. That was not quite the case; in fact, the rehearsal show took place on January 12 at 20:30h, while the main show was already on the following night, but at 0:30h, i.e. shortly after midnight and thus strictly speaking on 14 January. As a matter of fact, there were only 27 hours between the end of the rehearsal show and the beginning of the satellite show, but not two days, as is often claimed. Elvis himself speaks of 'tomorrow evening' at the end of the rehearsal show. This is quite contrary to the usual approach of listing Elvis' midnight shows in Las Vegas under the same date as the previous dinner shows, although strictly speaking, the midnight shows took place the next day. That's how we are used to it. So why is it done differently in case of the Aloha shows? Simply because of the international date line which runs west of Hawaii approximately along the 180th longitude, and thus became a relevant factor due to the live satellite broadcast: In all of the countries where the concert was actually broadcast live, it was already the evening of January 14, and even on the American Mainland the early morning of 14 January had already dawned. In this respect, it's absolutely reasonable to the date the satellite show on January 14, but it wasn't really two days after the rehearsal show.
Contrary to legend, 'Aloha From Hawaii' was not the first show to be broadcast by satellite: On June 25, 1967, a program called 'Our World' was broadcast live by three satellites (and not just one, as in Elvis' case) to several countries all over the world. Depending on the source, between 26 and 31 countries participated – strangely enough, there are hardly any saved facts, just as it is the case with Elvis. Incidentally, the stated viewing numbers of between 400 and 700 million people are likewise from the realm of fancy: If they really knew, there would no discrepancy of 300 million viewers. However, 'Our World' was a colorful (though in the then usual black and white broadcast format) program in which a number of illustrious artists performed, for instance Pablo Picasso, Maria Callas, and most notably the Beatles introducing their masterpiece 'All You Need Is Love', written especially for this occasion. So the heavy load of putting on a show good enough to please the expected heterogenous international audience had to be stemmed by several strong shoulders, while Aloha was the first satellite concert performed by only a single artist. A year later Frank Sinatra was to try something similar with his show 'The Main Event' from New York's Madison Square Garden, but with much less public effect and coverage than Elvis. Since then, there has never been another concert by a single artist that has attracted that much international attention; all other famous satellite concerts like 'Live Aid' or 'Concert For Mandela', in order to break Elvis' record, had to come up with a line-up of the international crème de la crème of popular music. Obviously only Elvis could push through something like that single-handed with such an overwhelming impact and success, which today, 45 years after, still exists and persists. That should be more important than the supposed billion viewers.
Now that we have endeared ourselves sufficiently by correcting factual errors and disenchanting beloved myths, it's time to finally point out the really important achievements of that special night in Honolulu, that – unfortunately – gained too little attention: We are now living in the age of international networking, the world has moved closer together, everything everywhere is 'live' and in 'realtime'. If something important happens somewhere on the planet, we can see it simultaneously on 20 TV channels as well as via internet livestream on our desktop or tablet computers, or even on our mobile phones. All of this has become completely normal for us, as a matter of course. In 1973, however, the world was a different place: There was no internet back then, and going live within a few seconds with just a few clicks on a touch screen and broadcasting it all over the world was something people could not even imagine 45 years ago. Judged by the standards of its time, the Aloha show was a production of superlatives, not at least because of the $ 2.5 million cost: The lighting effects on stage, which look rather rudimentary for us today, were the technical ne plus ultra back then. The design, the assembly on the mainland, the shipping to Hawaii, the installation in the hall, the wiring and the programming of virtually every single bulb – all of this was a masterstroke of the extra class, and the world had never seen something like that before. Today, a huge 4K video screen, a conveniently programmable computer for central control, and a wireless LAN for transmitting all the signals are all that is needed. But apart from the decoration, in all places the most modern and best technology was used, e.g. the cameras and the magnetic tape recording machines. Looking at the remastered DVD editions released almost 15 years ago, we inevitably see how brilliant the sound and picture quality are, even though everything was still 'analogue' since the digital revolution would not begin until a decade later. It sounds and looks like it has just been recorded, so fresh and lively, even after 45 years. If you do not know the technical context, you can hardly imagine what a highly professional masterpiece it was in 1973 to set up a functioning satellite uplink and beam a program into space uninterruptedly and in good quality for one hour. To have all this working smoothly was an absolute stroke of genius in terms of planning, logistics, technology, and implementation. All eventualities were thought of, e.g. by recording the rehearsal show on January 12 in order to have it available as a kind of 'backup' in case of severe problems during the main show. All of this has to be emphasized and appropriately acknowledged, and this does not require an alleged billion viewers, because the true achievements of all persons involved stand for themselves, even if not a single soul had tuned in.
Elvis himself delivered a solid show of brilliant entertainment. Although in places he sang reserved and inhibited, although he hardly moved and was visibly nervous, which is especially noticeable when he addressed the audience between songs, it's forgivable that – considering the dimensions of this event – even a hard-boiled, experienced professional like Elvis is scared stiff; at last this makes him even more sympathetic and human. Don't blame him for reading parts of the lyrics from a cardboard because he goofed up some songs in the rehearsal show. Don't blame him for some lack of enthusiasm while performing his old Rock'n'Roll classics. Don't blame him for mostly covering other people's material instead of primarily concentrating on his own hits of the past. Better listen carefully to the big emotional ballads; that's where he had his focus in 1973, and he gave his all. It's too obvious he wanted to get rid of the cliché of the hip-swinging bubble gum rocker of the 1950s in favor to present himself to the world as a mature, serious performer with a versatile, demanding repertoire. Nobody will deny that he succeeded. The Aloha show has shaped the image of the 1970s Elvis as sustainable as nothing else. Even if Elvis did not write music history with this spectacle (as explained above), he certainly has – and that's what is so important to emphasize here – written entertainment and television history that night, and hence he has repositioned himself through his appearance and his performance for quite a large part the world public. Isn't that enough?
And he was celebrated enthusiastically everywhere. Well, almost everywhere ... 'The New York Times' (which less than a year earlier had called him 'Prince From Another Planet') on April 5, 1973 printed an article titled 'Presley Pure Showbiz in 'Aloha Hawaii', stating: 'Elvis, at 38 years of age, is schmaltz', followed by a slating review that is not worth reading. The only thing notably funny about this article is the following sentence: 'That concert, incidentally, was transmitted live by satellite to a potential TV audience of 1.5 billion people in nearly 40 countries'. It fills us with some kind of perverse delight that the self-absorbed intellectual wisenheimers of the East Coast were taken by Parker's PR gag just like any tabloid muckraker, even though the NYT smartasses had access to all information and the best sources of the world. With a minimum effort of research and logical thinking, they could easily have gotten wise to the Colonel's game. Uncovering the one-and-a-half-billion-viewers hoax or at least revealing the real number of countries involved in the broadcast would certainly have been a much more effective way to make a fool of both Elvis and Parker than just bashing the concert itself while everyone could watch it to find out that the author tried just as hard as obviously to misunderstand or misinterpret the show intentionally. Let's put it that way: The flying Dutchman's most forward snow job worked on all of them, until today.
By the way, after the show Elvis returned to the by then empty hall and performed – with a mixture of fatigue and deep relaxation, accompanied only by his rhythm group and choir – four songs from his hit movie Blue Hawaii, namely 'Ku-Ui-Po', 'No More', 'The Hawaiian Wedding Song', as well as the title track 'Blue Hawaii', plus 'Early Morning Rain', to be filmed by the camera team. With these so called 'inserts' the broadcast version for American TV should be extended to 90 minutes in length (including commercial breaks), with 'No More' eventually being omitted. For the final release, these recordings were mixed with beautiful scenery shots of Hawaiian landscapes and girls, not at least to boost tourism to the islands, which was (and is) the most important economic factor of this 50th state. Elvis has done a great deal for Hawaii with his numerous visits there, his films, his songs, and especially with 'Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite', and Hawaii rightly still loves him today, which is proven not only by the big Elvis statue in front of the former 'Honolulu International Center' (now 'Neal S. Blaisdell Arena') where the show took place.
With this statue Hawaii raised a monument to Elvis and his legendary media spectacle. That's surely nice, but what matters even more is that thus Elvis has set a monument to himself. Not only with a great concert and an organizational and technical stroke of genius by his crew, but with the creation of a legend that has grown larger than himself and which will survive him for many more years to come. By the way, it will also survive our little collection of facts, that's for sure. And that's fine, too. Long live the King!
To top it off, we would finally like throw a little light on the last remaining myth: What secret message do the Morse signals at the beginning of the TV broadcast's opening title tell us? Do they even make sense? Surely, they do, and here it comes: 'ELVIS PRESLEY ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE'
Over the course of more than six months, we have taken every effort to compile all kinds of information as completely and correctly as possible, especially concerning the countries involved in the broadcast. Unfortunately, in case of Spain, Iran, and Turkey, we were not able to achieve the accuracy we set as our standard. If you, dear readers, have additional information, or should you discover a factual error or an omission at any point of this essay, please send your comments to the editor or to the author so that we can incorporate your contribution in an updated version, in order to make this article the ultimate complete collection of facts surrounding the Aloha show.
Many thanks to the NASA Information Service, Dr. Jürgen Teutsch (Research & Development Engineer at NLR), Joseph A. Tunzi, Alan Hanson, Hans Otto Engvold, Helmut Radermacher and countless Elvis fans and Elvis clubs, journalists, and broadcasters around the world; listing all their names here would go far beyond the scope, but without their generous support in terms of substantiated records, press releases, archive footage, and personal memories, this article would never have been possible. The exchange of ideas and knowledge with so many nice, helpful, and interested people from all over the world was a great enrichment for us. In particular, the touching stories of those who experienced the show live at that time have made the work on this article something very special.
Last but not least, it should be mentioned that of all things the organization that prides itself in being a supportive contact for journalists and interested fans, namely the archive and the press office of 'Elvis Presley Enterprises' (EPE), has been more cautious and reserved than helpful. Maybe they felt that we were about to open Pandora's box: After all, EPE's official website 'www.elvis.com' also features that balderdash about 1.5 billion viewers in over 40 countries and more viewers than the moon landing. In a way it's understandable that the official legal successors of Elvis Presley rather tend to hold on to this legend because it sells much better than the dry facts.
Read 'the traditional' story about Elvis Presley | Hawaii | January 14, 1973
Aloha From Hawaii Press Conferences | 1972
Aloha From Hawaii | The Concerts
Elvis Presley : Arriving In Hawaii : January 9, 1973
Elvis Presley : Aloha From Hawaii Rehearsal Concert : January 12, 1973
Elvis Presley : Receiving an award, backstage : January 13, 1973, before his Aloha Concert
Elvis Presley : 'Aloha From Hawaii' : January 14, 1973