People | PERSONALITY PROFILE

Dalton Tanonaka

by Vivienne Kenrick

The face and the voice are instantly familiar to viewers of CNN International’s “BizAsia” show. Dalton Tanonaka is the anchor for this daily half-hour coverage of regional economic, corporate and political news, which includes interviews with famous people. Produced out of Hong Kong, “BizAsia” is the longest-running global television program that focuses on Asian business views.

Dalton Tanonaka

The face and the voice were familiar to viewers of a decade ago who followed NHK’s “Japan Business Today.” For four years in the early 1990s, Dalton lived in Tokyo and anchored this program. It contributed to his later winning Best News Anchor at the Asian Television Awards in Singapore.

Dalton, with a Japanese family name, is a native American, born and raised in Hawaii, which he calls “one of the few paradises in the world.” He is a third-generation Hawaiian, with grandparents on one side originally from Hiroshima, and on the other side from North Korea. “I was the only one out of four in my family to strike out and do a nonconforming kind of job,” he said.

He remembers as a child “rushing to the door, the first to grab the newspaper and read it from front to back. The daily paper spurred my desire to know what was going on.” He went to the mainland to graduate with an associate arts degree from Mesa State College and a B.Sc. in journalism from Northern Illinois University. “That pushed me into running ever since,” he laughed.

He was recruited out of college by his hometown television station. “That was a lucky step for me,” he said. “I always liked to write, whether for TV or radio or a newspaper.” He worked first as a reporter for KITV in Honolulu, and then as a reporter on the Honolulu Advertiser. He became a presenter twice a week on television, moved to Colorado and Oregon television, and as anchor and reporter for KITV returned to Honolulu. There he received the call that, he said, “changed my life.”

He came to Tokyo, and to NHK. “NHK had begun its first English-language news program with a team of international journalists from around the world,” he said. “The aim was to put on an objective program; that was ‘Japan Business Today.’ I anchored it for four years, that were among that best in my life. It was an exhilarating time in Japan, and for me personally. Everything came together. I married a beautiful wife five years ago, and we have a 2-year-old daughter, Dior. She speaks only Japanese.”

Dalton was recruited to go to Hong Kong to anchor CNBC’s “Business Tonight,” “The Money Wheel” and “Money, Money, Money.” He also anchored NBC’s “Asia Evening News.” The exhilaration continued in Hong Kong, especially as he was on the spot to witness the changeover ceremonies. He won the Best News Anchor award at the end of his time in Hong Kong. He remarked modestly, “It is nice to be honored by your peers.”

“I went home to Hawaii, I thought, for good,” he said. “I accepted a position in government, and became executive director at the Office of Economic Development for Honolulu. I was also a columnist for the Hawaii Herald. Then CNN called. They said, ‘We want you back in Asia. There are very few anchors with your experience and cultural background.’ ” Dalton returned to Hong Kong to help demonstrate CNN’s commitment to Asian coverage, “to present stories that affect people who live here.” In May he began a new program, “Talk Asia,” which he says is “a Larry King kind of show.” As the program’s host, he is likely to become known as “the Larry King of Hong Kong.”

“Talk Asia” features celebrity interviews and discussions with Asia’s leading business, political and entertainment personalities. The program calls upon Dalton’s “blend of warmth and curiosity, and his desire to learn more about his guests and their insights.” His attitude to his work accounts in part for his success. “I read a lot, prepare myself, because you cannot fool people. It is easy to tell if a presenter doesn’t have a clue. As long as I understand the basic elements of a story, I can communicate. Some of my interview subjects — some of them presidents of their countries — can be tough. My job is to ask. Sometimes they don’t answer, and I have to avoid the awkward silences we all dread, and move on. I look forward every night to going on the air. When the red light goes on, I am energized.”