Thirty-three years and one month ago, I met the man who would become my partner in broadcasting and in life. Barry Shannon and I had each returned to Maui after living off-island for several years. I had come home to heal after a painful divorce and got a job with Encantada Broadcasting. When Barry showed up soon after, Encantada put us together as a morning show team on KHEI.
Both of us had started our radio careers as teenagers, Barry at 16 and I at 17. He was among the pioneers of free-form rock ‘n’ roll radio at San Francisco’s KMPX and KSAN in the mid-1960s. My own experience was limited to Hawaii, starting with KMVI and mornings with Maui’s beloved “Riddle King,” McAvoy Layne. A few years later, in 1981, I was fortunate to work briefly with the legendary Ron Jacobs, known beyond the islands as the man who developed the “Boss Radio” format at KHJ in Los Angeles. He was also one of the founders of Watermark, which created Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” syndicated show. In my two months at RJ’s KDEO Radio on Oahu (I was the maternity-leave sub for Charly Espina, RJ’s morning show partner), he taught me invaluable lessons about programming, promotion and professionalism.
By 1984, I had almost 10 years of broadcast experience and looked forward to a lifelong career in radio. Barry, on the other hand, had burned out on the business and the big city, retreating to Maui to reassess his future. Bored after just a few months of life in the slow lane, he visited KHEI on a whim, thinking a weekend shift might break the monotony. When the station management realized the depth of his talent and experience, they talked him into doing a daily morning show.
We clicked immediately, both on and off the air, and when Encantada went out of business a few months later, Barry and I moved to KNUI and did afternoons there. Eventually, we lost our jobs there too, but that turned out to be a good thing, as it spurred us to realize a dream we had each held for years: to have our own radio station.
We put Mana’o Radio on the air in March 2002. It was a nonprofit, noncommercial low-power FM station with an all-volunteer staff. Finally, after a combined 60-plus years in the business, we could play the music we wanted to play and talk about whatever we wanted to talk about. Best of all, we didn’t have to worry about getting fired or laid off.
Five years later, Barry died unexpectedly. With the support and dedication of our amazing Mana’o ohana, I continued our long-range plan to get our license upgraded to a full-power FM. In 2013, we succeeded and became KMNO-FM (91.7). The following year, stressed out from funding challenges, I retired from the station and from radio in general. With new management and air staff, Mana’o has continued to grow and succeed.
Today, I’ve come full circle. After 15 years away from commercial radio, I’m back at KHEI, which is now owned by Visionary Related Entertainment and part of the KAOI radio group. For the past week and a half, I’ve been sitting in for Cindy Paulos, doing the morning show with Shaggy Jenkins on The Buzz 107.5 FM. The Buzz is a classic rock station, so not only am I having flashbacks to the morning madness of the late 1970s and 1980s, I’m playing the same songs I did back then. Only now they’re on a hard drive instead of vinyl or tape.
Shaggy is a real pro and a great radio partner. He is, I think, around the same age as my son, and he always defers to me as the veteran broadcaster. Maybe he means the veteran broad. But from 6 to 10 each morning, as we banter and laugh (oh boy, do we laugh), I feel like a kid again, excited and delighted to be on the air. We have a few more shows together before Cindy gets back from vacation next week and I return to doing middays solo.
Like Barry did years ago, I’ve realized that radio is a part of me I can’t let go. I met all three of my husbands at radio stations, breastfed my son during newscasts, spent countless hours alone in a tiny windowless room and loved every minute of it.
In the first music video played on MTV, The Buggles sang, “Video killed the radio star; in my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far.” I suppose they’re right about rewinding. Looping, however, is forever.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.