As the month of June draws to a close, two birthdays — neither of them my own — are stirring wistful memories of my early days in Maui radio.
This Saturday, my baby boy turns 41. I met and married his father, Jim Collins, when we both worked at KMVI Radio. Jim was the afternoon drive DJ and had moved to Maui from Michigan at the urging of his old friend and local teen idol, LD Reynolds. I did the news on Jim’s show, under the guidance of news director Mike Hurley and program director Thom McGarvey. Not long after I was hired, McAvoy “The Riddle King” Layne and his buddy Kelly Dean (who later became my second husband, but that’s a whole ‘nother column) joined the KMVI lineup.
Back then, AM radio was pretty much the only game in town, and not just here on Maui. At KGMB in Honolulu, Hal Lewis, better known to statewide listeners as J. Akuhead Pupule, was reportedly the world’s highest-paid DJ in the late ’60s. His morning show was simulcast on KMVI for the Valley Isle (which, by the way, is what the call letters stood for: Maui, the Valley Isle). We teeny-boppers listened to Oahu powerhouses K-POI and KKUA on our transistor radios until LD introduced the Top 40 format to Maui.
If you weren’t here in those days, it’s probably difficult to imagine how large a role local radio stations played in the community. Providing news, entertainment and companionship, both KMVI and KNUI were omnipresent. Our listeners considered us family, and when I became pregnant, folks dropped off boxes of hand-me-down baby clothes and toys at the radio station. One Kula farmer brought a lei made entirely of pincushion protea, an experimental crop at the time.
Jimmy’s birth was a radio drama of sorts; maybe comedy of errors is more accurate. Due to minor complications, I was confined to the hospital for nearly a week before the actual birth. After several days and nights at my bedside, Jim left to catch up on some work at the station. Naturally, I went into hard labor a couple of hours later. The nurse called KMVI, only to learn that McAvoy and Kelly had taken Jim to the Vineyard Tavern for a few bottles of stress relief. Someone tracked them down and returned Jim to Maui Memorial, where the nurses sobered him up with a big cup of thick, black coffee. McAvoy phoned in a couple of live reports on the air; at least, that’s what I was told. I was a bit distracted at the time.
As if Jimmy’s 41st birthday wasn’t enough to put me in this nostalgic state, I was recently reminded that KAOI-FM debuted on the Maui airwaves 44 years ago this month. I was a senior at Baldwin High School when my fellow Drama Club members excitedly told me about the radio station that was being built just up the road from campus. I stopped in after school one day to find Ron Vaught literally building the KAOI studios in a small office space between Kentucky Fried Chicken and Maui Recapping, right above the Aloha Lanes bowling alley. If anyone could be called the father of Maui radio, it would be RV. Not only was his rich baritone heard on every local station between the ’60s and the ’90s, he has founded and/or managed nearly all of them.
I introduced myself and asked about a part-time job or internship, and he explained that the station wasn’t yet in a position to hire any talent, least of all a teenaged novice. He gently advised me to finish school and, perhaps, set my career goals a bit higher.
KAOI-FM had been on the air for five years by the time I moved there from KMVI. FM radio was no longer considered a fringe outlier, and I was excited to delve into progressive, album-oriented rock. Joe Hawkins, who now heads up the KONI group, H Hawaii Media, was my program director and mentor at KAOI, and he only scolded me once, when I played three country-western songs in a set. My tenure at KAOI was brief, as I soon received a job offer I couldn’t resist: doing TV news in Honolulu.
Today, I am back at KAOI, now owned by Visionary Related Entertainment. Technically, I’m not on KAOI-FM (Star 95), but on its sister station, The Buzz 107.5 FM, where I am reveling in classic rock. Nearly 40 years later, I’m playing many of my favorites from my early radio days. Like a record album, the memories spin round and round . . . and the hits just keep on coming.
* 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.