Maui has a couple of common nicknames. "The Valley Isle," the most enduring sobriquet, is a reference to Iao Valley, a major visitor attraction in the early 1900s. A more recent moniker is "The Magic Island." Both were devised to promote Maui's tourist industry. And, dating to pre-contact days, there was "Maui No Ka Oi."
For someone who never tires of looking up and out, Maui could be called "Moku Maka Loa," the long-view island. Look up and delight in the play of clouds over the the mountains. Look out and savor the blue expanse of ocean.
Outdoor Maui is a visual feast of colors and contours, a constant reminder of what should be shaping island life, an intimate connection with nature. Indoor Maui is dominated by blind eyes - television and computer screens. They also influence how we look at life by dumping the idiocies of the world into our living rooms or "mobile devices."
A hallmark of traditional island life is awareness - looking around and noting the environment and other individuals in the immediate area. Spending hours immersed in mind-numbing, isolating jabber has been a fact of life for many Mauians since the 1950s.
The first television sets hunkered down in Kula. Homeowners erected big antennae to drag in signals from Oahu. Undoubtedly, there were those who were fascinated by the snowy, black-and-white pictures, even though it took Mainland programming a couple of weeks to get to the islands via recordings flown over. Watching network Christmas ads well into January lasted into the 1970s.
Maui Publishing Co. put a home-grown television station, KMVI-TV, on the air in 1955, at first for only a few hours a day. For 10 years or so, the station rebroadcast a Honolulu station and produced a few local programs. The first local show was broadcast in 1957.
One of the most notable was emceed by Nora Cooper and featured local entertainers and events such as the last scheduled railroad train between Wailuku and Hamakuapoko. For decades, film recordings of the shows sat on the floor of the old Quonset hut offices of The Maui News. Scripts were long gone but the images survived. I think the reels of film eventually ended up in the hands of the Maui Camera Club.
The Federal Communications Commission eventually forced Maui Publishing to sell its station. It was against the law for one company to dominate a community's media. Maui Pub also owned and operated The Maui News and the island's first radio station, KMVI.
The first Honolulu satellite station, KMAU, went on the air a few months before KMVI-TV. It rebroadcast KITV, an NBC affiliate in Honolulu. Later, KGMB, KHON, KHNL and KITV built their own repeater stations up in Science City. Hawaii Public Television - currently conducting a fund drive - began transmitting on Maui in 1966.
The repeater stations were aimed at Central and West Maui. East Maui was left in the dark. Folks on the Keanae-Hana-Kipahulu side of the island were among the first to tap into personal satellite TV. In those days, it took a huge, yard-dominating dish to pull in signals from a satellite far to the north.
Cable showed up in 1967, the same year the FCC approved the construction of KWHM, a satellite of religious station KWHE in Honolulu. Unlike the other stations, KWHM's transmitter is located in the middle of the cane fields down near Puunene. Cable was installed first in West Maui. Today, most Maui homes pay cable bills. It's rare to see a TV antenna spiking the sky.
The big over-the-air, free television change came in 2009 when Hawaii became the first state to have all of its full-power television stations convert to digital. On Maui, the transmitters were moved from the summit to a location on Ulupalakua Ranch.
Going digital opened up three new broadcast secondary channels but the transmitter change knocked off receptions in some areas. Unlike the old analog transmissions that might be weak and "snowy," digital signals are all or nothing.
TV, computers, tablets and smartphones are all a part of Maui life. Maybe there's need for another nickname, "Maui, The Distracted Island." As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "And so it goes."
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer and editor for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.