In 1946, being able to turn on a radio and hear a Maui station was a marvel. Up until that time, listening to a broadcast on the island meant trying to listen to one of two Honolulu radio stations. Today, there are 123 radio stations broadcasting in the islands - 26 of them on Maui.
Early this year, the first radio station on Maui changed its spot on the dial. KMVI swapped spots with the second radio station on the island, KNUI. KMVI went from 550 on the AM dial to 900. KNUI moved from 900 to 550. It was a move that all but sports and Hawaiian music fans probably didn't notice.
There's a lot of Maui history in those two paragraphs.
You are very much an old-timer if you can remember using imagination and the sound of faraway voices to bring the world into your living room. Those voices came out of bulky radios powered by glowing vacuum tubes. Today, those radios are most often used in cars. At home, they can supply a wide range of music in state-of-the-art fidelity.
This is an age of fast-food entertainment, standardized, homogenized and determined by the tastes of individuals on the Mainland. The Internet and the cable have it all, but you have to know exactly what you want and where it might be. Radio is more local, more surprising. The best radio is full of surprises, an idea you hadn't considered, a song you hadn't heard. All of it free.
In the beginning, hometown radio was more than just entertainment. It was a prime source of news, particularly during times when Mother Nature threatened death and destruction with a tsunami, earthquake or storm. It still is. Yes, television can warn, but since nearly all of Maui's TV comes out of Honolulu, the boob tube isn't as reliable a source of information as local radio about what is going on down the road or across the island. Homegrown programming taps into local taste. Playlists drawn up in urban centers don't reflect Maui.
Yes, those words reflect the distinct bias of an individual who grew up with all those radio voices in the background and whose first introduction to Maui in 1973 was via a pocket radio alternately tuned to KMVI and KNUI. There were Filipino programs at dawn, local news stories during the day, a Japanese language program in the evening and live disc jockeys picking and playing the music. That first day on Maui ended with the radio tuned to 900. KNUI concluded its daily broadcasting with Barry Folks, who used the name Barry K. Aloha, playing a slightly risque tune off Billy Joel's album, "Piano Man."
KNUI began as a "Makawao" station in 1962, broadcasting out of a three-room, hollow-tile building in an Olinda pasture. Its spot on the radio dial was at the extreme opposite of 16-year-old KMVI. Fred Duldulao, the Filipino morning guy on KNUI, remembered going around and showing people they could retune their radios from KMVI to up around 1300 for his station. Later, KNUI changed its frequency to 900 and a transmitter was built on the edge of Kealia Pond just off Mokulele Highway.
KMVI soldiered on with its transmitter in Wailuku where The Maui News is published today. For some four decades, KMVI's signal was radiated by its original tower. Time and salty air finally spelled the end of that tower. A shorter, less-efficient but more economical tower was erected on the same spot.
A little technical stuff here. FM stations can get along with relatively small transmitting antenna. AM radio stations need tall towers for maximum coverage. The lower the frequency, the taller the tower needed. KMVI's signal from the new tower didn't reach as far as the old one.
Pacific Radio Group owns both stations. Some time ago, KMVI became an ESPN sports station. KNUI centered its programming on Hawaiian music.
"We'd lost coverage on KMVI," said Pacific Radio Group CEO Chuck Bergson. The sports programming on KMVI attracted more advertisers. "It made better business sense to increase the coverage of KMVI," Bergson said. So, last January, KMVI moved to 900 and KNUI went to 550.
There are three other Maui stations on the AM band: the Roman Catholic Church's new KCIK at 740, KAOI AM at 1110 and King's Cathedral's KUAU at 1570.
The first of 21 FM stations on Maui was KAOI. It began broadcasting in 1974. The other stations include seven nonprofit operations - three by Hawaii Public Radio, one by AKAKU: Maui Community Television, one by the Paia Youth Center, the KEFX Christian music station in Kihei, and Mana'o, which is off the air for the time being.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.