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Sharing Mana‘o

This coming Sunday, Mana’o Radio will celebrate its 18th birthday with a Mana’o Moon Party at the Altitude Deck in Kihei. March 8, 2020, is also the day my late husband, Barry Shannon, would have turned 80.

When Barry and I put Mana’o on the air as a noncommercial low power FM station, we didn’t expect it to last more than a couple of years. We just wanted a shot at doing creative, thoughtful radio, without the confinement of strict music formats; in fact, without confining ourselves to music alone. We envisioned a truly eclectic station, sharing mana’o through spoken word as well as song, and we invited a handful of fellow radio veterans — Bill Best, Scott Sherley, Michael McCartney, Kirk Hamilton, Daryl Scott — to join the fun.

In our first week on the air, we all delighted in playing music previously forbidden to us as mainstream disc jockeys, minions in an industry that adhered to the LOP (Least Objectionable Programming) principle. A few, like Barry, had enjoyed the creative freedom allowed at progressive stations like the legendary KMPX in San Francisco, but Mana’o offered even more opportunity for expression. Twelve-minute album cuts and obscure musical gems were mixed with poetry, stand-up comedy, even snippets from inspirational speeches. We broke all the rules of standard radio; no playlists, no prescribed format, no 30-second limit on talk between sets.

We didn’t advertise our debut. Building an audience hadn’t even entered our minds. But people not only discovered Mana’o Radio on their own; they embraced it. Barry and I were astounded by the response from listeners and aspiring participants. Our personal playground became the property of many, and it was a welcome, if unexpected, change. We moved the studio out of our spare bedroom and into Wailuku town, though the transmitter and antenna remained at our house.

As the station’s fifth anniversary approached, Barry and I agreed that we would spend the next five years taking it to the next level: full power and islandwide coverage from a new transmitter site. After that, he said, we should retire. Mana’o had grown far beyond the little mom-and-pop station we had envisioned, taking up more time and causing more pressure than we’d anticipated. Besides, Barry had other dreams to pursue, including the completion of his third novel.

Charley’s Restaurant was packed for our 5th Birthday Bash. Barry moved from table to table, happily recounting our baby’s history: how the two of us met while working in radio and how, 20 years later, we achieved our long-held dream of running our own station, never imagining that we’d have more than a couple hundred listeners, let alone 50-plus dedicated volunteers. He didn’t talk about the tremendous toll placed on his body and his heart; that night, his physical pain and emotional strain were washed away by the sheer glee of celebrating what we’d done and the excitement over what was to come.

Barry never picked up the pen again, nor did he live long enough to see the station graduate from its low power designation. Less than a month after that party, he succumbed to complications arising from heart disease and diabetes. He had poured everything he had into the station, ignoring common sense and doctors’ advice. He really did work himself to death, but it’s not as tragic as it sounds. As relentlessly as it drained his body, Mana’o Radio filled his soul. Barry died with no regrets, fiercely proud of what we had accomplished.

In 2013, thanks to the tireless efforts of a handful of volunteer staff and supporters, Mana’o Radio achieved full power status and became KMNO-FM 91.7. Shortly after that, I retired from the station, entrusting our baby to those longtime family members and a fresh, new crop of volunteers. I’ve watched from a distance as Mana’o has navigated its teen years, and I’m as pleased and proud as a Mommy Emeritus could be.

Happy 18th birthday, Mana’o Radio. Happy 80th, Barry. I’m grateful to have had both of you bless my life.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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