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Sharing Mana‘o

Six months ago, at the start of Maui County’s COVID-19 public health emergency rules, I let an important anniversary slip by, and I only realized it last week.

On March 15, 1975, I did my first radio show, the graveyard shift at KMVI. I was 17, extremely nervous, and virtually tongue-tied. My father, already disappointed with my decision to forego college, was bewildered by my choice of career. But when I arrived home after my six-hour maiden voyage on-air, he was sitting bleary-eyed in the living room, transistor radio at his side. He had stayed up all night to listen to my show. With the diplomacy and kindness only a parent could muster, he told me I’d done well.

Those first few years at KMVI were as idyllic as my 1960s childhood on Maui. Even on a tiny island, with just three stations, radio was a dynamic, exciting, cutting-edge industry. Whether informing, educating, or entertaining, we were passionately committed to serving our community. Except for Dr. Stuart McBirnie’s “Voice of Americanism” and Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40,” KMVI’s programming was all locally produced and broadcast live.

My first husband, Jim Collins, and I were especially proud of the political satires we occasionally produced. My favorite was a parody of The Three Little Pigs, featuring several County Council and mayoral candidates of the day. Practical Pig Elmer emerged the winner, thanks to the nine-story concrete “house” he’d built on High Street.

Over a dozen years (and two husbands) later, Barry Shannon and I enjoyed a brief but highly productive stint at KLHI (FM 101) in Lahaina. For three months or so, we wrote and produced a daily three-minute soap opera, “Tales of the Lahaina Triangle,” where boats, planes, but mostly luggage, mysteriously disappeared. The saga was set in the Mahalo Lounge of the Hale Haole Hotel, where bartender Kimo Therapy and cocktail waitress Polly Tunnel served a constant parade of celebrity visitors. The HHH was owned by Japanese tycoon Teppan Yaki, who spoke only in vowels and extended grunts. His daughters, Terry and Sookie, just giggled a lot.

Every day, after our morning show, Barry and I would write the next day’s episode over breakfast, then return to the station to record it. Fortunately, the advertising staff included a talented voice actor who could impersonate every one of the guests we wrote into the show, from Elvis to Idi Amin. Barry and I voiced the regular characters; in fact, my storytelling alter ego Tita is a friendlier version of Polly Tunnel.

By 1990, Kimo, Polly and the rest of the gang disappeared into the Lahaina Triangle vortex. Barry and I moved on to KNUI for a while, and we came up with little features for Tita: Believe It Or What?! (local trivia), Tita Cooks (ridiculous recipes, usually featuring Spam and li hing mui), Ask Tita (even more ridiculous advice), Chicken Skin Theatre (spooky stories), and Tita Out! (my weekly opportunity to vent about anything and everything).

Today, many people say radio, as we knew it, is dead. I disagree; in fact, from where I stand, I’m witnessing the rebirth of elaborately creative, locally produced comedy on the airwaves. Hawaii radio legend and Na Hoku Award-winning comedian Frank B. Shaner is back in the biz, doing the morning show on KEWE (The Spirit) 97.9 FM and 1240 AM.

With his crazy cast of characters, Frankie B. has me turning on my radio, instead of TV news, first thing every morning. Starting my day with laughter and Hawaiian music improved my mood so much, I asked for — and got — the afternoon shift on The Spirit, in addition to my midday show on our sister station, The Buzz.

Last week, when I ran into Frank at the station, I shared this favorite radio memory with him. I was a loyal KKUA listener in the early 1970s; Michael W. Perry was the morning man, Lou Richards did afternoons, and they carried on a friendly rivalry. As was standard in those days, each jock had his own jingle, a chorus of happy voices harmonizing his name. One morning, the chorus sang “Michael (pause) Perrrryyy!”

“What happened to my W?” Perry spent the rest of his show asking for help in locating the missing W, replaying the jingle to no avail. That afternoon, Richards’ show began with a peppy new jingle: “Lou W W W W Richarrrrddddsss!” I was enchanted. That may have been the moment I decided to make radio my career.

I gave Frank a heads up. One of these days, Tita might steal his B.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.

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