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Sharing Mana‘o

Tervehdys!

That’s how to say aloha in Finnish, according to my new friends, Timo and Ismo.

Timo and Ismo are DXers, hobbyists who look for and listen to far-flung AM radio stations around the world. Last month, they asked me to verify that they had received a signal from one of the KAOI Radio Group stations here on Maui. Their friendly email included a brief audio clip.

Sure enough, amid static and snippets of music, I heard my voice: “This is KEWE, Kahului, at 1240 AM and 97.9 FM,” followed by a Kula Hardware commercial. Timo and Ismo had captured our signal during a stay at the Aihkiniemi DXpedition Base in Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland.

DX, in radio parlance, means distance. To pick up distant radio broadcasts, DXers use specialized equipment such as the 14 long-wire antennas strung through the forest at Aihkiniemi, nearly 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Built in 2010 by enthusiast Mika Makelainen, Aihkiniemi is a well-known mecca for DXers who rent the facilities for a week at a time, year-round. You can take a virtual tour of the facilities with Mika at https://youtu.be/stlUxm3uSiA.

Like Timo and Ismo, I have a long-held passion for AM radio. I’m not a DXer in the true sense of the term, but I’ve done my share of long-distance listening.

When I was 11 years old, one of my prized possessions was a Hitachi transistor radio, about the same size as a Gideon Bible. On Sunday nights, way past my bedtime, I’d hide my radio under the sheets, plug in the single earphone and slowly turn the dial from one end of the AM band to the other. At 550 kHz, KMVI dominated the airwaves, but after they signed off at midnight, I could catch a few Honolulu stations. My favorites were KKUA at 690 and KIKI at 830.

The first time I ever heard a female DJ was on one of these nights, on KIKI. Her air name was Limu and she spoke the kind of pidgin that was acceptable for radio back then. Pidgin Lite, I guess. Small kine. She had a sassy sense of humor and I imagined a Hilo Hattie type auntie, holding her own among a bunch of long-haired, loud-mouthed young men.

Occasionally, I would hear unfamiliar voices, sometimes in Spanish. When I happened across one of these, I’d linger as long as the signal lasted, or until I fell asleep, listening for clues to the location of the mystery station. At first, I thought that my little Hitachi was some sort of magical receiver, picking up signals from the Twilight Zone. These chance encounters made my clandestine listening sessions even more thrilling. I later learned, probably from a science teacher, that this phenomenon was known as “skywave propagation.” After sunset, radical shifts in the ionosphere enable AM radio waves to travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles due to ionospheric reflection. I was, indeed, hearing broadcasts from California and Mexico.

It didn’t matter to me that my Hitachi was just a run-of-the-mill transistor radio; those Sunday night affairs still fascinated me. The seeds of my eventual career were planted then, under the covers and in my dreams.

I know, once again, I’ve dated myself by sharing these musings. I can hear my younger Facebook friends already: “OK, boomer.” In this brave new world, our children started kindergarten with greater technological skills and knowledge than we had upon graduation from high school.

I feel sorry for this TikTok generation; they’ll never be awed by skywave propagation or tickled by a “Tervehdys!” from fellow dinosaurs on the other side of the globe.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), 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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