For 20 years, the disc jockeys of Maui’s non-profit radio station, Mana’o Radio, have created what is known as “Mana’o Moments.”
When the content is so captivating, people sit in their vehicles and keep listening even though they’ve been parked in the driveway for half an hour, that’s a Mana’o moment. Another version is when drivers are so captivated by the music they hear that they have to stop to give it their full attention.
The eclectic nature of Mana’o Radio means that these listeners could have listened to anything from classic rock to bagpipes, intimate gigs with local musicians to spoken word.
Three days a week, it’s DJ Bill Best’s turn to captivate the ears and the imagination on KMNO, 91.7 FM. Alone in the Wailuku studio, Best weaves his shows as they go, often taking a word or theme and stringing songs and comedy bits together to create a cohesive whole. On Wednesday, Best showed just how eclectic Mana’o can be by performing a half-hour parody of the Firesign Theater from 1969. The radio melodrama doesn’t get much airplay on other stations nationwide.
“I like to do it on the fly because I think I get my best ideas,” Better said after recording a CD on Wednesday. “Letting DJs play whatever music they want, imagine that. I like playing music that caught my ear.
Best has been with Mana’o Radio since before it started as a low-powered FM station in 2002. He and fellow DJ, Michael McCartney, are the only two to be with the station from the start. At that time, DJs operated out of a studio built in the back bedroom of founders Barry Shannon and Kathy Collins’ Waiehu Terrace home. Best says he remembers tiptoeing into the studio to start morning shifts.
“I love Bill Best” said Collins. “Bill’s show exemplifies what Barry and I envisioned for Mana’o. From the start, Barry said, ‘This can’t be like a typical college radio station or community station.’ eclectic throughout the day. Barry and I really wanted the listener to tune in at any time of the day and be surprised, delighted and informed. Bill’s show has always done that. Bill has that way magic of tying it all together.
Collins, who moved away from Mana’o about nine years ago, says she and her husband didn’t expect the small listener-supported station to last.
“We thought we might have a few hundred listeners, but we really wanted to do radio without being tied down by corporate interests,” said Collins. “We wanted to be as far from the Top 40 as possible.”
She and Shannon found it hard to believe when the station’s fifth anniversary rolled around. Their baby was still going strong. In a twist of fate, Shannon died soon after.
“I know he would be proud that our little project has become such a part of the community and has lasted for so long,” she says. “We didn’t expect it to last more than two years.”
Best, who also does a weekly live talk show with his wife, Bobbie Best, on KAKU titled, “Off the Record with Bill and Bobbie,” says radio is in his blood.
“I feel stupid playing music when the world is in such a bad shape”, he said. “I wonder if there’s anything better I can do?” I don’t know anything else. That’s what I do. I know it helps people. I know music has helped people through the pandemic.
With over 40 volunteer DJs spinning tunes of their choice, the station covers a wide range of tastes, styles and genres.
“It’s always an adventure on Mana’o Radio,” said Bill Best. “Jazz, Irish, Blues, Reggae, Hawaiian, if you want to play bagpipe music, we are your station that will play bagpipe music. There are the Hula Honeys, joking around as they each choose the songs they like. Phat Tony does more comedy than all the other DJs combined.
The Hula Honeys, good pals Robyn Kneubuhl and Ginger Johnson, have been brightening up Friday afternoons on Mana’o for years. Taking turns playing songs, their friendship shines through as they joke and laugh, share stories and host their weekly word meaning quiz.
Mana’o’s current chairman and director of development, Michael Elam, says the resort’s eclecticism is his “strength” and “calling card.”
“DJs are passionate about the music they play and I think that passion shows up in a big way,” said Elam. “He creates strong bonds with the listeners. We are a community radio. All of our DJs are members of the Maui community. We have over 40 and they and they alone are their program directors. There is no edict from above telling them what to play.
Mana’o Radio’s first broadcast began at 6 a.m. on March 11, 2002. The first fundraising celebration to honor the 20th anniversary of this moment, Mana’o Radio’s 20th Anniversary Roaring Twenties Masquerade Ball , scheduled for Saturday night at Mulligan’s on the Blue , is sold out. Elam says the station plans to have “three or four” other live fundraising events later this year.
All-volunteer Mana’o Radio has grown from a low-power FM station broadcasting from a back bedroom to a full-power station listened to worldwide on the Internet. To learn more about the station, including how to donate and volunteer, visit manaoradio.com.
* Matthew Thayer can be contacted at [email protected]