Sunday (May 22), 12pm doors / 12:30pm show, Events Lawn, MACC, $20 advance/$26 day of show (+ applicable fees)
Featuring SLAM with David Choy (12:30pm), Barry Flanagan (2:15pm), and Mana‘o Radio Air Force Band (3:30pm; with Vince Esquire, Bob Jones, Gail Swanson, Dr. Nat, Randall Rospond and more)
“Mana’o is a Hawaiian word which means thought, idea, opinion, theory, meaning, mind; to think, suppose, meditate, deem, consider. It is one of many non-English words used frequently in Hawai’i, often in the phrase sharing mana’o, or the exchange of thoughts, feelings, and expertise,” – manaoradio.com
Memories—especially about loved ones lost—are like precious orbs, floating in our mind’s eye like bubbles that boast kaleidoscope colors different from every angle.
Through music and more, the late Barry Shannon touched countless Maui lives, bequeathing many such prismatic remembrances; and his legacy—particularly through Mana‘o Radio—will continue to create and inspire.
But because I did not have the privilege of knowing Shannon personally—and have only recently had the chance to get to know his widow, the famed Kathy Collins—I don’t feel entitled to posthumously retell anything about a man who meant so much to so many.
That said, and with Shannon being the well-known Maui personality he was, I do feel some sense of having known him. As most know, nearly a decade ago, he and Collins co-founded the isle’s beloved Mana‘o Radio (KEAO-LP 91.5 FM)–a noncommercial, entirely community-supported, low-power FM station that’s mission is “to inform, educate, and entertain the Maui community with radio broadcasts of multicultural and community-related programming.”
So even if you’re like me, and did not know Shannon himself, Mana‘o has undoubtedly been a part of your Valley Isle life. This Sunday, the isle will celebrate Shannon’s memory with the fifth annual BarryFest, Mana‘o Radio’s major fundraising event that (as coincidence would have it) celebrates both Shannon’s life, and the anniversary of the legacy he left behind.
And so this week, over an early morning breakfast of fried egg sandwiches (with crispy bacon) at Wailuku’s Tasty Crust, Collins was kind enough to share with me a little sacred anamnesis of her husband. As with any story, I’m grateful to be privy to such insight. And as with any story, I may not get it all exactly right—and I certainly cannot get it all—but of my peek at those precious memories, these are the colors I glimpsed.
Here in Hawaii, Mother Nature’s topical benevolence masks the striking image of springtime renewal. Still, seasonal significance is not lost on us islanders, and Spring heralds the happiest, most hopeful crest of rejuvenating cycles.
“I like to say ‘re-birthday’ because it’s easier,” Kathy Collins says, of the anniversary of her late husband Barry Shannon’s passing. And coincidental timing notwithstanding, the couple’s story is wrapped in springtime re-vivication.
It was April 7, 2007 when Barry Shannon died–the day before Easter Sunday, and just weeks before he and his wife, Kathy Collins, were to host a huge fifth “Birthday Bash” fundraiser for Mana‘o Radio; the delightfully eccentric, community-driven, low-power FM station that was the fruition of their lifelong dreams.
“I guess because we’d both been in radio since our teens, [for each of us] it had been a dream of ours to have our own station eventually,” says Collins.
In 1984, Shannon and Collins first met and began collaborating on KHEI KVIB (now a part of the KAOI Radio Group), management having paired them as on-air co-hosts because of their complimentary talents and longtime experience in radio.
“We became really good friends through this experience,” says Collins, her iconic rasp patient and wistful. “We had a lot in common… and spent a lot of time off the air together. About a year later, we began courting.” Collins says the word “courting” with a demure bounce and bat of her long lashes that is at once both giddily girlish and womanly wise.
“We spent hours and hours late at night writing and recording parody commercials and news,” she says. “We’d record every show and comb through it, picking out the best ten seconds and compiling it. We used to have so much fun together doing that.”
At the time, their mutual dream of owning their own radio station still seemed like a pipe dream, and their more immediate goal was to “make it big on the Mainland” with their radio show. So the couple moved to California’s Bay Area “with no job, no money, no family.” It was an experience that Collins calls “challenging”—especially because she had to temporarily leave behind her then eight-year-old son from a previous marriage.
“We were so disappointed when (the Mainland) didn’t receive us the way we’d hoped,” Collins laughs, opening her arms in a way that seems to self-mock both dreamers’ warranted naivete and the ever-unknowable whims of circumstance.
It was, after all, a time of great flux for the country at large—on the rebound of deep recession in the early ‘80s and during
The couple returned feeling defeated but with renewed vigor for their commitment to their Maui community, and resumed various posts in local radio.
“Barry used to like to go to the (Haleakala) crater. It was like church for him,” says Collins. “He would go in for a week, get a cabin if he could, and camp. Oh, he loved it.”
While Collins cites how she and Shannon shared many similarities, she notes their key differences, too. While the crater may be Shannon’s church, Collins tells me with a wink, “if I have any time off, I prefer room service.”
And when I ask her what her church is, she says it’s probably dancing (she does tap and jazz several times a week with Judy Ridolfino, i.e. “Judy’s Gang”). Ironically, though Shannon was a Maui music stalwart, Collins says he did not like to dance; and in their time together danced but once, at Collins’s son’s wedding.
“Once, he finally talked me into going with him—and I’d never been inside the crater before,” Collins recalls. “It was Easter weekend… but the thing that was significant was that when we came out after five days, when we went home, there was a message on my machine that we’d been let go (from Pacific Radio Group).”
Though loosing their jobs, Collins says, “was nothing personal,” she says it was this experience that spurred Shannon to take a real look at their dream of opening their own radio station. What was once an impossibility now seemed more viable, as the FCC’s ’78 freeze on issuing licenses to rstations that operate with 100 watts or fewer appeared to be on the eve of reversal.
“At that point, he became obsessed with following the low power FM initiative; constantly monitoring the FCC sites, the news, trade publications,” says Collins. “He knew that if this FM thing ever happened would be the only way we would get our own radio station.”
Collins indicates that a lot of his early fire was in the spirit of anti-corporate anger. Indeed, low-power FM has been called by some as “the antidote to the modern radio industry.”
But in the years that followed The Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000—and Mana‘o Radio’s birth—Collins says the community camaraderie Shannon then experienced softened him the beautiful reality their realized dream had created. Suddenly, it was not just their dream, but everyone’s. “It really did change him,” she says.
“On his first ‘re-birthday’,” Collins says she packed four Tupperware containers with some of Shannon’s ashes, and took them to four, carefully chosen spots on the island—one sentimental locale for each cardinal direction. Smiling, as if with the taste of a kiss fresh off the lips, Collins says, “and I brought Hershey’s chocolate bars, with almond, smoked oysters with Ritz crackers, and a special trail mix that Barry would blend himself from Down to Earth.”
At each place, she says she would sit, meditate, cry, and snack on what was their favorite shared treats. And at each place she says she saw a spiritual sign.
Her first stop was in the North, at Sprecklesville, “among the sand dunes where we were married, and where we’d lived for seven years.” There, she saw a bright cardinal hopping amidst low branches and on stumps. But try as she did to photograph this flame-feathered friend, it was always just out of frame. She gave up, got back into her car, and just as she was about to leave the cardinal came fluttering back to rap its beak on her car window. Again, she tried to photograph it to no avail, and off it flew into the Paia morning.
“It was like it was teasing me!” Collins giggles, adding, “And if you knew Barry, you’d know he hated having his picture taken. So I knew, ‘Oh, that’s Barry.’”
Next, she drove East, to Shannon’s church, the crater; where on a still and cloudless day Collins says she watched a shimmering brume rise up from the crater floor, envelop her and disappear. And in the South, where she spread his ashes at Makena Landing, a very nearby honu (the first she says she’d seen in the wild) crested above the waves to look at her before dipping back into the blue.
As the day wound down, Collins says her final destination was Kahakuloa in the West. “It was getting dark, so I didn’t make it far… And it was windy. Now, this was my fourth Tupperware–and I’m not stupid–so I stood facing the wind, held up the container and let go.” Just then, she says the wind changed direction for just a moment. “Oh, I had Barry’s ashes all on my face and in my mouth! It was like he was saying, ‘OK, drama queen. Time to go home.’”
Collins says one day, she’d like to take some of his ashes to the Bay Area where they’d lived together, and where he’d also spent a lot of time in his early adulthood. “Little by little,” she says, “I’m letting him go.”
Like Collins, while we all have to let our loved ones lost go–little by little, in different places and ways—we never have to relinquish our heart’s cherished memories. And the new memories we can collaboratively create—particularly in honor of those memories—only add to the vibrancy with which we choose to recall them.
Over half of Mana‘o Radio’s volunteers are working musicians—many of whom will be performing at this year’s BarryFest—and who all share a passion for music over the air. Join them as they share their mana‘o and celebrate their love for a valuable community mouthpiece, and the life of the man who helped make it possible.