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Paradise Found…

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I thought carefully about using a particular opening statement for this book I’m writing. I know its been used ad nauseum, but I’m sorry, there’s just no other way to set the scene…

It was a dark and stormy night. It was 2am Hawaiian Standard Time. I had just disembarked at Honolulu International Airport after a 12 hour, non-stop flight from Chicago. It was 8 degrees above zero and snowing when I got on the United Airlines Flight and when I got off,  it was a muggy 80 degrees and pouring down rain. Only it was unlike any downpour I’d ever seen.  So very alien and yet familiar. The smell of the air was different. The air felt different. The ambient sounds around me were different… This is how I began the rest of my life in Paradise. A tall, lanky 18 year old, far from home, setting on my luggage in the rain,  in the open air causeway of the Aloha Airlines lobby at  the inter island terminal. Wondering what to do next.

Come to find out my journey wasn’t quite finished. I had another 90 miles of ocean to cross. And here I was, a soggy haole teenager with 100 dollars worth of personal checks in my pocket and no way to finish the final leg. Being a naive smart-ass teenager finally on my own in a strange and distant land I was under the impression that I was where I was supposed to be. But according to a passing Taxi driver who I could barely understand,  lo and behold Maui was not a town on the island I was on, but a whole island in and unto its self.

So with pride swallowed, I proceeded to call my new boss at 3 o’clock in the morning to ask a favor, one of what would the first of many. To my surprise, she didn’t send me packing back to Michigan, but with groggy voice gave me her credit card number so I could finish my flight to Maui. I couldn’t believe how trusting and kind she was over the phone other than to think that I must have given her quite a story to tell at the place where I was to begin my career in broadcasting. The Aloha Flight wouldn’t be taking off until 6:30am so I got about to waiting, three hours to go sitting on my luggage in the pouring down rain. It was December 1st, 1967.

Now that I think of it 42 years later, I believe she thought the story was so worth the telling she even put me up at a hotel until I could find a place to live on a more permanent basis. I hadn’t really given much thought to where I would be staying when I got there and I felt stupid when she asked me where I would be spending the next few days. I wound up in a musty smelling room with a bed and a bathroom at The Maui Beach Hotel for 8 dollars and 65 cents a night.  It took me a week to find an a decent place to call home. One of the stafffers by the name of  Richard Graham was charitable enough to rent one of the bedrooms in a place he was staying at.  It was an older plantation style house located on Halama Street, a shady narrow lane 50 feet from the beach in a sleepy, dusty little town called Kihei.  My rent was 50 dollars a month.

So it came to pass.  I began a 20 year stint at KMVI AM starting at a whopping $2.95 an hour.

I was an impetuous, full of myself teen, recently sprung from a highly dysfunctional family and I barely remembered to thank her the next morning when I wandered into her office, having not slept since I left my dad standing on the tarmac at the Lansing Metro Airport just 28 hours hence.  I never looked back.

Chapter Two…

My first days, weeks, months on the island are very much a blur. My official reason for this is age. I believe I waited too long to write all this stuff down. However, I fear the real reason for the “fuzziness” was that my brain at the time was being subjected to all the rebellious things teenagers did back in that summer of love. Not all of them legal.

The population of the entire island in the late sixties was nearing 30,000 souls.  It was still a community, albeit a large one, where everyone knew everyone else in some way shape or form. It was very much like a microcosm of the mainland, except our east coast was Hana, not New York, our west coast was Lahaina/Kaanapali and not L.A.  My new home had everything my old home had and so much more. I loved the fact that you could either freeze to death at 10,000 feet at the summit of Mount Haleakala or cook in the sweltering heat of Makena . You could enjoy the fall-like temporate climate of upcountry Kula or explore the rain forests of Wainapanapa, and all of this within a few hours drive of wherever you decided to hang your hat. This was the age of  enlightenment for me: 1967 to 1972. An era during which I discovered sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The friends I made during this time were some of the best I’ve ever had. Unselfish, caring friends who all grew up in this sleepy island community and who accepted me sight unseen. Certainly  most of the population remianed suspious of me like they did every newcomer. Here, you had to prove your worth by being subjected to a certain “reverse discrimination”. You were accepted into the community only after you endured a few years of this without turning tail and running back to where you came from. I believe now, that this process was used to determine whether you would  become a contributor to the community or just another “pain-in-the-ass” malahini. I passed this test of fire although it was by the skin of my teeth and to this day, I am so very grateful.

My very first friend, Richard Graham made sure I saw all of the high points of the island. He wanted to aclimatize me so I’d “be more believable on the air”. I admit, this new land was entirely alien to me. Not even close to what my preconceptions were before I arrived. He drove me everywhere, pointing out the sights and giving me a general education about the culture. He made me practice the language by reading road signs as we drove along. He made sure I had a decent place to live during my first few years on Maui. He worked as KMVI’s afternoon drive guy and who I followed on the air every weekday at 6PM back in 1967.

Did I say he was my first friend? Well, now that I think about it, he was  maybe a close second. I might list Nora I. Cooper as my first friend. That’s the lady I mentioned in chapter one. The one who didn’t bat an eye lash at my geographical folly at the airport. In fact, the clearest memory I have of this time period was the day I walked into her office on my first official day of duty. I was 6 feet 3 inches tall and a skinny 168 pounds, bursting with ego and impetuous as all holy hell. There were no chairs in her small office so I stood there smiling my best mischiveous teenager smile. Back then, you were required to indicate your religion on the application for employment and I, having just run away from a wedding to a Jewish high school sweetheart, wrote down Judaism, even though I had never finished the conversion process. You see, according to my parents, I was an upstanding  Christian boy. I hated labels even then.

In those days all the DJ’s on KMVI had nicknames. There was J. Akuhead Pupule, (Hal Lewis) in the morning drive, The Riddle King (McAvoy Lane), Crusty ol’ (Bob Frost), Da Carrabao (Rick Medina), El Gecko/Uncle Cliffy (Cliff Arquette) and Poor Richard (Dick Graham). She looked down at my application, then looked up at me and said: “You’re a little tall for a Jewish kid aren’t you? I think we’ll call you “Little David”. Ha Ha. It stuck. I was part of the team.

To this day I have kept the initials “LD” as part of my radio stage name in deference to the person who really became more of a second mother to me than a boss. from that day on and  for many years after, Little David  became king of night time radio on Maui. ( In all fairness however, there wasn’t much else in the line of entertainment for Maui’s Youth after 9PM anyway. So I guess you could say I was king by default.)

Of course in those days, radio was a much different thing than it is today. Due to the size of the market and its geography, KMVI took on an additional role as well as being the presenter of news, sports, and music.  On Maui, radio was more than just entertainment and news. It actually formed the function of bringing the island community together. Radio was the community’s hub, where folks got their town gossip, news from the outside world, ocean conditions for the fishermen, agricultural news for the farmers and language programs for the different ethnic groups who made up the community itself.

I remember having to read paid segments from both of the islands funeral homes… a five minute obituary report of who died, when the services were to be held, who they were survived by and which cemetary the burial would take place. Bulgo’s Mortuary and Norman’s  Mortuary I believe they were called.  I also prided myself in finding many a lost pet. It was an amazingly satisfying feeling to get that tearful thank you call from a listener recently reunited with their little furry friend as a direct result of the announcement of the missing animal over the air.

Back then it wasn’t unusual to have to ‘ad lib’ a 60 second supermarket ad right out of the Maui news, complete with the sound of the paper rattling in the background. And I wonder who will remember “Dialing For Dollars”… a call-in contest where the listener got an opportunity to answer three decreasingly difficult questions, with a dollar “disappearing” with every wrong answer. The contestant started out with three dollars and while not too many listeners were able to answer the first question, most were able to get the last one correct and were thrilled to receive the one dollar bill. However the biggest thrill for the listener obviously, was talking to the D.J. on the air. That, I believe, was the biggest prize of all. The money was never the reason for the interest in the contest, it was an early version of American Idol on a super small basis. The listener was a radio star for three minutes. They loved it!

KMVI at 550khz on the dial, was one of only two stations serving Maui County during this era. The other station, KNUI was operating on 1310khz at the time and needless to say the competition was intense. The rivalry between the two stations was a beautiful thing to someone like me, who loved to compete, who craved to be compared favorably to the other guy who was on the air opposite me in my time slot. No matter who he was or what kind of person he was, he was the enemy and I went after him with a vengence.  Those days in the ‘backwater’ as I called it, we had no ratings services. There was no Arbitron or Neilson to tell us who was number one. But even then good ratings was everything. It made selling ads on the station easier if we could prove somehow that we had the highest number of listeners. So we made due with our own research methods which admittedly were very quaint, but just as accurate.

I remember getting out of my 1967 volkswagen in the parking lot of the Kahului Shopping Center (the only other shopping center at the time was the Lahaina Shopping Center) with my clip board and walking down the rows of cars, peaking into the windows and jotting down which side of the dial the radio was set on. KMVI operated on a frequency of 550khz and was on the left side of the analog tuning dial, KNUI at 1310khz was on the right.  As long as there were more check marks in the KMVI column we were happy. And I am very proud to say back then, the KMVI column was indeed the longest one on any given day in any given parking lot.

Chapter Three

These earliest days of my new life on Maui happened during a time of much confusion for me. I had, for all practical purposes, run away from home. I was trying to get as far away from all of the hypocrisy and bigotry I had discovered going on around me as I could, while under the impression that the world was being guided by God’s hands. My folks were beginning a long and nasty divorce and I was being exposed to things I wanted no part of.  So, when I chose the market I wanted to be placed in when I graduated from Broadcasting School, I chose the furthest place on the planet I could go and still remain in the United States- Hawaii.

I wanted to get as far away from Michigan as I could and I had always fantasized as a kid about  having adventures in exotic, faraway places. In fact, the theme of one of my favorite TV shows as a teenagerwas called “Adventures In Paradise”. All those National Geographic Magazines in the Dentist and Doctor’s wating rooms had a heavy influence my decision as well. I was looking for a place where race wasn’t an issue, where everyone lived together in harmony. Where all those things I learned in Sunday School were practiced and not just preached.

I figured since Hawaii was supposed to be the “melting pot” of America, there I might find my dreams come true. There, people of many cultures lived next to each other, you never heard of any race riots or hate crimes and families stayed together. I decided I wanted to be a part of this community. There,  I would find palm trees blowing in the trade winds, white sandy beaches and perhaps the love of my life. Well, I did find most all of that. The rest is a mixture of bliss and disappointment.

(I will be constantly adding to and upgrading this post for quite some time. Please feel free to check in often and add your comments and maybe some of your own memories of this time. Mahalo!)

I am adding this at the request of a friend of mine. It was a comment to a news post he posted on Facebook about how tourism is killing Maui. It is also as possible ending paragraph to this book I am trying to write about my life’s experience on Maui as a popular radio personality during the late 60’s to the present day. This was my comment (slightly re-written):

With the way things are going in the Western hemisphere these days with all of the political turmoil and the added pressure of impending doom from what scientists have named climate change, I’m afraid too many people are (frantically?) searching for “Shangrala”.(sp?) When I got off the plane here in the islands back in 1967 there was a gentle rain, the air smelled “different”… alien-like. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. (More accurately Michigan- but I needed Kansas for effect.) It was so overwhelmingly strange and wonderful, I was hooked. I was sensing something dramatically different, that I could more than see, I could smell it, taste it, feel it all around me,   I knew right then and there that I was finally home. I knew that I would never be able to leave… Now? 50 some years later? I can’t tell the difference between here and San Diego. The people are looking for what I was looking for: paradise… but they won’t find it here anymore. It’s gone. But what I remember will stay with me until the very end. That will have to do.

Written by ldreynolds

October 26, 2009 at 6:01 am

Posted in General

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