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For this month’s community media profile, we’re hearing from Annie Byrne, Volunteer Coordinator (and so much more) at Mana’o Radio on Maui.

Annie presented for an NFCB webinar last fall KMNO’s role in emergency preparedness and disaster response after the wild fires in Lahaina. Read on to learn all about Annie and KMNO.

An excerpt of this interview was featured in our February 2024 Newsletter. Not subscribed? Click here for monthly doses of community radio inspiration.

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Serah Mead, Director of Member Engagement: Tell us your official title, and then please share with us all of the hats you wear at KMNO.

Annie Byrne: My official title is Volunteer Coordinator. I also serve on the Board at Mana’o Radio.  

We are an all-volunteer organization so every thing we do gets done by our volunteers. And we do a whole lot — on and off the air.  So my job is to match people’s skills and interests with jobs that need doing.  It might be something operational, like the Quarterly Issues & Programs Lists, or a one-time thing like taking tickets at our live music events, or even helping put in a new floor at the studio.  It takes all kinds of people to cover the breadth of stuff we’re involved with at the station. Luckily, we have 80+ volunteers including our 60 DJs.  And all of them agree to help out behind-the-scenes in addition to doing their shows, so that’s a big talent pool.

In a nutshell, my job is to connect people with projects.  But it’s also to connect our people with each other.  Because being part of a community is a big draw for volunteers.  And there aren’t that many natural opportunities to mix it up with fellow volunteers at a radio station, especially since Covid brought so much of the behind-the-scenes work of the station online. 

So we’re always in search of ways to facilitate communication and camaraderie among our people.  A good example was a group photo we did last Fall.  We had a terrific turnout — and one of our volunteers is a professional photographer, so he organized it and took the pictures!

Staff, volunteers, and a dog at Mana’o Radio! Photo by Ely Spivack.

SM: Your station recently went through a major effort in response to the fire at Lahaina. When you reflect on that time, what sticks out in your mind about your station and community? 

AB: That was such an intense, surreal time. It still feels so fresh in so many people’s minds here on Maui…  

Most of all, I’m just incredibly proud to be part of an organization that instantly–I mean within hours of the news breaking–put all kinds of systems in place to help our community come together, find resources, provide assistance, and heal itself.  

In addition to all the practical stuff we built into our broadcasts, every one of our DJs shared their hearts and souls in their shows during those first days and weeks after the fires. Honestly, more than once, I cried when I tuned in, because of a song choice or something a DJ shared, and because the whole situation was so dire for so many people for so long. That’s powerful stuff. To create a space for people to find information, sure, but also solace and a deep emotional connection with each other when they need it most.

During the crisis, we used music to do just that… to give our hurting, traumatized community a sense of togetherness and strength, and in many cases, a little bit of normalcy. We heard from so many listeners that that meant everything to them. We were voted Best Radio Station on the island last summer.  But what we did in the wake of the wildfires really confirmed that status.

All of us involved in community radio know what we do is important, and that our listeners dig our stations. But I’ll tell you this, never is it more apparent how powerful and how vital community radio is than in an emergency. 

For me personally, I’m so very thankful I had such a direct and impactful way to help my island ‘ohana (family) during a time of true need.

SM: What’s the best advice you have gotten up to this point?

AB: That’s easy: Keep it simple.  This is something our President, Michael Elam, says. It resonates with me because I often determine the scope of projects around the station.  And it’s always tempting to dream huge, fantastic dreams, right? But nonprofit organizations–especially all-volunteer ones–have limited resources (time, money, equipment, but most of all, people). So you have to figure out ways to make things happen despite the limitations. It takes vision and discipline to simplify, but simplifying is often the best solution given limited resources.

SM: What sets KMNO apart from other community organizations on Maui or in Hawaii in General What do you love about KMNO?

AB: There are all kinds of great nonprofit organizations on the island. But what makes us unique is that music is at the heart of all we do. And as everyone knows, music is cool! So I guess I’d say what sets KMNO apart is that this is where the cool kids hang out. As an inveterate nerd this is pretty much my wildest dream: to get to work with all these cool, quirky, talented people to bring the power of music to our listening community.

SM: Mana’o Radio is all volunteer, including management and engineering. As it says on your website “‘AVO’ is a very cool thing!” Can you share some insights on what keeps you inspired to volunteer your time and expertise? What are the things that keep you going when days get long?

AB: The leadership at the station plays a huge role in my decision to invest often 10 – 20 hours a week in Mana’o Radio activities. In addition to the station’s President, Michael Elam, who is just as adept at big picture strategic planning as he is at on-the-ground execution, there’s Alan Sheps who vets, trains and manages our DJs. Alan is a legend at Mana’o Radio. He sets the standard of excellence for our broadcast content, so he’s a huge inspiration to me.  Also our Chief Engineer, John Bruce is someone without whom this station would not be operating at the incredibly high level it does.  

We are so fortunate to have all of these talented people, and so many others who are truly dedicated to the station. But why do all of us do what we do? Because we believe in the central mission of the station, to bring people together in a shared love of music.

Music is unique in popular culture in its ability to act as a big tent, inviting any and all to experience its power. Music unites.  Music energizes and empowers and inspires, and it soothes and calms and comforts. To quote the great Stevie Wonder, music is a world within itself, and a language we all understand. And it is most definitely the glue that bonds the people of our station together, through thick and thin, in good times and bad. 

SM: What excites you most about community radio right now?

AB: The fact that so many young people listen to community radio is a true sign of its vitality and staying power.  

What I love about it versus other media is how it captures the individuality of a local community, an actual physical place, with all its quirks and charms.  And for a place as special as Maui, that’s a super power of our station. At Mana’o Radio, we do capture the vibes of this beautiful, optimistic, vibrant island. And in real time! Right here, right now, on 91.7FM and streaming worldwide online.

SM: In your view – what is on the horizon for community radio stations like KMNO? 

AB: For us the next frontier is to expand our listener base through our mobile app.  Maui has a population of around 160k.  And being an island, there’s not much room for terrestrial listener growth.  But of course, Maui is known and loved the world over.  So our app is a way for people with a connection to our island to stay tuned in to its energy and spirit.  

This year we’re promoting the app to two groups in particular.  The first is folks on other Hawaiian islands.  After all, we’re a local homegrown station and Hawaii’s music communities are very inter-connected. So far it’s working pretty well. Honolulu (on Oahu) is the number one city for downloads of our app!  The other group we’re targeting are visitors to the island, before, during and after their trips.  And there are literally millions of them, so that bodes well too.

All in all, we have big things in sight for the coming year.  And in March we’ll be celebrating our 22nd year on the air.  

Here’s to the next 22 years!