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Kathy Collins – Mauian Shines on Radio, Stage & in Print

April 24, 2012, 5:27 PM HST · Updated April 25, 5:47 AM
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By Susan Halas

Kathy Collins. Photo by Susan Halas.

“Even though a lot of people will say radio is dead or dying you’d be surprised how big a role it plays in people’s lives. Radio is immediate, it’s instant, and at the local level it joins us all together.”

That’s Kathy Collins speaking. The multi-talented entertainer and radio personality has been a fixture on the Hawaii media scene since the mid 1970s. Her husky voice is instantly identifiable by generations of Mauians.

Collins was born Chicago in 1957 while her dad Nelson Yogi was in dental school. The family moved to Maui when Collins was 2. Here she attended local schools and graduated from Baldwin in 1974.

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Her original goal was to act, but as she puts it ruefully, “There weren’t very many roles for short Asian women,” so radio became the vehicle for her voice and talents.

First Job at KMVI in 1975

She was still a teenager, with only a short course in broadcasting under her belt when she walked into the offices of the KMVI radio in 1975 and was hired as part-time announcer on the graveyard shift. She met first husband Jim Collins and at the station. Though the marriage was short-lived, the couple had one son, Jimmy, now 34.

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Relocating to Oahu, Collins worked for KITV as a news reporter and weekend anchor and soon married her fellow worker and second husband Kelly Dean.

By 1982 the couple had separated and she was back on Maui and back to radio.  She teamed up with Barry Shannon at KHEI radio and the pair clicked. “We began living together in 1984 and married in 1989,” Collins recalled. “The more we worked together the more we dreamed of our own station.”

Starting Their Own Station – Manao Radio is Born

The reasons for that dream were readily apparent. Collins ticked off some of the many changes that hit radio broadcasting in the 1980s including the automated programming, the end to live on-air personalities and the increasingly bland corporate identity of most stations.  To them it added up to the need for something “smaller, more personal and more local.”

manao radio logo

Manao Radio recently celebrated 10 years on the air. Courtesy logo.

“Barry kept tabs on the FCC where new rules allowing low-power FM intrigued him,” she said. That became a reality in the Clinton years and in 2002 Manao Radio (91.5 FM)  headquartered in Wailuku was born. The all-volunteer commercial-free station has had remarkable success and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.

“It’s all live, still going, and I’m still the ‘mommy,’” was the way she put it. “But the reality is “it’s a constant struggle to raise the thousands of dollars a month it costs to keep it on the air.”

She’s a County Worker

What many people don’t know about Kathy Collins is despite her extraordinary talent and versatility, it’s her day job with the County of Maui as a program specialist in senior services for the Department of Human Concerns, that pays the bills. She’s been in that role in one form or another since 1986, and just recently returned to a full-time position.

Tita – The Pidgin Speaking Wahine

One thing that Collins  created in recent years that’s taken on a life of its own is Tita, her popular pidgin-speaking character. The tough talking local wahine tells stories, spouts wisdom, and has earned Collins a growing reputation for stand-up comedy.

Tita started as a two minute a day radio spot, Collins recalled. She gave advice, she cracked jokes. Tita’s rendition of the “Night Before Christmas” in pidgin became a surprise radio hit. Tita also took a role in Chicken Skin Theater, a ghost story telling event, and kept on going from there.

By 2002 Collins as Tita was a regular on the story-telling circuit. Her solo CD TITA OUT was named 2005 comedy record of the year. In 2010 she performed live at Lincoln Center in New York City. The enjoyable CD is filled with stories told entirely in pidgin. Those who would like to order a copy can contact Collins direct at [email protected] cost is $20 including shipping.

For all of the recognition the character has received, Collins thinks, “Tita is fun but I don’t want to make her my main focus or commitment.”

Comedy Death Jam

A big change in Collin’s life came in April 2007 when husband Shannon died.

She grieved, but she also used the experience as the basis for a one-woman-show performed at the MACC in January of 2009. The production titled “Comedy Death Jam” showcased her own riffs on death and dying. It also featured with other local entertainers including Steve Grimes, Willie K and Eric Gilliom.  Though not everyone could find humor in the passing of a loved one, Collins and friends handled it with taste and humor right down to sex tips for widows. The show played to a sell-out crowd.

“The News Business Has Disappointed Me”

Reflecting on her career to date Collins commented, “The news business in general has disappointed me. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I miss the days when reporting was factual and you could clearly tell the difference between news and opinion.”

Radio is still a constant for Kathy Collins, but a weekly column for The Maui News started last year and rapidly gained a popular following. She also hints that more one-woman shows may be in the works.

Even though there still aren’t a lot of roles for little Japanese women who love the sound of the spoken word, Collins’ fans are confident she’ll invent a way to wrap local culture, pidgin, dance, storytelling, radio and old fashioned fun all into one delicious package.

A Few Audio Clips for Your Enjoyment

For a short sample of her work try her take on Barack Obama-one hapa president.

To hear an long audio interview with Kathy Collins on the art of  storytelling, click here. This is a big file and takes a while to load.

 

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