Maui’s KPOA radio station at 93.5 FM supports Native Hawaiian issues and culture while also trying to appeal to a broader audience, a mission it looks to continue under new program director Shane Kahalehau.
Kahalehau, a 20-plus-year veteran KPOA deejay, was promoted to the position last year, but the move was announced only last month by Pacific Media Group, which operates 12 radio stations across four islands and news organizations Maui Now and Big Island Now.
As program director, he helps direct the station’s “personality,” including picking the music to be played and deciding how hosts should go about discussing certain issues.
Promoting the Kahului- based station to a wide- ranging audience while ensuring Hawaiian culture is front and center in its programming can sometimes be a difficult task. This is especially true now, as the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea has become a focal point for discussing Native Hawaiians rights and long-standing grievances.
KPOA’s on-air talent has not shied away from taking sides.
“The Mauna Kea thing, we support,” said Kahalehau, 46. “We as Native Hawaiians, we know what is right, what is lawfully right.”
The stance is likely not surprising to regular KPOA listeners. Kahalehau, along with Napua Greig — a kumu hula, schoolteacher and award- winning recording artist — host the station’s 6 a.m. show “Maui Morning Rise,” when they regularly discuss their support for TMT opponents in between traffic and weather reports and music that ranges from contemporary island tunes and reggae to traditional Hawaiian songs.
Greig was even sent to Mauna Kea early in the conflict to report from the mountain base camp where the “protectors” are assembled.
“What I see here is a thriving, invigorating and truly, truly inspiring community starting here,” Greig said in an Aug. 8 video from Mauna Kea. “It truly shows us the potential of our lahui if we are allowed to just be.”
Still, Kahalehau said he understands the role of KPOA — which he says is the only Maui station playing Hawaiian-language music — is to serve the community as a whole.
“We spread ourselves evenly and fairly amongst the whole community to be accessible to what we have, because we are a service to a community, being a radio station,” he said. “We might have our opinions, but we’re really good about what we do as far as being fair.”
He said the bulk of KPOA’s listeners comprise blue-collar, middle-class workers.
Kahalehau also said the station’s goal is to avoid having its on-air personalities preach their opinions and to let the music speak for itself. For example, he cited the song “Kaulana na Pua,” translated as “Famous Are the Flowers (Children).” The rebellion song was written by Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast shortly after the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani in 1893.
“We’ve been playing sovereignty music … since the inception of KPOA,” he said. “We’ve been playing these songs of our nation for a long time. … I have them on regular rotation!”
Kahalehau said the Mauna Kea controversy is inspiring a new wave of resistance music.
“The younger artists that come up in the Hawaiian music genre — brah, they’re freakin’ amazing,” he said. “A lot of them went back to learn their language.”
The radio station, which launched in 1984, also can be heard outside its broadcast area thanks to livestreaming hosted on its website.