When I first walked into Akaku’s main reception area in Kahului, I had to blink a few times to adjust to the change in lights. I was wearing a button-down shirt, heels and black slacks, everyone inside was wearing flip-flops and T-shirts. As I introduced myself to a smiling receptionist, who I later learned was Tia, a portly man with a bounce in his step came charging out from behind a windowed door. I soon learned that he would be my boss: Jay April — a mercurial personality who had a great vision for establishing surer footing for a limping television station.
As soon as I started working there in 2007, Jay and I began strategizing on a campaign to square the TV station’s footing in its local community, on a state level, and even nationally among other community access TV stations. We focused our work — and rallied the staff — around three approaches to “make our channels look good”.
- Produce Content that Looks/Is Good. Akaku launched “The Maui Daily“. Show production was really in Jay’s and other people’s purview. My job was to build a drumbeat of awareness around the program — that it was a daily “community news show”.
I also worked with the team to shape stories around important events. There were a few moments requiring public activism where Akaku could shine — not only as a C-Span for airing public debates, but also as a news station for bringing opposing voices into the studio to frame the debate in context. Members of the public could have the opportunity to appear as polished as an elected politician on the soapbox.
- Branding. Right before I began working there, Akaku had just had a new logo designed. I made it my religion to make sure it appeared everywhere (and that the old logo would go the way of the caveman).
- Redefine the Concept of “Channels”. Akaku was more than just channels 52, 53 and 54 in Maui county homes. They were Maui residents’ channels — a social and cultural “green space”, as Jay often referred to them, for play and politics, experimentation and representation. My job was to identify and document the activities of the station in a newsworthy way, as well as to ensure that messages were broadcast in all channels besides Akaku’s three community access channels. Activities included:
- Print media outreach. Usually, this would be in the form of writing press releases. I also worked to develop relationships with the press when they (and we) were not under the squeeze of deadlines. We invited press to share their experiences with the community through media salons and such.
- Email newsletter communications, which involved email list cultivation and management.
- Website Development. With the threat of the television channels being shut down, we had to develop a way to ensure that people still had access to their right to free speech. Developing a website that reflected the vibrant and dynamic content that the community contributed to its channels was our main focus. This meant, one of my jobs was to keep up with the pace of content development, so there was always something new on the website. (Anybody who has managed a blog knows how tough that can be!)
- Build Stronger Relationships with Our Audiences. Whether you’re in television or in any other sector, relationship-building is an involved process of communication (the two-way kind). We did all sorts of things to develop and grow our relationships with all sorts of strategic audiences. I will write about another time.
For the next few years, I worked with Akaku on countless projects — as an in-house communications director, and also as a consultant. It’s thrilling to see how Akaku has grown from a dusty, side-road “vanity-TV” community channel, to a vibrant, digital “central park” for Maui’s communities to engage with each other.
I am proud to have had a hand in Akaku’s growth. I feel that in those years, I not only enjoyed the privilege of lending a professionalism to the organization, but I also learned how to wear flip-flops and T-shirts with style.