Story by Rita Goldman | Photography by Barry Frankel & John Giordani
There’s a promontory on Maui’s north shore, between Ho‘okipa Beach Park and Maliko Gulch, where a small concrete structure looks out to sea. A few cattle graze in the surrounding pasture, and fishermen occasionally shortcut through it on their way to the ocean. But mostly, the site is abandoned.
Folks who regularly drive Hana Highway watch for that structure, because every week or two, somebody repaints it. The skill of the muralists varies widely, as does the subject matter, from illustrations to political statements, birthday greetings to memorials, and the occasional rude comment that happily never lasts long. That blockhouse has become a concrete social media site — an ad hoc billboard on an island that doesn’t allow them.
Technically, the only people authorized to use the blockhouse are members of the Maui Amateur Radio Club, and they only do so during Field Day, says club president Tom Worthington.
“Field Day is sponsored by the Amateur Radio Relay League, the organization for radio clubs in the U.S. The last full weekend in June, clubs and individuals set up stations and make as many contacts with other stations as they can. We set up radios at the blockhouse Friday night and operate Saturday and Sunday. This year we made about 3,200 contacts!”
Why this site? Tradition, says Worthington. “The Navy used it during World War II as a radio station to communicate with the mainland. The equipment was in the blockhouse. A Quonset hut on the concrete pad was the barracks for the operators.
“The Maui Amateur Radio Club has been using the site since at least the mid-1950s. Our institutional memory only goes back that far. It’s close to water, which is good for radio propagation, and far from power lines, so there’s low noise.” And there’s room for public participation; on Field Day, the site is open to everyone.
The rest of the year, the club meets monthly “to talk about geeky stuff,” says Worthington. And because ham-radio operators can often stay in touch when other forms of communication go down, the club maintains a couple of radios in the county building’s basement emergency center. “If the center is opened, one of our members will go and offer backup services.”
Club members also paint the blockhouse during Field Day, and clean up inside and out. The rest of the year . . . well, you have to be a little amazed that you never see the other muralists at work. At least I never have, and I’ve been driving that route for decades. I’d guess they’re menehune, except that some folks leave behind open paint cans and other garbage, something I can’t imagine even mythical Hawaiians doing.
You know what they say. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And people who paint stone houses ought to show class.
Learn more about the Maui Amateur Radio Club at Kh6rs.com.