Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tom Barberi

Posted By on April 29, 2009, 5:56 AM

UtahFM is approaching its one-year marker, and aside from celebrating surviving the past twelve months, the station is reflecting back on the amount of talent they've brought on board that have made the station a must-listen.

 --- Tom Barberi has been a staple in Utah broadcasting since before the good majority of those currently involved in the profession even thought about it as a career. With three decades and time to spare under his belt, Barberi has carried the torch as one of the few liberal voices over local airwaves and in print. He made KALL a mainstay for years, at times became a political influence, and established himself as one of the greats in this business. This year Barberi took up new residence at UtahFM for a weekly show on Tuesday mornings, further adding to the already lengthy and decorated resume. I got chance to sit in on his show and take pictures, and got an opportunity to chat with the man earlier about his career.

Tom Barberi

Gavin: Hey Tom. For those who may not know you, tell us a little about yourself.

Tom: Born in Gilroy California, the “Garlic capitol of the world”, on a ranch and grew up there and in San Jose.100% Italian from Sal and Anita Barberi with one older brother Norman who is a retired Sheriff's deputy. Normal childhood except was constantly in trouble in school because I couldn't keep my mouth shut! I was what you would call the class clown always looking for the joke to the dismay of my teachers.

Gavin: When and how did you first take an interest in broadcasting?

Tom: I always loved listening to the radio as far back as I can remember but never thought about being on the radio. I was an asthmatic kid and couldn't participate in sports until I was in High School. Wanted to play football more than anything but didn't get a chance in High School but over the summer after graduation I worked out with some friends who were great players and enrolled in San Jose City College. Back than you had two choices, go to college or get drafted into the Army.After convincing the head coach that I didn't care if I got killed he gave me a shot and I made the team. New career... team clown. Couldn't keep from doing what I did best.

Gavin: During the college years, why did you move around and attend so many different schools?

Tom: I had the opportunity to go with some buddies to Idaho State U and did that for a semester until I found out that they played in snow! I also made the wrestling team at Idaho which proved it didn't take much talent to be on the wrestling team.Back to City College then was offered a scholarship to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and went there until injuries ended my football and college career. I only went to class to stay eligible for football and when I couldn't play anymore I left college.

Gavin: How did broadcasting fit into the mix of all that?

Tom: I had no idea what I wanted to do other than get a job and I had several. Unloaded boxcars in a warehouse, drove truck for a milk company, dug ditches for the gas company in California, made pizza's and was a bar tender, was a bouncer. That was in what I found out to be a biker bar that my buddies were playing in as a band. Short career... while doing all these things I had a high school friend who's father was partners in a radio station in San Jose and knowing I was always the class clown suggested I give radio a try. So I drove truck during the week and played DJ on the weekend. This was the first job I had that didn't require heavy lifting and I loved the microphone and studio.Was told that if I wanted to really be in radio I needed a 1st Class License so I saved my money and went to a engineering school in Burbank that was designed to teach us how to pass the FCC test and get that license. Did that and got my license and driving back up from L.A. started knocking on doors of radio stations and landed a job at KOAG in Arroyo Grande Calif. which was not far from my last college Cal Poly. Had tons of fun making $2.00 per hr. Got a better job at the rock station in San Luis Obispo. Finally got back to a station in San Jose and was married with two little girls.

Gavin: What persuaded you to move to Utah to do your show?

Tom: It was the late 60's and I wanted to work at a more adult station in San Francisco and developed a relationship with the PD of KSFO, which was the big station in S.F. In the mean time KALL needed a new morning man and they had connections in S.F. and my name came up and I got a call from KALL. They flew me up here and I was impressed with the city not knowing a thing about it but it was the type of format I wanted to get better at with the plan to hone my skills and go back to S.F. Well as they say, the rest is history. The management at KALL was so great to me and I was having so much fun before you knew it 30 years past by.

Gavin: What was it like during that first year at KALL?

Tom: Back in those days KALL was one of the two big radio stations and we'd broadcast the Utes while they were all BYU. The rivalry was great. I really was a fish out of water because I didn't know a thing about Mormon culture and certainly didn't know how Utah was operated but slowly I became aware and found working in the capitol city with such a colorful political/social structure was like being a kid in a candy store.As far as making jokes it was like hunting in a game preserve.I had nothing but great support from management and ownership because I was making them a lot of money and the show was very successful.

Gavin: How did the local politicians respond to the show over the years, both positive and negative?

Tom: I got lots of press because I would say things others were even afraid to think about but all with humor and politicians were wonderful targets. Some were not to happy about that but others loved the publicity. I loved football more than anything and back in the early 70's Utah was not having any great seasons and the only time the old stadium would fill up was when BYU came to town. I used to go to the Stanford and Cal games and people there tailgated and it was great. Tailgating wasn't done here in Utah and I proposed to the school athletic dept that they let us have some space in their lot and promote tailgating. They were desperate for support and said yes. At the same time I thought it would be fun to play in the spring game as a means to promote the team. (another dumb idea). But I was reliving my youth and wound up playing in that game then in subsequent alumni games and they made me an official Ute. I am proud to say that I created Ute Tailgating and it is the best party in town every season.

Gavin: During this time, how did you come to write for the Tribune?

Tom: I was inspired to become a columnist by another of my hero's of the time Mike Royko of Chicago. The Tribune carried his column and He was great. One election cycle as a joke I got tired of pollsters ruining things by telling us who won even before the election was over so I promoted that when any exit pollster approach that they just lie to mess up their info. It worked and they predicted the winner of a race and were off by a ton and the story got back to Royko who called and interviewed me for the story and he ran it. I had always loved the idea of writing as another means of communicating and there was something about being published as opposed to just talking on the radio so I applied to the Tribune for a spot as a columnist. They gave me a chance and I wound up writing for the Trib for 18 years with my Sunday column. After writing for all those years I thought it would be fun to put together a book of columns and use as a title a joke I always like to make about "Legalizing Adulthood In Utah” and that became the title of my book which was a collection of my columns. The response was great and we sold out. I think you might find a copy in the cheap bin or on Amazon even today.

Gavin: Did you think your show would last as long as it did, or was there always a thought that you might be canceled the next week?

Tom: I never really thought much about the longevity of the show because I was just having too much fun and time just flew by then things changed when KALL was finally sold to an out of state company. Actually it got sold about four times and I was just one of the assets and stayed. Then came deregulation and consolidation and the business changed. Eventually KALL was owned by Clear Channel and it became just one of a half dozen stations then bought in Salt Lake. New management meant new direction and they wanted to make KALL a sports station and hired a young kid to be PD and he and the new management didn't think I fit their plans. could see the end was coming and wasn't surprised when they said they were not going to renew my contract. They tried to make KALL a sports station and ran it into the ditch and ended up selling it to Dave Checketts who wanted a sports station to promote his soccer team.

Gavin: Down the road you wrote for several publications and still do today. Was freelance writing a natural step for you?

Tom: I still do some writing and had a column in Salt Lake Magazine until they changed management and I didn't see eye to eye with their new editor so that ended. I was asked to become a blogger for City Weekly and I am having fun with that as City Weekly and John Saltas are the best and do in print kind of what I did on air. Poke fun at all the self important and status quo.

Gavin: How did you get onto Huntsman's alcohol committee and how has that experience been for you?

Tom: When Jon Huntsman Jr. was elected one of the things he wanted to do is try and fix the stupid liquor laws because he could see how they were a detriment to the state and caused us to be the laughing stock when it came to liquor. He knew of my career of making fun of them and called me and asked if I would be part of his transition team on the alcohol committee. I was flattered and jumped at the chance. I took the job seriously, there were 4 of us on the committee and we visited several clubs, taverns, restaurants and organizations pro and con liquor and gave our report to the Governor. I was the only one who actually wrote a report and presented it to him with the number one issue being private clubs. He knew they had to go but it took him a lot of work and time to get everybody on board and I'm proud to say I had a hand in finally getting rid of the stupid private club law!

Gavin: Its no real secret your daughter Gina is in radio too. How is it for you to have a daughter in the same business, both as a father and a broadcaster?

Tom: I have two incredible daughters, Gina is a year and half older than Mikelle. I didn't encourage Gina to go into radio but she did it on her own starting at the U of U on their station and loved it. She got on some other stations eventually getting to be part of Bill and Kerry's show in Orem at KJQ. She is a natural and I couldn't be prouder. Their Radio From Hell show is the number one morning show in Utah and has been for several years and they have racked up tons of awards including being named the best alternative show in the country by Rolling Stone Magazine. Mikelle is married to a wonderful and successful business man Brent and they live in Ogden with 3 wonderful children as Gina is married also to a wonderful and successful businessman and also has 3 incredible children. What makes it funny having such a successful daughter in radio is people used to say, "Oh, you're Tom Barberi's daughter!", and now they say, "Oh you're Gina Barberi's father!” I couldn't be prouder.

Gavin: What was it like for you getting into the Broadcaster's Hall Of Fame?

Tom: I must say that being inducted into the Utah Broadcasters Hall of Fame has to be the highlight of my career and I feel humbled by it and a great honor.

Gavin: For a short period you worked at the talk station Simmons tried starting up. How was your time over there?

Tom: Simmons wanted to create the first FM Talk station and asked me if I wanted to be part of it and I jumped at the chance but there were ownership problems from the beginning with the signal and it eventually collapsed. It was a good idea but radio is now in trouble along with TV and newspapers. It is very sad to see the business fall on such hard times and the lack of real local programming is diminishing because it is cheaper for stations to just pick up syndicated shows and downsize local staffs to bare bones. Where it's going to go from here is anybody's guess but I do know that people like their radio to be local and have always had a personal relationship with their favorite DJ's and stations. I hope it comes back.

Gavin: How did the decision come about to start a show on UtahFM?

Tom: I've known Babs DeLay for decades and when KRCL jumped the shark and Babs and friends started UtahFM. I was intrigued so I called Babs and asked if I could play and she loved the idea. It is all voluntary and I do only one show a week Tuesdays from 9 to noon and I'm having a ton of fun. No boss, no PD, no management, no FCC, no rules however no pay either but who cares... it's lots of fun and I look forward to doing it every week.

Gavin: Are there any plans in the works for the show beyond what you're doing now?

Tom: I still harbor thoughts of getting my show back on the air but in this current economic climate don't see that happening anytime soon if ever.

Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Tom: I do keep my hand in it besides UtahFM I have hosted the Barber Brothers Car show every Saturday from 10AM-Noon on 1280 The Zone and we have a lot of fun with it. The Barber Brothers are the best. What would you expect from 4 Italian guys who I'm probably related to somewhere down the line. I am a charter member of the "Vanocur Group" and we get together for Chris Vanocur's show whenever it's time to do a show on politics and such.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Tom: I am also in business with an old friend who is the top audio/video/home theater expert anywhere and we just opened up our store on Highland Drive. Video & Audio Solutions is the name and we do very high end audio and video gear as well as commercial jobs. We are currently doing the audio and video for a couple of brand new clubs Gracy's just across the street from the old Port-O-Call and The Beerhive on Main Street. So you can see that I am keeping busy.


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