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Utah by 5 

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This weekend, the University of Utah and Utah sports fans everywhere will celebrate the biggest game ever in Utah football history—the 2022 Rose Bowl game against Ohio State. I'm not going to the game, as I've been recently sideswiped by a malady that will keep me close to home. My son, Pete, is going, as is just about everyone I know.

My bigtime Ute game bowl game streak will end at two, having previously traveled to and having fantastic memories from the 2004 Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Sugar Bowl. On the bright side, with so many boozers out of town, our local liquor stores may feel a respite this New Year's Eve. If you're going to be at the Rose Bowl tailgate, I'm not asking, I'm strongly suggesting that you raise a good-karma drink to the skies and shout out a "Utah by 5" toast to Mr. Tom Barberi. I'll do that from home. I hope all of you do that from your homes, too, and from the seats of every bar and club in town, from wherever you are watching the game. Just do it.

If you claim—by even half of 1%—to be a real Ute fan, you know what "Utah by 5" means. You must do that in honor of Tom Barberi—it's the least you can do for the No. 1 fan in Utah football history, one who sadly passed away on Christmas Eve, just a week before the big game. It's Shakespearean, damnit.

In 2009, Barberi was interviewed by Gavin Sheehan for City Weekly. Among the insights he shared—and for the unwashed—Barberi came to Utah after a gig in San Francisco to take the helm at KALL 910 AM radio in Salt Lake City 50 years ago. By the middle 1970s, I was in college and AM radio was still a big thing, with Barberi regarded as the top DJ in town. That's when I first met him—for a journalism class project—and again when I was a bartender as he was roped into various events or parties at local clubs and even hosted the "Gong Show" at the old Psychiatrist Club. He was a bona fide local media star and celebrity.

With his irreverent style and willingness to expose the hypocrisy of Utah's traditional local powers, Barberi was a hit, taking on all comers when it came to dragging Utah's hick mentality out of the 1800s, kicking and screaming the whole time. He was a traditional DJ at the onset, spinning songs and lending some friendly banter in between. Some of the best banter was between him and KALL Radio's traffic newsman, Mike Runge, himself a Ute diehard as announcer for Utah athletics. Barberi and Runge were a gas.

From that spawned a project at the end of his show called, I believe, "It's Your Nickel," wherein people could call in and bitch about something timely and that would set the tone for ever-more venting at all things Utah weird. Eventually, the songs quit spinning and Barberi's radio evolved into a full-on talk radio program.

Today, his daughter, Gina, is part of the mighty triad of the X96 Radio From Hell team. I do believe that without Barberi, there would be no Radio From Hell—nor even a City Weekly newspaper, perhaps. His voice lent sailing winds to all of us who wanted and needed to speak out in Utah. In the early 1990s, I called Barberi to see if he'd write for us, only for him to tell me, "Crap. the Tribune called last week, and I said I'd write for them," which he did for 18 years. We did, however, connect later, with Barberi writing a blog for us for a couple of years.

His favorite bulls to gore were the Utah Legislature and Utah's archaic liquor laws. His pet advocacies included "legalizing adulthood" in Utah and the University of Utah football team, to which he was named an honorary Ute, thanks to his participation in annual spring and alumni football games. No matter the opponent, no matter the season, he predicted that every Utah game would end with a win: Utah by 5.

Along the way, he was given permission by the University of Utah to start the Utah tailgate parties. From a humble beginning in the west parking lot below the old Rice Stadium, the Utah tailgate has grown tremendously and is regarded as one of the very best in the PAC-12.

It's just a garlic clove-damned shame—Italian Tom was born in the garlic capital of the world, Gilroy, California—that he cannot be at the game this weekend, because there's more. As the primary advocate to "legalize adulthood" in Utah and as the lonely "voice of reason" in this formerly dryer state, Tom was instrumental in helping change Utah's liquor laws. In 2009, when Utah finally snuffed out the archaic private club system of dispensing alcohol to the public, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. invited Barberi and me to the signing ceremony at the New Yorker club. It is not inconceivable that without Barberi's daily shaming of the Utah Legislature, we could very well still be living in a state without the bounty of today's liquor distillers and brewers who provide so much of the libation consumed at a Utah tailgate.

Nor is it inconceivable that without the strong blocking voice of Tom Barberi, that others like myself may never have gained the courage to speak out. Thank you, Tom, you changed Utah for the better. At 2 p.m. MST on Game Day, I'm raising my glass and shouting, "Utah by 5!" I'll have a trusty Gilroy garlic clove as my garnish. Hope you will, too. Go Utes!

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net

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John Saltas

John Saltas

Bio:
John Saltas is a lamb eating, Bingham Canyon native, City Weekly feller who'd rather be in Greece.

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