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KXCI survives rocky decade


Ten years ago, Tucson embarked on a valiant experiment – community radio station KXCI. But will it be here 10 years from now?

Signs are good that it might, though it largely depends on ejecting past garbage from all fronts and setting a clear course.

Over its decade of non-commercial, largely volunteer service, KXCI has provided listeners around Tucson and southern Arizona with alternatives to the narrowly formatted musical slice that dominates the commercial airwaves. From blues and bluegrass to gospel, alternative rock, folk, non-Top 40 country, funk, punk, reggae, Latin music, experimental music, local music of all sorts and God knows what else, KXCI (91.3-FM on the radio dial) has plugged many a hole in Tucson’s listening card.

The station’s internal history has been more turbulent than what goes over the airwaves might suggest. Financial difficulties, power struggles and differences over what community radio is and should be have plagued it from the start. But that’s part of what makes it so representative of the community – in all its lofty aspirations and petty shortfalls.

Fallout still persists from the firing of former station manager Paul Bear in 1990. And that episode needs to be put behind once and for all. Yes, the actual firing, which took place while Bear was out of town on a business trip for the station, was a pretty crappy move. It’s also history at this point, and people need to refocus on the larger issues.

KXCI is in the midst of a different kind of experiment – with management. Instead of the standard vertical hierarchy, in which there is a station manager and staff below, a new flat hierarchy is being tried. In it, five people share control, with each responsible for his or her own area (operations, programming, underwriting and concerts, public relations and membership).

The team is a good one. All are professional, competent and skilled, and there seems to be an atmosphere of cooperation that extends not only among themselves and to the volunteer programmers, but also to the board of directors, with which there has been a history of management friction.

Though most are new (three were hired in March, one in August and the fifth a year or two back), they’ve all heard plenty about what’s gone on in the past and are doing their best to try to keep separate the foam and froth from the truth.

“There are differences of opinion – quite legitimate ones – that need to be hashed out,’ said operations director David Penn. “I think if we start with the premise that everyone wants KXCI to succeed, that would be a giant step forward.

“In the past, people have been concerned that so-and-so is out to ruin KXCI. Again, that’s not to say that there isn’t an element of that that still exists. But for my purposes, if everyone was committed to acting on the premise that everyone wants KXCI to succeed, then I think a lot of the games would be unraveled for what they really are. People would say, `OK, they’re masking this true intention in this ruse.’ Then we could get to some of these true intentions and struggle them out.’

There seems to be more of a desire to undo problems of the past and present, rather than paper over them, and take responsibility for the station’s future. For one, a strong effort is under way to assess exactly how much KXCI owes to whom and to put things in place to pay off those loans. Record keeping in the station’s early days was less than ideal, but the current best estimate shows KXCI as having about $40,000 worth of red ink – down considerably from past crisis points.

The station is involved in a fund drive to build a new transmitting tower that would work on two fronts. For one, it would provide better listener reception all over town. Two, it would save $1,000 a month in phone bills for sending its signal to the tower now in use. The tower project is a high priority.

On the back burner but clearly in mind is a desire to get the station its own satellite link. A downlink would give the station access to a vast array of public affairs programming from around the country. And if it could secure an uplink as well, such KXCI favorites as Kidd Squidd’s Rock Roots and Marty Kool’s Blues Review might gain national syndication. At the very least, such a move would vastly increase the station’s listenership.

But muck still continues. This past May, a board election was thrown out. A number of write-in candidates – something never before seen in past elections – showed up and gained a number of seats. But the board, unsure of the legitimacy of the write-ins, threw the results out, stating that the revised bylaws required the printing and distribution of an elections manual before the election. Correct or not, the move had a bad smell to many wary of past manipulations of process.

A new election is under way and results will be announced on KXCI within the week.

But if people are genuinely concerned about the future of the station, they need to get involved. Involvement starts at your wallet. You might go to one of the 10th Anniversary concerts this weekend (see related story), or contribute during one of the fund-raising campaigns.

If the actions of the board make you uneasy, get involved there. Elections take place again in May, and you need to apply three months in advance to be on the ballot. The only requirement is that you be a KXCI member.

But if you do get involved on the board, be serious about it. It means a commitment of time and energy, and a commitment to keeping the real best interests of the station at heart. And sometimes, that means listening to other sides and realizing that they are just as committed to their vision of the station’s future.

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