What's Going On At KXCI Radio, Anyway?
By Jeff Smith
A HOUSE DIVIDED against itself cannot stand. Abe Lincoln said that. A man's got to wipe his own ass. I said that, just last week. It has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this week's column, but I didn't want you to go forgetting on me.
The part about the house divided does pertain, and the house shakily standing--on one leg, head back, arms outstretched, trying to touch alternate index fingers to the tip of its nose like a drunk undergoing a field sobriety check--is radio station KXCI, the only spot on the Tucson dial where you can hear anybody sing "We Jammin' " over and over again until everybody declares him a genius, or the original version of "Back in the Saddle Again," by Gene Autry. Or is it Outre?
Where else can one turn for Zydeco, for Bluegrass with the actual needle scratches on wax, for polkas and schottishes, chicken-scratch, salsa and cumbias for the pachangeros--all the weird little grace-notes from the late-reporting precincts of the musical universe? Well there's George Hawke's personal library, but then you'd have to hang with Hawke, and he probably wouldn't like that any more than you would. Besides which he keeps odd hours.
Where else can one turn for bickering, contentiousness, mutual suspicion, poor communications and soap-box intrigue? Everywhere, but for our purposes this week, KXCI will have to serve. And serve nicely it does.
The catalyst for this chaos is Keith Bagwell, an Arizona Daily Star reporter with a reputation among his fellow Fourth Estaters for a milk-and-cookies disposition, but who, it must be said, has been cutting rather a wide swath in his extracurricular activities. You may recall Bagwell (Sri Rajneesh?) and a certain Soaring Bear (I am not making this up) made an unsuccessful stab at a bloodless coup for control of The Food Conspiracy. Now the Bagman comes under indictment for attempting to wrest control of the board and body of KXCI, to pervert it to his own depraved political agenda.
Which, as far as one is able to discern, is earthy-crunchy, leftish, Swedish cars, that sort of thing.
Susan Banes, point-person for an ad hoc group calling itself Friends of KXCI, made public what was never very private at last week's board of directors meeting, by announcing a recall drive against Bagwell. Her group feels he is jeopardizing the station's money trail to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, by meddling in affairs of the separate Citizens Advisory Board, by meddling in matters of programming, by meddling in nuts-and-bolts station management issues, by meddling with the bylaws in manners discordant with the bylaws...are you seeing a pattern emerging here?
So does Miguel Ortega, a programmer of Mexican music and cultural affairs on KXCI. He got up after Susan read a short list of dirty laundry, and told her and the rest of us in the room that they weren't fooling anybody with their pious talk about democratic rule, conflicts-of-interest, packing the board, etc., and he and his Chicano and African-American and Native American brothers and sisters recognized it for what it is--racism--and they were going to do whatever it took to stop it.
Suddenly it's 1969. Flower-power v. clenched fists.
Life wasn't exactly easier in the bad old days, but it was a whole bunch easier for a dumb ol' white boy like m'self to understand. Back when racism consisted of a mob of crackers beating up a nigger for smiling at a white girl, I recognized it, hated it, and would say as much to anybody who'd listen. These days that ain't good enough--a person's got to be alert for subtle, unconscious racism within his own belief systems...
...up to and including the kind of music and commentary one choose's to play on the city's only weirdo community radio station.
I mean, I listened to Miguel deliver his manifesto and watched him march out, and I kept a bland face but rolled my third eye...and then I left the room too, and, got to chatting with Miguel outside and damned if he wasn't right on. The KXCI board has got one Mexican out of 11 members. There are zero Mexican staff members at the station. There are three discreet hours of Mexican music and talk. Out of, ah, 24 times seven, that's 168--Jesus I hate arithmetic--somewhere around 2 percent Mexican programming.
Of course there's the regular music mix, which is what KXCI calls "eclectic." Eclectic is to aesthetics what hash is to cuisine. Lest you misapprehend me, this is a good thing.
But Miguel Ortega pointed out how the mainstreamers at KXCI kept telling him and his multi-cultural brothers and sisters, "Tell us what you want and we'll do it for you." He strikes an harmonic note. I believe the buzz-word of the moment is resonate. Anyway, I have run into this wall of hugs and holistic wholesomeness myself. I find it maddening; Miguel finds it racist. We're both right.
And so is the other side, unfortunately. Unfortunately only in that not having a clear-cut bad guy--a racist who wants to run all the beaners back across the border, or a crook skimming off immense profits from a hick-town community radio station that plays reggae even Bob Marley never heard of (the preceding is an attempt at irony)--makes this difficult to resolve in the alloted column-inches.
Keith Bagwell is cast in the Iago part, but it's really a stretch. I detect a certain autocracy in his handling of board meetings, and a whole lot of antipathy between the opposing factions, but the neat, clear picture--by-laws violated, personal agendas pushed and so forth--that has the Friends of KXCI legitimately concerned is muddied by the fact that everybody with a beef--and there are several and their grievances are legit--is jumping on this recall issue like lint on the gum I keep on my bedpost overnight.
Luckily they're going to air the whole ugly little family feud at a special meeting on May 11 at 1 p.m. at the downtown main library. So I don't have to deliver my verdict or sentence just yet. And if everybody will use their ears more than their mouths, this could turn out to be a healthy dose of salts for all concerned.
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