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BRUCE IS NOOSED: Community radio station KXCI this month lassoed Larry Bruce as its new general manager, after a six-month search. Bruce is taking over during the most contentious period in the station's 20-year history. His predecessor, Tony Ford, made enemies a couple of years ago when he axed several popular shows and volunteer DJs, and more recently, a group of dissident members, including attorney Bill Risner, has been feuding with a governing board it alleges to be arrogant and undemocratic.

The affable Bruce sees himself not just as the guy who signs the checks and runs herd over the station's few employees and dozens of volunteers, but as a man who can help bring peace to KXCI.

He recently spent two years managing stations in Australia, so let's hope Bruce picked up a few Crocodile Hunter tips. Not only is he going to have to spread the word about community radio, a delicate and potentially endangered species, but he's going to have to stare into the toothy maw of a nasty assumption held by some KXCI fans: Because he has a background in commercial rock radio, and because he's worked as, of all godawful things, a consultant, he's going to suck the soul out of KXCI.

The first thing Bruce points out to anybody who raises that issue is that, 30 years ago, he started out in free-form progressive rock radio, a now-abandoned approach to rock that corresponds to KXCI's approach to various marginalized forms of popular music. Bruce worked at such notable free-form rock stations as KFML in Denver, but says he switched to commercial rock stations in the mid '70s "as a matter of financial survival."

Bruce acknowledges that his later consulting work--in such far-flung places as Sweden, Finland and Denmark as well as Australia and the United States--isn't going to help him gain the trust of KXCI fans. "But I tried to do that with flair and integrity," he says. "I was always looking at what local audiences wanted; I wasn't just this guy who called up and said, 'Play more Def Leppard.'"

Bruce moved to Tucson last year so his wife could be near her family, and he was doing marketing work for small clients when he saw the ad for the KXCI job. "I'd heard the station--I'm a big fan of Democracy Now--but I was really just a peripheral listener," he admits. "But I thought, 'This is a job I have to go for.'

"I've been in radio a long time, and I was schooled that there should be a sense of community service in broadcasting. There's no sense of community service in commercial radio anymore, and I've always been a strong critic of the Clear Channelization of American radio, so I think it's a rare privilege to be able to make a contribution to the community through a station like KXCI."

Bruce acknowledges that "a traditional manager would come in and make a lot of changes, but I need to take time to learn this station and understand it, and then work with the staff and volunteers to shape it very gradually, like a bonsai tree."

He swears that change down the line will not be high-handed.

"I think it would be unfortunate if KXCI were frozen in time like an archaeological artifact and never changed," he says. "But that change has to move with the community and the ebb and flow of volunteers.

"I have coached and trained international radio managers on how to build teams and resolve conflict," he says. "I hope to help the KXCI staff and the board respond in a good way to the folks who have complaints, and address the concerns of the people who are disaffected."

As for his first board meeting, on Jan. 15, Bruce says, "It wasn't the baptism by fire that The Skinny predicted; it wasn't even a baptism in hot water. The fact that there weren't any fireworks at that meeting indicates that there is progress toward resolving these issues.

"Everybody has to find a way to get along. This controversy is not helping the station. The public thinks the station is in danger, but it's not. It's in great shape. All the bills are getting paid, and there's money in the bank, which has not always been the case, and we've got four times as many listeners as we did in the late '90s."

Bruce strongly opposes replacing the volunteers with professional DJs and homogenizing the format, which has been done at many other community stations. "That violates the essence of what this station is about," he says.

"KXCI, at its core, must continue to be creative and eclectic, and it must nurture those streams of musical culture that aren't served by anyone else.

"We play blues and progressive country and other kinds of music like that, but what this station is really like is a symphony. Not everything you hear as it goes along has to be in the same key.

"But at the same time, in the totality of its 168 hours a week, KXCI has to serve the community."

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