Tom Barberi, a radio talk show host who loved to poke fun at Utah institutions and became one himself, has passed away.
Barberi died Friday morning, according to her daughter Gina Barberi, who followed her father’s career path and is now the host of X96’s “Radio From Hell” show. He was 78 years old. (The cause of death was not available on Friday.)
Known as “The Voice of Reason” on KALL radio station from 1971 to 2004, Barberi mixed news, sports and politics. He interviewed powerful and less powerful people and took calls from listeners.
Barberi has often targeted the Utah establishment – from politicians to religious leaders.
“He pushed a bit. He teased Utah the wrong way, ”said former Salt Lake Tribune editor James E.“ Jay ”Shelledy, who is now a member of the nonprofit Tribune’s board of directors. “But he’s always been nice – never mean about it. And it was very popular for a long time.
When he left KALL, Barberi had the longest run of all Utah radio personalities with a daily show on just one station. (This record is now that of Doug Wright, who spent 40 years with KSL.)
In 1991, as Barberi turned 20 at KALL, he told The Tribune that he got into radio “because I don’t have marketable skills.” See, it’s either do the radio or go back to San Jose to the loading docks and unload the crates. I think I’d rather abuse live people than work for a living.
And, he said, he didn’t spend a lot of time planning each day’s episode of “The Tom Barberi Show”.
“I never know what I’m going to talk about when I go on air,” he said, “and I never know who is going to call me. It’s just as much of a surprise to me as it is to the kids. listeners.
Shelledy said he had no recollection of Barberi attacking the state’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on matters of religion, but that he did was opposed to Utah’s cultural norms.
In 1976, thousands of people gathered when Barberi promoted a “popular bicentennial parade” on July 4 – which was a Sunday, after the Utah establishment avoided an official celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing. of the Declaration of Independence.
“He attacked the culture of the state,” Shelledy said, “and where there is a dominant religion, it’s going to be part of the culture.”
Barberi has made Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Eagle Forum, a frequent target. He has also made Utah’s alcohol laws and its politicians two of his main targets, often attacking state lawmakers.
“He pushed the legislature hard,” Shelledy said. “I don’t know if he’s been successful somewhere… but I think he’s probably had some success. At least it made life more enjoyable for the rest of us. He wanted to legalize adulthood in Utah.
For 18 years, Barberi wrote a Sunday column for The Tribune. “Legalizing Adulthood in Utah” became the title of a collection of these columns that he put together in a book.
Laurie Wilson, who co-wrote many of these columns with Barberi, said in 2004 that he loved to be hated.
He was scandalous. It was his style. He wanted to be the Howard Stern of our market – without the obscenity, ”Wilson said. “If people didn’t like it, it meant they were thinking and it meant it was effective.”
He also wanted listeners to “come to work with a smile and forget about their problems.”
“Then I feel like I did my job,” Barberi said in 1991. “My brain is like a funny mirror. What comes in is straight, but what comes out is a little distorted and funny.
Barberi was born in Gilroy, California, and raised in San Jose – a self-proclaimed “class clown”. He attended Idaho State, San Jose City College, and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he majored in “soccer, girls, and beer – not necessarily in that order.”
After working at several small radio stations in California, he got a call from KALL and moved to Salt Lake City in 1971.
Barberi has become a big supporter of the University of Utah and a big detractor of Brigham Young University, at least when it comes to athletics. He was particularly fond of the United States soccer team and his weekly prediction for the team – “Utah by Five” – became a slogan.
His ardor did not abate despite the fact that the United States lost many more games than they won in the 70s and 80s.
In 1997, Talkers Magazine included Barberi on a list of the nation’s top 100 radio talk show hosts – a list that included Larry King, Rush Limbaugh, and Don Imus. In 2005, he was inducted into the Utah Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
He enjoyed working on radio and made it clear that he wasn’t ready to go when he was let go by KALL’s then owners, Clear Channel Communications. He told The Tribune that he had been called to a meeting – “a little ambush” – and that it was “as cold, impartial and disrespectful as possible”.
“They called me into the office and basically said, ‘We’re going in a different direction.’ I asked, ‘Does that mean I’m going to sleep tomorrow?’ and they said, “That’s right. “
Memorial services were pending.