Drawn by a sign that proclaimed "Irish need not apply" at KXCI radio, a graying man with roots in County Roscommon stepped off the human conveyor belt of the Fourth Avenue Street Fair to seek out those protesting in front of the community radio station's booth.
"I thought we got past that long ago," the man said to Mike Haggerty, a former member of the City Council and longtime Fourth Avenue businessman.
"Apparently not," Haggerty answered.
Haggerty and a dozen others have twice picketed at KXCI's Fourth Avenue headquarters and followed station brass to the teeming street fair to protest the abrupt cancellation of the popular, long-running "Celtic Crosscurrents" as well as "Jim's Joke Joint" and a hip-hop show.
The Irish have taken the lead in what has become the latest round of protest over KXCI's crackdown on volunteers who produce a mix of shows. Their overtures, including presentation of a potted shamrock to KXCI bosses during the first picket on December 8, and a private sitdown, have been rebuffed.
Haggerty and three others intimately involved with Celtic Crosscurrents and KXCI--Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, his aide Scott Egan and Tucson lawyer Bill Risner, a former member of the KXCI board--met with KXCI General Manager Tony Ford, Programming Director Roger Greer and Board President Rick Bacal on Dec. 11.
Haggerty walked out after about 10 minutes.
"They just talk in circles. I don't like circles," Haggerty said with the matter-of-fact tone of someone who had been "meeting-ed" out through his years of community service and his time as a Democratic member of the City Council from 1991 to 1993.
Piney Hollow, the Haggerty family jewelry shop on North Fourth Avenue, has underwritten Celtic Crosscurrents for nearly 20 years.
Though his daughter, Shannon Harris, now runs the store, Haggerty said "unless there is evidence of change at KXCI," Piney Hollow will stop its support of KXCI in January.
The spark in this fight at KXCI preceded the dumping of Celtic Crosscurrents and its host John Murphy. Many volunteer programmers, those who put together KXCI shows, bristled under lopsided rules contained in a new "volunteer agreement" pushed by KXCI management and rubberstamped by its board in November.
Avenues of protest and KXCI's tradition of participatory management closed. Bylaws for KXCI's non-profit parent, the Foundation for Creative Broadcasting, also were overhauled to insulate those in charge. The majority voting bloc could now be appointed by the existing board rather than through election of members.
Murphy chafed. Then he got booted, on December 6, after he had arranged for Egan to guest host the December 8 show while he hiked in Mexican wilderness.
Ford is alternately nervous and like a giddy schoolboy holding a secret when asked what precipitated Murphy's ouster. "Too embarrassing," he said.
"I'm not easily embarrassed," said Carroll, who put in hundreds of hours volunteering at KXCI, including as host of Celtic Crosscurrents. Carroll, a Republican, has represented Tucson's eastside and Green Valley on the Board of Supervisors since 1997.
"You'll have to ask Mr. Murphy," if he wants to know what precipitated the firing, Ford told Carroll.
Murphy's ratings were steadily increasing and he never committed an on-air act that ran afoul of FCC rules while he, Egan and others played a wide variety of Irish music laced with Irish Republican and Nationalist news.
Incensed at what he perceived as a crackdown on volunteers, Murphy pounded out an e-mail that was critical of KXCI management. It included an insult to Mormons, which was taken as an attack on Greer, the programming director, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The e-mail said that members of that faith are misogynistic.
"What this boils down to is reprisal," Murphy said. "While I regret offending Roger Greer, by saying something I shouldn't have, it was in the heat of the argument. There's been a lot of heated rhetoric. This was purely a reprisal for speaking out against management and the policies."
Ford, who arrived at KXCI from Michigan, where his father is a small-town judge, has been too quick to play cop, judge and jury, Murphy and the others say.
Ford acknowledges that emotions run high at KXCI. "Passionate people," Ford said, make up community radio. There will be "passionate debate."
Ford said he must balance programming with fund-raising and points to surveys that show listener loyalty more than doubling since he arrived.
Ford is put off by Carroll "throwing the weight of his office" into the mix. "It is inappropriate for a member of the Board of Supervisors to get involved and try to influence the policies of a non-profit."
Carroll said he is interested in reversing what he called injustice at KXCI and restoring "due process."
Ford, meanwhile, is energetically promising a "commitment" to the Irish community with a new two-hour Celtic Crosscurrents to begin December 22 at noon.
He promised that it won't be "sanitized," but Ford will pick the host. That was his counteroffer to the Irish demands that he give back Murphy's show, junk the volunteer agreement and restore Jim's Joke Joint, Beat Street and one of the hosts of the Grateful Dead Show, Dead Air.
At the protest at the Street Fair, Egan held out little hope when told of Ford's pledge. "I'm thinking it is going to be somebody with the first name Angus."
"Or Philip," Murphy added.