The Daily Sparks Tribune

Rail City Profile: Andrew Barbano

[Photo: Andrew Heilman, Sparks Tribune]

His real passion is writing
                By Maria Dal Pan, Tribune Staff

(Jan. 21, 2002) — Andrew Barbano is many things to many people. But the husband, stepfather, founding member of Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) and thorn-in-the-side of businesses he deems corrupt or irresponsible is one thing above all: Barbano is a writer.

In addition to being a liberal columnist for the Tribune, Barbano has written for television, radio and print media, and is in the process of working on a book about growing up in Fresno, Calif.

"If I've got a dream, it's to be the second most famous writer to be spawned from Fresno," he said, joining the ranks of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Saroyan. But Barbano didn't always have such aspirations.

When he graduated from Fresno State College in the late 1960s, Barbano worked as a fry cook, and assumed he'd go into the family business of restaurant management, he said. However, when an old football knee injury disqualified him from the Vietnam War draft, it changed his life, he said. His hometown started to feel small, inspiring Barbano to head south to Las Vegas.

The son of immigrant fruit pickers started his career working for a prominent Las Vegas ad agency, which transferred him up to Reno in 1971 as the company's "boy wonder," he said. But Barbano said his greatest accomplishments came later in his life.

In 1981, he helped establish Nevada's Consumer Advocacy Office, and ten years later, after an uphill battle with the Reno City Council, Barbano became one of nine people on the founding board of SNCAT.


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"I saw the good that could be done," he said. "I saw the benefits of what that station could do."

During the 1993 Reno City Council elections, Barbano noticed an influx of Reno residents calling a Carson City talk radio show he worked on, and complaining that campaign issues were not being discussed enough. So Barbano rounded up some sponsors and organized the first call-in political talk show on local TV. Then, on the night before the election, Barbano gathered the candidates and had them talk heavy politics as callers phoned in questions.

"We threw all the cats from Reno and Sparks in a burlap sack and tied it shut," he said. "It was hot.

"One of the few things I'm good at is starting a fire." But Barbano's flame burned well beyond SNCAT.

From October of 1996 through (Spring) of 1997, Barbano had a second full-time job investigating how the University of Nevada, Reno was spending its money, he said. Copies of his Tribune columns on the issue were circulated among university officials, he said, and the newspaper sent its own copies out for Pulitzer consideration.

More recently however, Barbano has been known for his columns criticizing Starbucks — taking a stance against the Douglas County roasting plant the coffee giant is building.

"What I always was, was a newspaper writer," he said. "It just took me four decades to figure it out."

Fellow Tribune columnist Ira Hansen said that although Barbano's work makes for a good read, he tends to be too pessimistic in his views on corporate conspiracies.

"He has lots of insights," Hansen said, "but sees a conspiracy to cheat the workers in everything. Class warfare is always the motive." Still, Barbano takes criticism in stride.

"I tell people that my job is to make life miserable for the rich, famous and powerful," he said. When he's not writing for the Tribune, Barbano performs media services and media consulting for various organizations — from running a media campaign to protect flaggers in construction zones to working with a law firm that helps disabled people get Social Security benefits.

"I've got to do work for people when I feel the work will benefit the general public," he said. "I'm proud to be somebody's attack dog, even though that very often has pissed a lot of Brahmans of the community off."

In addition to standing up for causes he believes in, Barbano has also been working on a book based on the experiences he had growing up in Fresno. The first vignette of the book titled None of the Above flowed from him like water, he said, and there's more to come.

"If I can't do Saroyan one better, I'm not doing it right," he said.

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