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In the Air: WLUW's community service


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Since it went on the air in the 1970s, Loyola University's 100-watt WLUW (88.7 FM) has been a Top 40 music station, the type where student DJs train to become professional broadcasters. Then three years ago Loyola's communications department voted to devote mornings to community radio.

"We decided that somehow we should be serving the community that was receiving our signal," says instructor Craig Kois, who helped start Loyola's Lakeshore Community Media Workshop with professor Jeff Harder. "If you listened to the station, you had no idea of the richness of the community that was served by the signal. We thought we had an ethical obligation to have the station reflect that diversity."

The Lakeshore Community Media Workshop puts students in touch with community groups and sends them out to dig up stories in the neighborhoods of Uptown, Andersonville, Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Devon Avenue. The students target groups and stories that are usually ignored by the mainstream media.

"A lot of what we do doesn't constitute news," says Kois. "Our ultimate goal is to engage the community and train them to produce their own work. Students then become not reporters but facilitators."

The result is a sort of community access radio. Programs include the long-running "Voice of Guatemala," a show about culture and politics produced by students and members of the group Casa Guatemala; the nationally syndicated "Aware: Positive Health Talk Radio" (formerly known as "Aware: HIV Talk Radio"); and "Live From the Heartland," a weekly talk show with academics and community activists discussing issues of the day that's broadcast live from the Heartland Cafe in East Rogers Park. "The Coming of Thunder," a Native American community program that ran for a year, was created when a Loyola student was working on a story and ran into another student at the Native American Educational Service. The two teamed up to do a series of half-hour programs. "That's the exact model of how we want this process to work," Kois says.

Kois and Harder say the project has made students more sensitive to the concerns of others. "A cross-cultural experience is an important part of this for a lot of students who come from very insular backgrounds," says Harder.

"The utopian idea is that the station becomes an anchor for the community, a sort of soapbox in the park. Everyone gets to speak and talk to each other. People can come together and hear what others think and then come on and have their say. It builds a community because people become aware of others who share their ideas or values or problems. It's different than the traditional media, which reduces issues, plays up conflict, and gets in the way of communication."

Despite their successes, Harder and Kois acknowledge that there has been some opposition to the project. Some students have expressed concern that the music programming will be done away with altogether. Harder says there is a proposal before the university to cede control of the radio station and production facilities to a newly created vocational department and relocate them at the school's downtown campus, which is outside of WLUW's broadcast range.

"There are some people who see our job to be a vocational-technical unit, training students to specifications that industry people give us," says Kois. "Some have suggested we set up a corporate board to tell us how to teach. . . . In community radio people are going to say things that other people aren't going to like, both left and right wing. There's sort of an institutional nervousness about that. At one time they attacked the HIV program because it mentioned homosexuality. They also attacked the labor shows as being left wing. It might be. The idea is to let those voices be heard."

Kois and Harder say they don't control the content of programs and welcome proposals for new shows. "We have very limited protocol," explains Harder. "What we're looking for is sustainability. But if someone cannot sustain a show, we have alternative formats. We really want to get people involved."

WLUW's community programming runs weekdays from 9 AM to noon and most of the weekend. "The Community News Hour" airs Friday at 10 AM, with "Voice of Guatemala" coming on at 10:30. "Live From the Heartland" can be heard Saturdays at 9 AM. Call 508-3727 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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