RADIO: The WZRD DJ lockout grinds on
On June 29 administrators at Northeastern Illinois University dissolved the student club that runs the school's radio station, WZRD 88.3 FM, and barred its members from the facility. WZRD remains on the air, but it's staffed by an administration-approved skeleton crew and mostly broadcasts an automated stream of music that the locked-out DJs (who call themselves "Wizards") put together to play during personnel shortfalls.
DJ Peter Enger says there's long been at least mild antagonism between the administration and WZRD staff. By his account the current trouble started in 2009, when Tasha Neumeister—NEIU's new student media coordinator—crippled the station by forcing it to get rid of alumni DJs who helped fill time slots students couldn't. "You only have 15 or 20 DJs when you really need 30 or 40," Enger says. (No one from the administration returned requests for comment by press time.)
Student Leadership Development director Sharron Evans called an impromptu June 29 meeting with the DJs, presenting a memo listing WZRD's alleged violations of the school's student-government bylaws. Since then NEIU has abandoned some of those allegations (including a charge that WZRD was missing years of FCC documents reporting its community-service programming), but several remain, among them misuse of funds and problems with the selection process for new members. Evans's memo also mentions that the school was fined $7,000 in 2007 because the station's FCC license wasn't renewed on time (the renewal process is now under way again, and should end by December).
Enger says all the accusations are baseless, and WZRD staff and advocates had till mid-September to present testimony to NEIU's Charter Rules & Regulations Committee, which oversees student organizations. The committee will produce a recommendation for interim Student Leadership Development director Veronica Rodriguez by November 2. In the meantime, Enger and other exiled Wizards are collecting signatures for an online petition and trying to rally support—they may also seek out a civil rights lawyer. (See Deanna Isaacs's A Side story on NEIU's free-speech issues.) A meeting with the school's board of trustees on September 20 was disappointingly brief, so that the DJs had to simply hand over printouts of speeches they'd meant to deliver.
Founded in 1974, WZRD is a rare surviving example of a free-form station. It has almost no genre-focused programming or specialty shows; DJs can play almost anything they want, and they're encouraged to explore the greatest possible variety of nonmainstream music. Enger is passionate about getting the DJs back on the air, not least because of his love for the format. "We feel like we're defending free-form as an art form," Enger says. "It's dying in this country."