Student radio club still in limbo as university operates station, continues investigation

ILLINOIS — Northeastern Illinois University’s student-run radio station is still in exile but that doesn’t mean club members are not on the air.

School administrators forced club members from WZRD 88.3 FM off the air in June after accusing the club of misusing funds and violations of FCC policies, said Max Grilly, a spokesperson for the radio club.

Those violations include three years worth of misplaced FCC-mandated logs documenting issues of public concern discussed on the air.

The club is also accused of a variety of student government violations including discrimination in membership practices, bullying and failure to follow the station’s constitution.

The club was shut down in June. WZRD club members were locked out of the station and told they would not be allowed back inside, Grilly said. The station currently runs with a “skeleton team” of students not affiliated with the club.

The school is investigating to determine whether the station gets to keep its active status and how the station will be run in the future, Grilly said.

The Student Government Association is leading one investigation into possible violations of student bylaws and the club’s charter, according to a press release by Dana Navarro, the university’s director of public relations. A second committee composed of students, faculty and alumni are “identifying viable options” for the radio station, according to the statement.

A memo from the student government review group given to WZRD members describes a wider scope to the investigation. The memo states the student government committee is investigating alleged misuse of funds, complaints about WZRD’s new member selection process and verbal attacks on disc jockeys by other members.

The faculty, alumni and student committee is supposed to take into account a spring student government survey about the WZRD station, as well as current trends on college radio stations and feedback from the student government committee.

Both committees are expected to complete their work in the fall of 2012, according to the school. The student government committee’s final report is due Nov. 2; the other committee has until Nov. 9 to present its report to the vice president of student affairs.

When asked to attend hearings concerning the radio club, the members haven’t attended.

“We think the review process is arbitrary,” said Jonathan Extract, a sophomore radio club member. “I think it’s against the rules of our own school.”

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, agreed that the process appeared arbitrary.

“One way to tell you’re being punished in violation of due process is that they invent the process after they tell you you’re being punished,” Goldstein said.

Peter Ali Enger, another club member, said the wizards don’t feel prepared to speak with the committee because they have not been given specific information about the accusations made against the group.

“Nothing official has been stated, and we are in a position where we are asked to be interviewed for unstated [allegations],” he said.

Since getting locked out in June, club members have tried to gain support by attending a variety of meetings, writing letters and speaking with student government members, Grilly said. An online petition has more than 700 signatures.

In order to gain support and get their story out, WZRD members wrote, produced and financed their own newspaper, said Jonathan Extract, a sophomore radio club member. The 2,000 copy paper was well-received, he said.

Since this summer, the club has been broadcasting on Northwestern University’s WNUR station on Sundays from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. WNUR’s Programming Director Ethan Simonoff gave club members the timeslot after interviewing them about the shut-out.

“I think there are a lot of people that listen to WZRD that were upset to hear what happened,” Simonoff said.

The radio club was not allowed to attend the school’s annual Fall into Fun event with the campus activities fair, Extract said. Instead, members stood outside and talked to students about the state of the radio station.

“I would say 90 percent were very interested and sympathetic about what had been going on at the radio station,” Extract said.

By Bailey McGowan, SPLC staff writer. Contact McGowan by email or at (703 807-1904 ext. 127.