Student radio club back on the air after six-month-long dispute with school

ILLINOIS — The wizards of Northeastern Illinois University are back on the air and operating as usual at radio station WZRD after a six-month-long lockout in which two university committees investigated the group.

The wizards, locked out of their station in June, returned to the air at the beginning of the spring semester. Administrators offered to put the group back on the air in December, but the terms offered were not acceptable to the group, WZRD member Max Grilly said.

The university’s Student Government Association and a WZRD review committee conducted separate investigations after club members were accused of discrimination, misusing funds and violating FCC regulations.

Matthew Specht, the university’s acting assistant vice-president for student involvement, told the club in a meeting earlier this month that the the student government committee had found “no evidence … that supported allegations that current WZRD club members engaged in racial discrimination.”

Specht also told members that prior review between students “was the root cause of most of the issues” the student government committee investigated.

In an interview, Specht said he wanted to point out to the club that the WZRD’s student program director is able to exercise prior review, but should do so “very judiciously” and that new disc jockeys should be told expectations up front.

The club operates a freeform format, shies from music played on corporate stations and does not name its DJs on the air.

Specht said there were no conditions on the students’ return to the station, but that some internal review related to recruitment and training will be conducted with club leaders. Any new policies will be created by the club members themselves, he said.

The requirements detailed in a Nov. 6 letter to the club — which were opposed by members — were dropped by the time of the group’s January reinstatement, Specht said. Those requirements included a revision of the club’s bylaws and constitution. New membership applications would also have to go through the school’s Student Leadership Development office.

The university’s expectations are still unclear, Grilly said.

“It’s sort of cryptic as to what they expect of us except to have a well-run radio station,” Grilly said. “But we’re certainly going to be watched a little closer for a little while.”

Specht told the club he expects to hold at least two meetings each semester with WZRD leadership, according to notes he provided. He also told them he wants to serve as an advocate for the club and plans to be trained as a DJ himself.

“The club is fully active and going into recruiting students as we speak,” Specht said in an interview. “We’re moving forward.”

One change club members previously called for has been implemented – the group can now have alumni serve as DJs, Grilly said. Alumni will be able to train new DJs and can pick up slack in scheduling.

Grilly called the change a “big win” and “huge benefit.”

Though Grilly believes the university’s actions against the station were unfair, he does see a positive side to the situation.

“I think this process has actually made us a much stronger organization, because we were forced to come together and really band together,” Grilly said. “I think we surprised the administration just how cohesive we were and how vigilant.”

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Sara by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.