Fifteen years ago Loyola University communications instructor Craig Kois helped lead a groundbreaking effort to change WLUW, the school’s standard-issue music station, into community radio. As Kois explained the concept to the Reader in 1995: “We decided that somehow we should be serving the community that was receiving our signal. Our ultimate goal is to engage the community and train them to produce their own work. Students then become not reporters but facilitators.” If that sounds familiar, it might be because it’s been echoed recently in the rationale for Vocalo, Chicago Public Radio’s current experiment with its Indiana stations.
Kois became WLUW’s manager in ’97, though he continued to teach part-time as well, and the station grew into a source for independent music and news and for programs targeted toward the various ethnic groups in its north-side broadcast area. In late 2001, when the university was struggling financially, Loyola announced that tuition money would no longer be used to support WLUW, exciting fears that the station’s mission might be lost. But Chicago Public Radio stepped in and took over the management, sharing financial responsibility with the university, which retained ownership. They were able to maintain the programming and staff, consisting of two full-time paid employees, Kois and program director Shawn Campbell, and a large contingent of volunteers. Kois and Campbell technically became WBEZ employees, and public fund-raising was stepped up.
The station now has about 200 volunteers (over half of them students), 25,000 listeners, and an annual budget in the neighborhood of $200,000. Final numbers aren’t in yet, but Kois says that in the fiscal year that ended last month WLUW attained, or nearly attained, its goal of becoming self-supporting. So it came as a jolt to him this month to learn that Loyola will be taking the station back, leaving its future programming in question. Robert Feder broke the news in the Sun-Times July 13, before anyone at the station had been informed.
After Feder’s report, WBEZ summoned volunteers to a July 16 meeting where general manager Torey Malatia and other officials confirmed the change: Loyola would begin covering the station’s costs immediately but wouldn’t take over its management until next June. They said Kois and Campbell would be replaced for the interim by WBEZ staff member Kristina Stevens. Later it was revealed that Campbell was offered another position with Chicago Public Radio. Kois will be out of a job effective the end of this month.
Kois says he’s been told that the university stipulated his exit from the station. Campbell speculates that their community-organizing activities, undertaken when WLUW was threatened with extinction in 2002, could have made the school wary. But neither she nor Kois, who’s been teaching in Loyola’s communications department since the 1980s, has been given an explanation by the university. In the past, they say, interactions between the station and the school have been via WBEZ. What they know they’ve been told by WBEZ officials.
Meanwhile the university is denying responsibility. Vice provost John Pelissero maintains that Loyola was absolutely “not involved” in the decision about staff changes. “The two employees are WBEZ employees–that’s a management decision WBEZ has made,” Pelissero says. He also says that Loyola informed WBEZ in late June that it would be taking over WLUW.
According to Pelissero, the school has had no problem with the station; it simply has another agenda. Loyola has three new majors in its communications department, including one in journalism, and wants to use the station as an educational tool. But under the agreement with CPR it’s a community station, run with money raised from the public. In those circumstances, he says, “listeners have a good deal to say about the programming. And while we expect there will continue to be some of the same kind of format, we want to have the control to make sure the program time needed for students will be available.” He says a committee of faculty and administrators will decide how the station will be used.
Campbell says that WLUW has more student participation than any other college station in northern Illinois except WNUR, and that “no student has ever been turned away.” And Kois says he would have been happy to work with the communications department on the format but was never approached about it. He says he heard some rumors late last year that it would be taken back, and he believes that Malatia was trying to find out what was going on for “quite a while before he finally was allowed to meet with the university president.”
Malatia says he can’t comment on the staff changes but agrees that he was told on June 29 that the university would take the station over. He says the period between June 29 and July 11 was spent in negotiations with Loyola about how expenses would be handled between now and June 2008.
Last week Kois was taking comfort in the thought that Loyola would allow him to continue as a part-time instructor. And Pelissero told me Kois’s teaching assignment would be unaffected by events at the radio station. But last Friday Kois got a call from the chair of the communications department letting him know that he wouldn’t be teaching there in the fall.
Some of the WLUW stalwarts are forming a nonprofit organization, the Chicago Indie Radio Project, hoping to launch a new low-power station if Congress makes it legal to do that. Campbell says a benefit is planned for Friday, August 10, at 9 PM at the Double Door, with Canasta headlining; tickets are $10. See myspace.com/chicagoindieradio for more info.
Bak on the Block
Artist Bruno Bak, who died in 1981, is best known for the massive stained glass window he created for the modernist church designed by architect Marcel Breuer at Saint John’s University in Minnesota. The window was installed in 1961, when Bak was on the faculty there, but in the mid-1960s he and his wife, printmaker Hedi Bak, lived in Chicago. They attempted to create an artists’ community of apartments, studios, and galleries on Lincoln Avenue and then ran Studio 22, which included studios, a print shop, and a book bindery, at 63 W. Ontario. During that time Bak created “One Hundred Views of Chicago,” a series of woodcuts of starkly intent Chicagoans going about their business in the city’s parks, buildings, and streets. It was an edition of 500; number 303, complete and in pristine shape, will be on the block at the Highland Park Art Center’s huge annual recycled-art sale, which begins with a benefit auction Friday night, July 27, and continues through August 25.
City Denies Jumpsuits
The city says it was the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing that shut down last week’s Printers’ Ball, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation at the Zhou B. Art Center. Department spokesperson Rosa Escareno says the venue lacked a special-event license and adequate exit signs and routes for the upper floors. As for an Internet report of a “small army” in “ominous black jumpsuits,” she guesses they were performers: “Nobody here wears jumpsuits.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Craig Kois photo by Robert Drea.