As recently as the early 90s, WLUW–the Loyola University-owned radio station at 88.7 FM–delivered a slick, tedious all-dance format that seemed designed to churn out future WBMX jocks. But changes implemented by the school’s communication department over the past half decade have transformed it into one of the city’s most valuable radio stations, diversifying the music programming and, in keeping with the school’s Jesuit orientation, prioritizing community service. Now the on-air staff is professional without being cloying or annoying, and there’s an emphasis on local music. The station also hosts a variety of programs serving the Ethiopian, Bulgarian, Native American, Guatemalan, Haitian, and Jewish communities and provides a much-needed outlet for progressive political and cultural programs like Radio Nation, the gay and lesbian radio magazine This Way Out, and Counterspin, a weekly show from the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. The station’s good work hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. This past fall New City readers voted WLUW Chicago’s best radio station–impressive given that the station broadcasts at only 100 watts to WXRT’s 6,700, Q101’s 6,000, and WBEZ’s 8,100.
Yet about a month later the acting dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, David Slavsky, sent a memo to a professor in the communication department stating that WLUW, whose current budget is $159,000, could no longer be funded exclusively with tuition money. The memo made its way through the department, and on November 14, Loyola’s student newspaper, the Phoenix, broke the story. Since then, WLUW has been operating under the worst-case assumption that in July, when fiscal year 2003 starts, the station will be on its own.
The move is apparently part of a larger effort by new university president the Reverend Michael J. Garanzini to alleviate Loyola’s ongoing financial crisis–the school is $41 million over budget this year. More recently Garanzini told the Phoenix, “I don’t doubt that it’s a very excellent radio station. But I can’t take tuition money to subsidize what a number of students think is a great experience, when that experience could be paid for like others pay for it by generating revenue.”
He hasn’t said how he believes the station should do that: WLUW’s noncommercial broadcast license prohibits it from generating income from advertising. It can raise money through underwriting, which allows the station to announce only that a sponsoring business has provided support to the station, with at most a brief description of the business. According to a report compiled by WLUW program director Shawn Campbell, only a handful of noncommercial college radio stations in the country are self-sufficient, and they’re all much larger, transmitting at between 2,000 and 50,000 watts. All WLUW’s peers in the area, including Northwestern’s WNUR, the U. of C.’s WHPK, NIU’s WZRD, and Columbia College’s WCRX, are primarily funded by their respective universities.
Furthermore, it seems unreasonable to ask WLUW to do without tuition money when students pay tuition money in part to gain access to its facilities. A dozen courses offered by Loyola’s communication department make use of the station’s equipment or airtime, and WLUW’s current budget includes two full-time staff members, Campbell and station manager Craig Kois, both of whom double as instructors. Kois is teaching two production classes of 12 students each; Campbell is teaching an introductory audio production class with 19 students. A semester’s tuition for a full-time student, taking 12 to 18 credit hours, is $9,736. Kois’s 24 students earn three credit hours each, so if they’re full-time they’re collectively paying between $39,000 and $58,000 to take those courses. Campbell’s students, who earn between one and three credit hours for her class depending on how much time they put in at the station, collectively pay somewhere between $10,000 and $46,000.
Since the shit hit the fan, Kois and Campbell have been working to reduce the station’s expenses by about $40,000. They’re eliminating the small stipends–minimum wage for ten hours a week–currently paid to student managers of departments like sports, music, and news. The station may also cut its subscription to the Associated Press wire service, and a planned move from the school’s Water Tower campus to its Lake Shore campus, where the transmitter is located, will save $12,000 in transmission fees. Still, they’re facing an uphill battle. WNUR, the area’s strongest college station at 7,200 watts, generates about $25,000 a year from fund-raising. WLUW’s first ever pledge drive–which ran on-air from February 6 to February 15–brought in $32,500, but that’s still a long way from covering the full budget.
Not surprisingly, everyone involved with the station is disturbed by these developments. “We think that what we do here is really good and we’ve worked really hard to bring it to this point,” says Campbell. “We want to do everything in our power to protect that, to continue to provide a good experience for students interested in pursuing careers in broadcasting and also to serve our audience. When you hold a broadcast license you can’t only serve the university, but you have to serve the public interest.”
While Garanzini has maintained his position in various newspaper interviews and public addresses at Loyola, he has offered no specific explanation of why WLUW is on the hit list in his campaign to reduce costs. When I tried to reach him, I was forwarded to associate vice president for public relations Bud Jones, who told me, “We want to diminish our costs. If we could diminish our costs to nothing, that would be the best of all worlds. But we’re not going to get rid of our radio station. Nothing is written in stone.” Dean Slavsky, whom I reached by E-mail, declined to comment on the situation, except to write, “Right now, we are doing research and investigating all possible options for keeping WLUW as a vibrant part of the Loyola community. However, given that we are still in the stage of learning our options, we will have no further comment at this time.”
“You can’t get a straight answer out of [Garanzini],” says Mike Stephen, a Loyola senior, four-year WLUW volunteer, and the student representative on the station’s steering committee. “I think the level of trust in this man has been severely decreased because of his reluctance to communicate with us at the radio station.” Last week the Phoenix ran a guest editorial by Stephen that demanded answers about the station’s fate, but at press time there had been no response from university officials.
Jeff Harder, an associate professor in the communication department who helped design the station’s current format, is also alarmed by the administration’s silence on the matter: “Is this an attack on the format and how the station functions as an educational unit? They’ve said nothing to dissuade us from those concerns. If they’re not going to talk, they have to let us raise the issues and prove us wrong. What are they discussing? It doesn’t take a year to come up with a financing formula.”
Meanwhile the station has organized a series of live concert benefits with area clubs. Starting on April 5, the Hideout will host a benefit concert each Friday this month (Butterfly Child, Settler, and Steph Turner perform tonight) and DJ events on Saturdays after the regular shows are over.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.