By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 17, 2007 5:34PM
After we saw an anonymous tip on our sidebar saying that WLUW (88.7 FM) would no longer exist in its current form, we were filled with a sense of dread. How? Why? More importantly, was this really true? We called Shawn Campbell, Program Director, to see what was up. She confirmed that the gist of the tip was true, but told us that the information had been leaked to Feder before WLUW and WBEZ had a chance to talk to their staff (no one from management had done this). They definitely wanted to do so before making a public comment, and Shawn remarked on the situation, "We wanted to wait until after Pitchfork so everyone's weekend wouldn't be ruined." Fair enough. Unfortunately, that privilege had been stolen by someone already.
However, when we went over to the station last night, we heard there was a meeting with the WBEZ higher-ups (Torey Malatia, General Manager of WBEZ; Ron Jones, Program Director; Daniel Ash, Vice President, Strategic Communications) and the staff to answer any questions they might have. We have done one or two airshifts at WLUW and have helped out with the pledge drive on several occasions, so we sat right down for the details.
First and foremost, we were entirely pleased that the voices from WBEZ were completely forthright, transparent and willing to answer all the staff questions. So much so that we had to leave before the then two-hour meeting was over. The meeting started off with Shawn Campbell and Craig Kois (Station Manager) giving a few personal remarks. It was soon to be revealed that they would no longer have positions with the station, which came as a shock and visibly angered and saddened the staff deeply.
Kois started by saying "the passion [they have for independent community radio] was challenged by Loyola [five years ago], and these fine folks from WBEZ saved our asses." Shawn was also quick to note that "they [WBEZ] did everything they could to prevent this from happening, and they've been with us every step of the way." It was an exact opposite from a meeting held with the staff five years ago when they were informed WBEZ was coming on board to start to help run the show. At that time, people were convinced WBEZ was going to be a repeater for their 91.5 signal or that they were interested in coming in and completely changing the station. Gratefully that was not true, and now WBEZ was now perceived as the station's biggest friend and ally. In fact, according to Malatia, the reason they got involved in the first place was because they believe in community radio and invested in WLUW in order to "preserve an art form and important voice that is largely missing from the dial."
Hear more about the details of the meeting after the jump. ...
Malatia stepped up and laid out the details of what had happened and what was currently going on. When 'BEZ came on to the scene five years ago, they had made a five-year operating agreement with Loyola University. If it went to seven years, it was renewable for another seven, but there was also a mutual escape clause that either party could enact, giving the other party nine months to transition. That was what Loyola was doing; they were exercising the right to take back complete control of the station at any time during the agreement. They hold the license to broadcast on the 88.7 signal, and decided they wanted to be in control of it.
In our minds, it was ironic (or very calculated?) that the University would decide they wanted their station back after WLUW had its best and most successful fundraising year. Each year, the station had grown in listenership and its ability to work toward self-sufficiency. And WBEZ had worked hard to maintain financial independence from Loyola, seeing to it that WLUW was truly a community station, free from the constraints of the University. To help facilitate this, they set up a community council to help contribute to and watchdog the station, and they created a membership database to keep track of all the supporters.
Yet, last Wednesday found Malatia on a conference call indicating that the re-claiming of the station by the University would officially happen. There had been rumors and rumblings about such things for quite some time, but the absolute, final, 100 percent confirmation was handed down last Thursday. All throughout the staff meeting, Malatia and Jones tried to offer cold comfort and made a plea that the station would continue at its high level of professionalism and quality until the very last second, that second being in June of 2008. Loyola could technically pull the plug on the station any time from here on out, but it seems unlikely. However, any ideas about potential future programming or format was merely speculation on WBEZ's part. They had no concrete details or idea what the University might do in a year.
Despite not knowing what the future programming intent of the University was, Malatia stressed the point that WBEZ was going to continue to try and increase the value of WLUW and make the service even stronger than it has been in an effort to further deepen their relation with the community. The question of why no one from the University was at the meeting was raised, and it was merely because Malatia, et al wanted to just tell the staff what was going on and answer their questions first . They were happy to request a meeting on the staff's behalf, but they also couldn't guarantee the University's compliance, either.
Since Campbell and Kois would no longer be at the station, WBEZ would bring in someone from their staff, Christina Stevens, to oversee the operation in the interim. The staff was reluctant to accept this change and wanted to know why Craig and Shawn couldn't also stay until the last possible minute. There were two factors in this decision which seemed to come down to the fact that since WBEZ would no longer be able to fundraise (completely unethical if they don't run the station), they could no longer afford to staff two full-time positions. Also, it was made clear that being around for the end of what Shawn and Craig had created wouldn't have been the most rewarding experience for them. They seemed as okay with the decision as anyone could be facing such a huge loss in their lives.
The next set of questions got back to the format issue -- what was the University's intent in taking the station back? Again, everything was complete speculation; there had been no discussion with Loyola about the potential future of the station. Loyola was opening a new School of Communication, and there was thought that maybe they would use the station as a bright shiny jewel for that school. Maybe they'd broadcast student events or have broadcasts of sporting events. There was no way to tell, for the University hadn't given an inkling to their future plans. A few staffers expressed concern that it would become a learning lab for the students or that a school that claimed interest in serving social justice but who took over a radio station would radically alter programming.
There were lots of emotional statements from staff, and not just one person filled with tears and outrage. The idea that students weren't being served seemed ludicrous, since no student that had come to the station to volunteer had ever been turned away and WLUW has the most students working at it of any station in a unversity setting, save from WNUR -- their students from the Medill School of Journalism were required to work at the station as part of their coursework.
There was never any request that the staff not talk about this in their communities, on blogs, with their friends and exhibit a passion for the station. It was cautioned that it would be the best way to service and honor their listeners if they continued on the air as much as they could, business as usual, professional and respectful, and not go on air blasting the University for their decision. (That's our job.) Torey urged the staff to continue doing "the good, solid, great work" they had been doing to make "the best effort to show that [the station] is lasting, important and part of the quality of life for its listeners." He made it clear that each staffer needed to decide for themselves if they would stay around for the last year, but he suggested again that it might be worthwhile to enjoy the station while it was still in its current form; he said that if they enjoy doing the work and people enjoy listening to it, it might well serve them to "rage against the dying of the light." Daniel Ash did suggest that if people were to write letters to the University, they focus on their personal experiences with the station and how much the service means to them. At this point, continuing on with the station and striving to make it the best station possible ends to be a "no-lose proposition -- the listeners benefit no matter what," Malatia said.
Malatia also recalled the beginning of the relationship with WLUW and how WBEZ didn't come into the agreement knowing they wanted to keep Shawn and Craig, but how they realized that all the energy that was created around and about them made them realize they were perfect for the job. He told the students that Christina Stevens would be meeting with them soon and would not make "wholesale changes" to the station. Many opinions were expressed giving their gratitude, respect and admiration for what Kois and Campbell have provided to the station for these past five years in particular. Kois said, "Since we have started community radio, there has always been opposition to what we have done, and every time we worked harder to do what we have done. The greatest tribute to Shawn and me is to continue the work we started. If you do this, you keep your options open, but if you self-destruct, you don't have an option." Malatia also reminded the staff that legally, Loyola had a legal obligation to serve the public interest and that the radio spectrum didn't know campus boundaries.
So. That's about it -- if you've made it this far, you must really care about WLUW. We think this move sucks. One staffer said, "It feels like I got fired, but my job called my mom to tell me." Our analogy is much harsher. For us it's like a parent who gave their child up for adopton because they just couldn't handle it anymore. And then once the adoptive parents raised the child and made her a great success, the parent came back and said, "I know I left you cause I was an alcoholic and couldn't handle you, but now that you look so good and act so incredibly well, I'm coming back to claim you for my own." Except for in adoption cases, the biological parent/s can't just decide to take their child back all willy-nilly.
As for now, the fate of the very successful WLUW record fair is left hanging in the balance, since it was a fundraiser for the station. They have an upcoming show scheduled for Aug 10 at Double Door (looks sweet -- Canasta, May or May Not, Plane and Driftless Pony Club), that will have to be restructured to benefit another charity or cause, due to the fact that the station can no longer fundraise.
WBEZ's new station Vocalo was mentioned over the course of the discussion as a place that was created out of what 'BEZ had learned from the sensibilities of WLUW. We wanted to hear them offer up more solid guarantees that they would transition some of the people from WLUW to Vocalo. Right now, the station seems to be struggling to find a voice and some consistency, and it would be nice to see people from WLUW who have prior on-air and production experience come on board to even out Vocalo's sound and vision. However, nothing was really said toward that direction.
We are disheartened at the idea of WLUW changing or disappearing in the next year. We think it's shortsighted of Loyola University to suggest making changes to what is a successful, thriving, important member of its community and a true voice of independent music, progressive causes and specialty shows. We can only pray that the University sees what a gem they have in the current format and structure and does little, if nothing, to change it when they resume operations. There's nothing stopping any student from participating, and until now Loyola hasn't even pursued the wonderful station as a recruiting resource, despite their current eagerness to reclaim the station for the student body and curriculum.
Losing Campbell and Kois is a huge blow to the station, and while we believe the men at WBEZ in that Christina Stevens will be there to help in any way possible, it still just won't be the same. We're still reeling with the announcements and we aren't sure what the best course of action is regarding the matter. However, if you wish to write a letter of support (better than lambasting the University, all told), here's the information for the Office of the President. We're not sure that's the best place to start, but we're a fan of going to the top.
That's what we know for now. It's a sad day, to be sure.
Classroom photo courtesy of the author, second WLUW logo courtesy of brewinbeagle.