|City of license||Chicago, Illinois|
|Broadcast area||Chicago area|
|First air date||1974|
|Owner||Northeastern Illinois University|
WZRD (88.3 FM) is the student run radio station at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois, USA, founded in 1974. The station serves the Chicago area. The station is licensed by the FCC to Northeastern Illinois University. WZRD broadcasts on a Freeform radio format.
Unlike other formats, WZRD's freeform does not have block programming of particular genres, or styles of radio such as a news slot, a rock slot, or talk radio show (save Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations). Instead it encourages the DJs to mix all of these genres together in a creative, unique, and often challenging way. It would not be unheard of to hear Tibetan Buddhist chants, early 1980s punk rock, eclectic mixes, a spoken word piece and public service announcements in succession.
"Different genres of music, spoken word, and sound effects are played side-by-side in a way that usually flows rather than jars. With a library of rare recordings that includes 15,000 records and another 17,000 CDs, cassettes, and reel-to-reels, there’s no telling what you’ll hear. 'We always say if you don’t like what you hear right now, turn us on again in five minutes and you’ll hear something completely different,' says former Program Director Dan Demchuk." - Cara Jepsen, Illinois Entertainer
Furthermore, one WZRD's missions is to provide a voice to the voiceless, trying to present media that cannot be heard elsewhere, whether it be because it is controversial, unpopular, or local. WZRD's programming is designed to be a reflection of the community, and serve its needs that are not met else where by the homogenized and corporate landscape of radio. Additionally, DJss remain anonymous, Djing affectionately under the title of Wizards. In this way, WZRD's programming is meant to be one long and colorful spectrum of humanity that each Wizard will man for his designated time slot with a deemphasis on ego.
- WZRD accepts no outside funding. Its operating budget is provided in full by Northeastern Illinois University.
- The station is also an affiliate of the Pacifica radio network. It broadcasts Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News.
WZRD has a close relationship with the local music scene in that it often gives away tickets to various shows and festivals and throughout the years has produced live events at The Metro, The Abby Pub and The Empty Bottle, to name a few venues. WZRD's "Thursday Night Live" show features local acts of all types of music, but live sets have often been performed on WZRD at all hours and days of the week.
WZRD has hosted live in-studio performances over the years including Smashing Pumpkins, Screeching Weasel, Rapeman, Les Claypool, Naked Raygun, and many other artists that played and continue to play in-studio during WZRD's "Thursday Night Live" program—a long running weekly live performance show featuring local, national, and international acts.
Importance in the Chicago Punk scene (1980s)
WZRD was a hotbed for local and touring punk, hardcore, and post-punk groups in the 1980s. With its consistent live in-studio performances, and having hosted shows at Metro and other venues with Effigies, Naked Raygun, and other local punk bands, WZRD was one of the first and most persistent stations to play heavily punk influenced playlists. Steve Bjorklund, an early figure in Chicago's punk scene writes in the liner notes of The Effigies album "Remains Nonviewable":
It was the early spring of 1980, and the occasion was a free show by a shitty band called A Minimal Graphic in the auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University on the northwest side. Northeastern Illinois University was significant because it housed the only radio station in Chicago that wasn't afraid to play punk rock.
Prominent figure in Chicago music, Steve Albini, states in Naked Raygun's Basement Screams reissue's liner notes that "Sunday Morning Nightmare" on WZRD was the "one radio program" for Chicago punk in the early 1980s. WZRD's role in the Chicago Punk scene was discussed in You Weren't There, a 2007 film that documents the Chicago Punk scene from 1977 through 1984.
On June 30 of 2011, WZRD hosted a Benefit for Japan from 4 PM-10 PM featuring Ono, Andy Ortmann, Sharkula, DJ Earl and DJ Spinn with dancing by Juke Chicago, all proceeds benefited Green Action Japan. In 2011,on September 27, 2011 at 1:00 PM WZRD Chicago 88.3 FM presented Cindy Sheehan, the famous peace activist known as "The Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement," in a lecture "The Peace Movement in 2012: Hopes and Prospects." The prelude to the event was performed by Mark Kroos, who was awarded the title "Best Guitar Player of 2011." This event was co-sponsored by the NEIU Justice Studies Department, the Sociology Club, and the Muslim Student Association.
WZRD also hosted an AIDS Awareness/Prevention Event that began with a ramp up event of Hula Hoops with Jane Albright and Cindy Huston as well as the Windy City Wizard, Emmett Miller on Friday, October 14, 2011 from 12 noon -2:00 PM. The Aids Awareness/Prevention Event occurred on Sunday, October 16 from 12:30-3:00 PM featured performances by the Stick and Move Dance Crew, and Francois LeRoux, aka the Ha!man of South Africa. Speakers for the event included Dr. Brett Stockdill of the NEIU Sociology, Latino/Latin American Studies and the Women's Studies Departments with Arick Buckles of the Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy (IL ASAP). This event was co-sponsored by the Theta Chi Omega National Sorority, the Independent Newspaper, Seeds Literary Journal, the NEIU Hip Hop Club, the Justice Studies Club, the Sociology Club, Theta Omega Phi Fraternity.
On November 11, 2011, WZRD hosted an event in NEIU's recital hall titled "Honoring Our Veterans" which was a benefit for Joshua Misiewicz, USMC. Josh lost both legs in a landmine accident in Afghanistan during his tour of duty. Josh is also the nephew of NEIU's campus locksmith, Art Misiewicz. This event was co-sponsored by the NEIU Veteran's Club, the True Vine Club, and Cosmic Lizzard, a Chicago-based production company that has been involved in several benefits since its inception. Entertainment for that evening included: 6-6:10 pm, United States Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph Benning (retired) with an introduction honoring our veterans. 6:15-6:30 NEIU Hip Hop Club. 6:35-7:15 DJUFRO 7:20-7:55 Da$htone (Hip-hop/jazz/lyrics that make you wanna dance in yo pants!) 8:00-9:30 Flow Theory.
In the Spring of 2012, WZRD hosted a documentary series which featured "Toxic Soup," "The World According to Monsanto," and "You Weren't There" as well as the screening of "Two Spirits." "Two Spirits" was about Fred Martinez, a Native American whose culture embraced the dual nature of his sexuality only to be murdered at the age of 16 by homophobes from his mainstream high school. The panel afterwards featured Reggie Sawyer (Choctaw Cherokee), Kim Hansen and Professor Loretta Capeheart.
WZRD Take Over
On June 29, 2012, Northeastern Illinois University seized control of its student-run radio station, WZRD (88.3 FM). Northeastern Illinois University Director of Student Leadership Development declared that the future of the radio club—and possibly the re-purposing of the radio station—would be decided following a search for a different programming format. In the meantime, WZRD would continue broadcasting using a "skeleton team", under the strict control of the university. The on-air programming was mostly provided by an automated DJ system. According to the Chicago Reader: "Student Leadership Development director Sharron Evans called an impromptu June 29 meeting with the DJs, presenting a memo listing WZRD's alleged violations of the school's student-government bylaws. Since then NEIU has abandoned some of those allegations (including a charge that WZRD was missing years of FCC documents reporting its community-service programming), but several remain, among them misuse of funds and problems with the selection process for new members. Evans's memo also mentions that the school was fined $7,000 in 2007 because the station's FCC license wasn't renewed on time (the renewal process is now under way again, and should end by December)."
The Wizards immediately formed the group The Wizards in Exile, meeting weekly to campaign and lobby for a return to the station, with full student autonomy over management, and format. The Wizards printed their own newspaper, spoke to numerous publications including the Reader in its Three Beats segment. According to the Wizard newsletter printed: "The Future of College Radio Is Threatened. Student run radio stations are financially threatened institutions on college campuses these days. But at NEIU, it's a lack of ethics and an unwillingness to even pretend to adhere to standards of due process contained in the institutions internal Policies and Procedures, marched only in the world of corporate take overs, the best characterizes the University's take-down of the Wizard"
In addition WZRD spoke on WHPK, and hosted a weekly show on WNUR 89.3 FM on Sundays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. through December 2012 called the Wizards in Exile. The Wizard in Exile spoke at NEIU Board of Trusties meetings, and on November 1 had a formal hearing to challenge the constitutionality of forming standing committees of students to oversee the WZRD charges, as well as the neglect of due process. The judged voted 3:0 against WZRD.
On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, NEIU's newspaper the Independent headline story was "WZRD 88.3 Back in Business." Based on what the administration handed down to the collective, it did not reflect the Exiler's intentions. "The Participants will be expected to abide by standards of conduct compatible with Northeastern Illinois University standards...Wizard will be overseen by the Office of Student Leadership" and furthermore it said that although the students would retain their autonomy "the organization's bylaws, constitution, and powers of the program manager require revision and the addition of a 'statement of civility and decorum on how the actions of Djs will be treated'" Administration further expected the hiring of an administrator to act as a manager of the station.
Wizards in fact did not walk back in on December 1, instead perusing alternative paths towards regaining the station. During this period, intense negotiations were held between the Wizards in Exile and Administration that resulted in a full concession on the part of NEIU, with WZRD being handed back to the Exilers with full autonomy, and unadulterated. WZRD and its crew of wizards (disc jockeys, news directors, music directors, program directors and station manager) resumed programming at Northeastern Illinois University in January, 2013 with a renewed vigor. WZRD was cleared of all charges by NEIU in a formal letter by VP of Student Affairs Frank Ross. Furthermore, WZRD was granted further privileges such as official alumni and community involvement.
Vindicated by the university, and student government, WZRD was named "Best College Radio Station in Chicago" by New City. New City's had this to say of the station and its recent Exile: "The Wizard is back, at 88.3 FM. And that is great good news for Chicagoans within antenna range of the free-form radio station on the campus of Northeastern Illinois University. The 100-watt beacon of free speech has emerged from its battle with the NEIU administration in better shape than ever, with dozens of new volunteers and trainees. The student club that has operated the station since the mid-1970s was accused in June 2012 of everything from financial shenanigans to theft of official documents, and locked out of the station’s premises. But the charges didn’t stick, and vindicated club members returned this past January to restore and rededicate the studio. And so it’s back to what passes for normal at WZRD, a madcap operation where all DJs are anonymous “Wizards,” and all Wizards are encouraged to do exactly as they please, as long as it’s unconventional, unpredictable and un-corporate. The station Web site declares the microphones open to all–“All we ask is that you not suck.” “It’s an alternative to Radio Dismal,” says News Director Dale Lehman, an NEIU alumnus and long-time Wizard. “Our goal is to treat listeners like citizens, not consumers.” Remarkably (and shamefully), little WZRD remains the sole station in the nation’s third-largest radio market to play “Democracy Now!,” the most provocative and least dumbed-down news program going. While too many other college stations shun controversy and imitate the commercial outlets, WZRD marches to its own trippy drummer, and seeks to serve the community. More power to it."
WZRD received the Nelson Algren "Committee Award" in March 2014.
WZRD's celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Double Door featuring Acid Mother's Temple, Perhaps, and Silver Abuse on May 18, 2014.
- "WZRD Facility Record". United States Federal Communications Commission, audio division.
- "College Stations: Terrastrial Radio’s Last Frontier". Illinois Entertainer.
- "WZRD Official Website". WZRD.
- "Effigies' Remains Liner Notes".
- Official Website/Blog
- Petition to Save WZRD
- Query the FCC's FM station database for WZRD
- Radio-Locator information on WZRD
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WZRD
- WZRD Real-Time Playlist Log
- WZRDry Blog