WZRD, Northeastern Illinois University
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.
AUDIENCE CHOICE: 89.3 FM WNUR, Northwestern, (847)866-9687, wnur.org
Best of Chicago 2013