Making Waves

Power play silences USC's radio station


Although the University of South Carolina's radio station, WUSC, is moving forward with a new music format and a mostly green staff, the controversy surrounding changeover is not going away.
If you are not tuned in, former station manager Trey Lofton resigned on Dec. 13 and WUSC was shut down. A month later, the entire executive staff of WUSC, all elected positions, was dismissed for promoting "a culture of irresponsibility."
All former deejays had to be re-educated in order to get a show but, according to some, the retraining session was not adequately publicized. Flyers were posted around campus and an ad appeared in The Gamecock. No phone calls were made, even to deejays who had been on the air for years.
Most former deejays decided not to return to the station on principle, believing that student media director Chris Carroll had used duplicitous means to take over the station. Former executive staff member Kerry Mitchell's summed it up, "I refuse to work up there with that man."
After falling silent for 45 days, WUSC made its debut with a new staff that was, with few exceptions, as knowledgeable about today's music as your grandparents. Music that veered from the mainstream was sandwiched between refrains of "Freebird" and other hits. Even John Lyons, current music director for the station, said, "I'm hearing music that should never be heard on WUSC."
The impressive collection of station IDs, including one from President Bill Clinton, were replaced with a man imitating a slick FM voice, "You're listening to WUSC FM, Columbia" with cheesy space sounds swooshing in the background.
After the "takeover," a group of former staffers mounted an agressive public relations campaign to call attention to the coup. Cathy Rimmer organized community meetings to encourage station supporters to write letters and call the university. Prestigious trade journals, College Music Journal and GAVIN, dropped WUSC as a "reporter," causing the station to disappear from industry charts, the only objective measure of success for college radio. The journals rate stations according to how much exposure they give to new music.
Director of student life Jerry Brewer conceded that the former staff has been fairly successful with its campaign. Articles are slated to appear in SPIN and U magazine. Long-time station supporters like Tim Smith, owner of Papa Jazz in Columbia and a former deejay at WUSC, have stopped donating music to the station.
But the publicity and community forums did nothing to sway the administration. Some former deejays and their friends decided to take the campaign a step further: guerilla war.
Brewer and Carroll have been receiving a stream of e-mail from "stolen accounts." People are hacking into USC's computer system and using unactivated e-mail accounts to harass the administration. For example, Carroll said that a professor's account was used to send e-mail that alluded to him working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
"I've learned something about electronic communication from this experience," Brewer said. While amused to a point, he added, "You can only go so far in saying You need to work through this.' We're at a point where the institution is getting ready to act." The university is conducting an investigation.
Guerilla e-mail is only the beginning. The former staff has information posted on Justice on Campus' home page, and MIT gave the former staff a Web site to publicize their plight.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services showed up in the photography room of student media to investigate disposal of chemicals. Apparently, someone had filed an anonymous complaint.
Brewer said that as a preemptive strike he has "already notified all other relevant state agencies that they are welcome to visit the university at any time."
Former WUSC staff member Matt Horgan recently met with both Vice President of Student Affairs Dennis Pruitt and President John Palms to inform them "that The Gamecock was using unlicenced versions of software that had been illegally duplicated. The Software Piracy Association has been notified. "
Why did he do it? "Frankly, for retribution," he said. To avoid fines, the university will have to buy additional copies of various programs.
Former manager Lofton has encouraged ex-staffers to keep the campaign aboveboard but said, "There's always that fringe element out there. After all, 60 deejays left the station."
As far as former WUSC members reporting infractions, Lofton said WUSC was unfarily singled out for violations and that "Chris Carroll sits on a department [student media] that breaks rules and regulations every day."
Lofton said that since the administration started the dirty war first and that because WUSC staff members have been unfairly treated, his anger is understandable. Citing an example, Lofton explained "Chris Carroll has gone on record saying we abused people. First of all it's not true and, secondly, saying something like that is in itself a violation of university policy."
Despite this atmosphere of all-out war, a fresh group of deejays are happy to be on the air, and most of them couldn't care less about the controversy.
Mark Bryan, a former deejay and currently with Hootie and the Blowfish, recently met with the new executive staff to tell them the important role of college radio in exposing the public to new music.
While making a point to steer clear of the politics surrounding the station, Bryan said, "In the past, you've had a situation where one staff leads to the next, a passing of the torch, so to speak. With all that has happened, the new staff doesn't have the luxury of that education."
On Feb. 29, about half of the station's deejays showed up to vote on the future format of the station. With over 40 deejays voting, the station moved, with five votes opposed, to implement a 50 percent new music format, similar to what WUSC had before the changeover.
The day after the vote, however, deejays were already violating the new music policy with songs like Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" and Nirvana's "Come As You Are."
Change will take time. The moral of this story is that a new music policy can not open a closed mind.

© Copyright by POINT, 1996
Last modified 3/11/95