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Ripples in the airwaves
The University of Louisville’s own WLCV 570 AM/1590 AM radio was literally caught with its pants down, sparking a controversy between the station and the Student Government Association and ultimately leading to the resignation of station General Manager Joey Wilkerson.
The controversy between the two organizations began a few weeks ago when sophomore disc jockey Jessy Blanchard decided to borrow a few tricks from shock-jock Howard Stern by broadcasting in the nude during her 9-11 p.m. show as a ploy to hook listeners. The SGA told Wilkerson to discontinue the broadcasts, and later, current General Manager T.J. Nelson slammed the SGA and SGA President Bill Brammell on the airwaves for what he called an attempt at censorship.
The two acts attracted the listeners the station was hoping for, but last week, the SGA began an audit of the station. The audit of equipment purchased with SGA funds, along with an ongoing investigation of missing equipment, has some radio station members questioning whether the audit was in retaliation for the previous acts.
“It was a gag to draw attention,” Blanchard said of her semi-nude broadcasts. “The SGA hasn’t cared about our radio station and now that we draw attention they audit us.”
Blanchard said the station’s windows were covered with posters so no one could peer inside, but according to David Shaw, assistant director for Student Activities, the glass of the bottom half of the door was left uncovered and several SAC staff members saw Blanchard broadcasting in her underwear. Shaw brought the stunt to the attention of the SGA, who criticized the station for its antics and unruly behavior.
Blanchard said Wilkerson “loved the idea” of her broadcast and gave her approval for the stunt beforehand.
“Joey [Wilkerson] said that it would be fine and it wouldn’t violate any policies and I took his word on it as a superior,” Blanchard said. “I played out my idea and just about got the station canned for it. We try to do something to spark attention and we’re going to be censored for it.”
Blanchard said she only broadcasted semi-nude but advertised full nudity on the air. She said at first the stunt worked in her favor.
“That’s why I got three spots a week and not just one,” she said.
Wilkerson admitted he was aware of the semi-nude broadcasts but deferred comments to Nelson.
“I knew it was going to raise some eyebrows and that someone wasn’t going to like it,” Nelson said of Blanchard’s show. “We figured that as long as we tried to cover up the windows it would be okay.”
Brammell said the semi-nudity was in violation of university policy since the station is housed in the Student Activities Center and the SGA addressed its concerns to the station.
Nelson was angered by what he called censorship and lashed out at Brammell and the SGA on the air, criticizing them for negligence to the station leading up to Blanchard’s shock-talk radio broadcast.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said, but I don’t regret it,” Nelson said.
Nelson said his comments were not intended to be malicious, but to get attention.
“I said it on air because I was angry, but I had alternative motives – I knew someone was finally listening,” he said. “If Jessy in her underwear and me going ballistic is what it takes to get people who are supposed to be in charge to notice then it was worth it. We were screaming out for attention – it’s the same as a kid who gets his face pierced to get his parents to notice him.”
Wilkerson stepped down last week, the day after the audit, saying he was “tired of the games being played” between the SGA and radio station.
“[SGA] didn’t tell me to step down,” he said. “People assume I stepped down because there was heat or some wrong-doing. That isn’t the case at all. I stepped down because when silly things like a retaliation or investigation goes on, that lets me know there still isn’t an effort to help people out. This whole investigation, if it is for retaliation, shows how immature some people are.”
Wilkerson began working at the station in 2001 and took over as general manager last spring.
The SGA is the primary benefactor of the radio station, contributing $5,000 annually along with additional funds for equipment purchases throughout the year. While the day to day management of the station falls outside the SGA’s responsibility, the use of SGA funds is a concern.
“Until this year I didn’t recognize there was a real problem with the radio station, Brammell said. “A lot has been brought to my attention. We’ve gone in to see exactly how funding is spent. We found out that there are inconsistencies and problems with how it’s being spent. Now we’re at the point where we find out things are missing and we’re investigating that. It hasn’t been responsibly managed in the past.”
Brammell said there currently isn’t a time frame for the investigation and cannot yet report its findings, but for now no fingers are being pointed.
“Student Government has been very gracious to give these students the opportunity, and $5,000, to broadcast,” said Greg Virgin, SGA chief of staff who also headed up a radio station committee two years ago to help get the station back on its feet. “We’re not going to interfere, even if we don’t agree with [the station]. All we ask is that [the station] respects the funds, and treats them like university funds. There shouldn’t be a reaction like this when we go through a normal procedure.”
Nelson agrees and said the SGA has every right to audit the station.
“It’s valid,” he said. “It’s their money that bought the equipment.”
Wilkerson asserts that the SGA should be more involved with the station on a regular basis, not just when they disagree with content and that doing so might have avoided such conflicts.
“In the past, there was a real contempt for SGA when it came to the radio station,” he said. “It’s always been the thought at the radio station that the SGA is the enemy. Me, I think they’re the ones who can help us.”
Wilkerson said the SGA has been negligent in addressing and fixing problems at the station, such as its inability to webcast over the Internet.
Brammell believes the station should be able to manage itself independently and not use the SGA as a crutch. He said the SGA will have to get more involved with the station temporarily but hopes to find someone who can oversee the station as an adviser in the future.
“Press and government should be separate. It’s not Student Government’s job to run the radio station,” he said. “I think what we need to do is find out whose job it is to run the radio station on campus and there has to be some type of institution to step forth so the radio station can run somewhat independently.”
Nelson and Brammell met on Friday to discuss the new relationship between the radio station and SGA and both seem confident they’ll be able to work together. Brammell said the SGA will do what it can to help fix certain problems, such as the webcasting.
“I’m not going to be difficult,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to make things harder on others. If WLCV will profit, then let the SGA come in.”