WZRD Chicago 88.3 celebrated its 40th anniversary of being completely student run, non-commercial, and unapologetically Freeform in its radio broadcasting. Officially birthed onto terrestrial airwaves in 1974, the collective that would conceive “the Wizard,” wished to offer a pure working testament to community radio as well as an escape from the homogenized landscape of media that still characterizes the mind softening tedium if not offensive programming of commercial radio.
The format designed by the counter culture affinities that were the proto-wizardship was that WZRD should be Freeform, as in lacking any block programming: One psychedelic rainbow transitioning from Kraut Rock to Latin Jazz to Mongolian Throat Singing to talk radio on the U.S. backing of almost every fascist government in Latin America to 20 minutes of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and back again to some local Punk. All done by “Wizards” as they affectionately call themselves in anonymity to further foster an ego free Freeform experience.
Over the past 40 years, WZRD has established itself as a harbor for the local, the weird, the independent, and the voiceless; notably, WZRD greatly contributed to the 80’s Punk scene in Chicago with bands like Naked Raygun, Silver Abuse, and the Effigies appearing on air, as well as playing shows that were sponsored by the station. Steve Albini of Naked Raygun states in the liner notes to Basement Screams that WZRD was the “one radio program” for Chicago punk in the early 1980’s. WZRD is furthermore given a prominent role in the 2007 documentary You Weren’t There about the Chicago Punk Scene.
WZRD additionally has hosted one of the longest running live band programs in the country called Thursday Night Live. Notable acts to have graced WZRD’s airwaves include an extremely early performance of the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as Naked Raygun, Les Claypool, the Jesus Lizard, Screeching Weasel, Rapeman, and White Mystery.
On June 29th 2012, Northeastern Illinois University seized control of WZRD “locking out” the student Djs for seven months, during which the students formed the group the Wizards in Exile that petitioned, printed their own newspaper, toured other radio stations including hosting their own slot of WNUR, and received press from a multitude of publications including Newcity, and the Reader. In January 2013, WZRD returned to air with unadulterated Freeform as well expanded privileges including regaining their alumni support.
Since then WZRD has been, as their latest newsletter declares, “back and better than ever,” with newspapers like New City taking notice and giving WZRD #1 college radio station in Chicago. Stating: “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.”