When do students cross the line on campus radio?

Dec 6, 2017

Last month some student radio hosts at the University of Minnesota, Morris were kicked-off their airwaves during their live broadcast for what was considered inappropriate comments.  WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley talked with some local media communication majors who follow strict on-air rules on campus radio. 

WMCB The Fuze, Medaille College student radio station.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

WMCB The Fuze is a student-run campus radio station at Medaille College in Buffalo.  It broadcasts over the internet.

Students with WMCB The Fuze, Medaille College student radio station.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“I tell them that there’s no foul language allowed. No explicit music - no explicit talking,” said Stephanie Zawadzki, junior at Medaille.

Zawadzki serves as program director of the campus radio station. She manages and schedules all on-air shifts.

We asked some of the students to watch and listen to a video clip from the University of Minnesota, Morris from the campus radio station, KUMM.  It's where students were hosting a show called “Deplorable Radio”.       

The University of Minnesota, Morris students had been discussing potential ‘anti-fascists’ violence on their campus. That’s when one of the co-hosts used the word ‘tranny’.

"You see one tranny that’s trying to punch someone...," stated in the video clip from KUMM.

Minutes later the hosts were pulled off the air by student station manager asking them to leave and campus police were called. 

The word ‘tranny’ is slang, considered an offensive and derogatory term to identify a transvestite, transsexual or transgender person. 

Zawadzki reacted to the video.

WMCB The Fuze, Medaille College student radio station.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“I don’t think that should be allowed because. It’s stereo typing people. It's the same as, you know, being racists or being sexist against someone,” remarked Zawadzki.

The University campus station manager said the Minnesota students violated FCC Law by using a ‘hate slur’, but later she retracted the statement. 

In researching FCC rules, under its 'Freedom of Speech policy', the FCC states:

“The FCC is barred by law from trying to prevent the broadcast of any point of view."  It also states "The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material, in most cases, and from making any regulation that would interfere with freedom of speech."

At the Medaille radio station, Zawadzki tells WBFO News students must follow rules for on-air content rules.

“I made everyone sign a contract when they first started saying you represent the station - none of that on social media because it’s going to look bad on us,” Zawadzki explained.

"This is an environment where people need to be professional – how they speak and what words they use and you can't use profanities and such,” stated Juli Hinds, faculty advisory. Hinds also works as a professional radio announcer on Buffalo music station. 

Students inside WMCB studio at Medaille College.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Hinds trusts the student leadership to run the station professionally. 

"I think she checks in enough with students. I pop my head in once in a while and I certainly listen and I hear only students growing and becoming more and more professional.  I'm very impressed,” Hinds replied.

"I think it all goes down to respect – you don't use that kind of language,” said Michael Donovan, second year student and co-host of a sports show. 

Donovan said he respects the campus radio station policy.

"A lot of people – they’re not going to be very open to that kind of language. I mean it comes down to the matter of respect – you just got to respect the people you are around and know the audience that you have – who you are actually talking to,” Donovan said.

Medaille freshman Lucas Buckley, no relation, also co-hosts a radio sports show. He said students training to be professional broadcasters need to have a 'filter'. 

Students with WMCB The Fuze, Medaille College student radio station.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"You've got to represent your brand -- if you want people to agree with your opinions -- why are you being an idiot and saying hate speech? You're not going to change your group’s image if you’re just perpetuating what everyone already hates you for -- but it's just ill-thought out,” Buckley said.

Zawadzki and faculty advisory Hinds point out today's social media climate gives too many students the temptation to say what’s on their mind and not follow broadcast rules.

"In this day and age, people my age, in our social lives, we don't take those kind of things seriously because it could be normal to us compared to the generation that was before us where it's a lot more strict,” Zawadzki noted.

"I know that there's something about when you turn on the mic that you do kind of think, a little bit more about how you are forming your thoughts, so when someone says something sort of like 'tranny' and they say something that's dismissive, it is a little surprising because you would think that would take that 'beat' to be thinking of their audience,” Hinds responded.

Inside WMCB The Fuze, Medaille College student radio station.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The college's communications program includes in media-law ethics with discussions on obscenity laws, libel and slander – all to equip media students with what's allowed on the airwaves.

WBFO reached out twice to the FCC to participate in the story, but we did not receive a response.