Radio station rocked by format change

Seton Hall orders students to ditch hard-rock music

NEW JERSEY ' Seton Hall University is forcing its student-run radio station to change its format of predominately hard-rock music by the first of the year.

For the past 15 years, the New Jersey radio station WSOU-FM has won numerous awards for being on the cutting edge of hard-rock and heavy-metal programming, but the university now claims this style of music is 'inconsistent' with the mission of the faith-based school.

'Hard rock has been our signature format for the past 15 years. However, we've seen over that time period a real migration in the content of the lyrics affiliated with that particular type of music,' said Robina Schepp, director of public relations for Seton Hall. 'That migration has made it more and more difficult to support having that as our signature format.'

In a letter notifying the station of the decision, Mel Shay, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said the reason for the change was in part because heavy metal is offensive to community members. WSOU staffers were not consulted prior to the decision.

'Lyrics that speak of hatred, or degrade any group of people, are unacceptable,' wrote Shay describing how university officials view the genre of hard rock and heavy metal.

Khaled Elsebai, WSOU music director, said the station already bans songs and bands whose lyrics might be considered offensive or anti-religious, and that they go above and beyond the Federal Communication Commission regulations for editing profanity or words that might offend their audience.

The university has not given the station any guidelines as to what kind of music would be consistent with the Catholic values of the school. Elsebai said, however, he was told alternative rock was also inappropriate.

Shepp said heavy metal cannot be the station's 'signature format,' but she was unsure if this means that genre is completely banned from the WSOU's programming. She said the decision to accept or reject the proposed format would be determined in January by the governing council for the station. The board consists of representatives from the community and the university.

Elsebai is also concerned the change will affect the station's status in the industry. In the past 15 years, WSOU has earned kudos and awards, many of which Elsebai attributes to the station's format.

'It's going to drastically change the station's identity,' Elsebai said. 'Once they change the format we are going to lose our listeners and there really isn't any other format that is not being done. The reason WSOU is the number-one college radio station in the country is no one else does what we do.'

reports, Winter 2001-02