Fear and Loathing in Charlottesville

The latest furor in non-comm stations involves the University of Virginia’s WTJU. Jeff Boudreau passed along this post on dailyprogress.com, website from Charlottesville, VA, where appears the following:

Major programming changes coming to WTJU, the University of Virginia’s eclectic non-commercial radio station, are prompting outrage and several high profile resignations by longtime volunteer disc jockeys. “WTJU as we know it is being killed,” said Emmett Boaz, who says he plans to quit the ‘Leftover Biscuits’ folk show he has hosted for the past dozen years. . . . WTJU, 91.1 FM, has long been known as Charlottesville’s freewheeling and unpredictable radio option, featuring rock, classical, jazz, blues, world music and public affairs programming. It first went on the air in 1957. The changes, Boaz and other DJs say, threaten to undo much of the station’s personality and make it less unique. “What they’re trying to do is turn us into all the other stations across the country,” Boaz said. “There are maybe three or four stations across the country that are anything like WTJU.”

There were many more than that at one time, though that has changed drastically in the last decade. Moves at WTJU mirror those that have gone down in cities nationwide:

According to internal e-mails circulating among staff members and volunteer DJs, the changes are expected to include a reorganized schedule and the introduction of songs that DJs will be required to play in rotation. . . .

Some DJs, however, argue that WTJU’s unpredictability is what makes the station special. “We’ve always been a freeform station,” said Tyler Magill, a DJ at WTJU for nearly two decades. “Being a freeform station is what makes us unique. The basic philosophy of the station will be changed and lost.” Magill, who launched a blog about the coming changes at savewtju.blogspot.com, said the upcoming schedule changes will likely mean he’ll have to resign from the rock show he hosts. Rock programming, he said, appears to be moving into the nighttime hours. Magill is the father of a 2-year-old and holds three jobs. Hosting his show at night, he said, is just not viable. Magill also objects to the concept of requiring DJs to play certain songs. WTJU’s DJs, he said, take pride in picking out the music they play during their shows. If DJs are told what to play, he said, they lose the “personal investment” in their shows. “I cannot, in good faith, play songs from a playlist,” he said. “Everything that I play is a song that I love.”

Sound familiar? So do the arguments from the new GM, down to the use of Arbitron to justify the actions:

The changes to WTJU come two months after the university hired a new general manager for the station, Burr Beard. Beard was hired, Anderfuren and Wood wrote, to “freshen the WTJU format, give it a stronger identification with the university, build listenership, engage more students and, as a result, improve its financial condition.”

Beard — whose Web site says he is “one of the most experienced broadcasters and hammer dulcimer players anywhere to be found” — declined to comment on the changes coming to WTJU. Details, he said, will be available at the meeting Thursday. “Best to wait for the comprehensive package of info if you want facts,” he said Monday. Many of Beard’s e-mails and other documents outlining the changes, however, have been posted online at Magill’s blog. In one, Beard cites WTJU’s declining listenership and fundraising as part of the reasons for the changes he says will result in an “all new consistent and reliable WTJU.”

“Arbitron show a downward trend in listening to WTJU,” Beard wrote. “Currently on average only 7,500 people listen each week. That’s the smallest audience of any non-comm station serving Charlottesville. Fundraising has been on a downward swing at the same rate as the listener drop.”

In Tyler’s blog (the link has been added on the right), Burr Beard gives the same lame rap about the wonders of AAA radio, saying in fact that “he had helped to create the AAA format, and wishes to use a similar template at WTJU, in all departments.” Oh, lucky you, Virginia. Yes, there is no Santa Claus.

Yet the battle still rages on alternate sites, such as this one (called “The Hook”) where the comments war is heating up. The story itself sheds a bit of light:

In a call to the Hook, another WTJU staffer complained that Beard wasn’t going to “let DJs play their own songs” and that there was a “mutiny” going on.

Beard has sent messages to WTJU’s staff explaining the proposed changes, a kind of cheerleading effort to get WTJU staff excited about strategies to increase listenership and fundraising. As Beard pointed out, “on average only 7,500 people listen each week. That’s the smallest audience of any non-comm station serving Charlottesville.” Beard has proposed introducing commercial radio-style play lists or rotations.

“Radio’s strong point is repetition,” wrote Beard. “That’s why commercials are repeated so often. It also works when we repeat songs a number of times per week. How can we make spin count and repetition work for us while still remaining fresh and non-commercial?”

The story already appears to have become news without the media. A DJ named Pete Marshall, concerned that his Friday-night roots music showcase, “Sunset Road,” was on the chopping block, decided to resign after nearly 20 years with WTJU.

“The master plan might work but honestly, Burr,” wrote Marshall, “your communication skills suck.”

Visit these sites and lend a hand. Let the folks know they’re not alone. The same tired arguments are being repurposed here. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: What’s the difference between bean counters and yogurt? Yogurt has a live culture.

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2 Responses

  1. […] blog called Radio Survivor has a write-up here; another one called Keep the Public in Public Radio summarizes things nicely here; and here are two letters from the guys who drunk-dial my shows the most […]

  2. […] here to read the rest: Fear and Loathing in Charlottesville « Keeping the Public in … By admin | category: University of VIRGINIA | tags: brandon, college, david, […]

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