A change in format at WTJU, the University of Virginia pubradio station in Charlottesville, is the subject of dueling forums, a walkout by a longtime DJ and an upcoming town hall meeting. The furor began, according to the C-Ville arts and news site, when new g.m. Burr Beard sent an internal e-mail describing “The All New Consistent and Reliable WTJU.” The station currently plays an eclectic mixture of music selected by DJs. The proposal would drop the number of weekly hours for rock and jazz and institute a rotation of four songs per hour, chosen by department directors from 20 releases and electronically placed on a DJ’s program log for airplay each hour. All this has not gone over well with DJ’s, notes C-Ville. WTJU’s former Rock Music Director Nick Rubin told Radio Survivor that station staffers and fans were “shocked and appalled” about the short notice and little debate over the change. But as Burr said in the internal email, obtained by C-Ville: “It’s not enough to expose people to new music when it’s just a smattering of all kinds of music.” He added that the overhaul is a response to a downturn in fundraising and low station listenership—”7,500 weekly, the smallest of any noncomm station serving Charlottesville.” In addition to his previous work as g.m. and program director of WXLV-FM at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Beard is “one of the great hammer dulcimer players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries,” according to his website.
The whole story can be deciphered from the most blog post on the situation from long-time station DJ Tyler Magill.
It is an excellent presentation of the facts. The key to this whole issue is that WTJU is a cultural success in the Charlottesville community, but has fallen on tough times financially. However, instead of attacking the marketing and fundraising aspects of the station, they are attempting a radical format change. The new PD, and his betters at the University, initially wanted it to have occurred in two weeks, after bending to pressure from the community and the volunteer DJs they’ve stalled it until August.
In summary: They’ve chosen a risky and unproven direction for a station that has an unparalleled reputation, locked out 70% of the station’s dedicated volunteer DJs from the future course of the station (entire classical department nixed), locked everyone out of the decision making, and dictated that all of this would happen in two weeks.
Now, the flip side is that for years the DJs themselves have predicted these shortfalls in revenue, begged for changes to the schedule, begged for access to the decision making process, begged for a better internet presence, all the while keeping the station successful and coherent.
Perhaps this sounds familiar? Perhaps the gap between the two sides is obvious? The solution is simple: collaboration.
Which is what the DJ’s are asking for.
Something the powers that be are not pursuing. Save for a one-hour town-hall meeting on July 12th and a public forum on the WTJU site, there’s no open planning meetings, informational sessions, engagement of station alumni (among whom are nationally known music performers and editorial personalities), or transparency. There’s no indication of whether the forum or town hall will change their minds. There’s also zero accountability. If they fail, they fail. And Charlottesville, and the rest of the country, lose another brilliant cultural resource.
(NB: In all fairness, I must mention that in the past 24 hours the University is showing signs of opening up the process, stay tuned… (the PD is still stone walling))
This kind of misguided “change” has ruined so many stations around the country. It won’t ruin ours.
Feedback from other DJs that have suffered through similar situations would help our cause. Please comment on the savewtju.blogspot site, or join Keep WTJU Weird on Facebook, and help us save our station.
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