In the coming months, a low power FM (LPFM) student radio station will launch at University of Virginia with the call letters WXTJ-LP. After operating as a streaming radio station for a few years (initially called WTJX), students will soon be taking their shows to the terrestrial airwaves in Charlottesville, Virginia (at 100.1 FM) alongside their community radio counterpart WTJU-FM. In an interesting twist, University of Virginia will be home to two very different non-commercial FM radio stations.
According to UVA Today,
Originally established in August 2013 as an Internet-only offshoot of WTJU-FM, U.Va.’s non-commercial educational radio station, WXTJ will feature free-form programming curated by more than 100 volunteer student disc jockeys. Its signal will go out over a low-power FM broadcast covering the city of Charlottesville and nearby suburbs.
WXTJ was developed by members of WTJU to increase student engagement in radio broadcasting at the University. When WTJU was founded in 1957, the on-air hosts were students, and the programming was predominantly classical.”
Over the years the broader community became more interested in WTJU, both as listeners and as show hosts. Former WTJU General Manager Chuck Taylor filled me in on the station’s history, telling me over email that,
Initially, WTJU was an all-student noncommercial station primarily focused on classical music along with news and public affairs. The 100 watt signal essentially covered the immediate University area. Due to the fact that it was student-run, the station would go off-air for all holiday periods and for the entire summer. In the mid-to-late 1960s through the 1970s, announcers expanded the programming to include a few folk, rock, jazz and blues music shows.
The station’s signal coverage increased…and community members began to listen to the station more frequently (particularly, the classical music). In the late 1970s community members were ‘invited’ to make donations to WTJU (learned from the newly burgeoning public radio stations). Shortly thereafter, listeners complained that if they were going to donate money then programming should be available during the summer and holidays. After getting permission from U.Va a small handful of community members were recruited as DJs in the mid-to-late 1970s. I was recruited in August 1980.
Over the next several years the station’s reach increased and the station was on-air year-round. The extremely diverse programming for the station led to sharper divisions resulting in internal turf (i.e. timeslot) wars. Community members were hosting more and more timeslots because they were more likely to be available when students were not.”
WTJU’s current General Manager Nathan Moore told me over email that “WTJU took a turn toward being a community/college radio hybrid in the mid-1990s, and we continue to have a whole lot of non-student community members as hosts.” Moore has been in charge at WTJU since 2011 and during those four years he’s made attempts to increase student involvement at the station, but admitted that, “…all that effort didn’t do much to move the needle in terms of number of students involved.”
In light of the challenges in attracting students to WTJU, Moore worked to create a new student-oriented station. Moore recounted, “So I figured, go big or go home. And we started the station that became WXTJ in late 2013. That got well north of 100 students involved in radio broadcasting very quickly — and that station has been pretty good about cross-pollinating with WTJU, particularly our Rock and News/Public Affairs departments.”
Especially with all of the hype that young people don’t listen to radio, I’m heartened by all of the low power FM college radio stations cropping up. I asked Moore why they decided to pursue a LPFM license for the student station. Moore explained that,
…when a station is on the FM airwaves, it gives it more cache for the student DJs. It makes it more legit and more of a draw for potential program hosts. And frankly, it also extends the University’s educational mission to the Charlottesville community to have a student-curated, freeform station on the actual radio dial. It makes it more accessible to all of us non-students who do drive our cars to commute or who do turn on the radio while we’re making dinner or folding laundry.”
WTJU DJ and Rock Department Co-Program Director Nick Rubin told me that he’s excited to see WXTJ go LPFM. According to Rubin, “Putting WXTJ on LPFM does a number of things for students: it legitimizes their activity in a distinct way; it engenders responsibility and accountability (by requiring it!); it also gives them a new and prominent venue to reach the local community.” He added, that, “as a radio listener and music fan, I’m super-stoked!”
In addition to WTJU-FM and soon-to-be WXTJ-LP, there’s another University of Virginia-related station on the FM dial, commercial radio station WUVA-FM (aka 92.7 Kiss FM). Amazed that the campus community has three distinct radio stations, I asked Moore for more details. He explained,
WUVA is a curious station. It’s not actually owned by UVA — it’s an independent 501c3, even though its studios are in Alumni Hall right in central grounds at UVA. It’s also a commercial station. Its management team is made up of students, but its board (made up mostly of alumni) is very involved in station management, and there is also a professional staff that manages the day-to-day operations.
WUVA does have some students involved on-air, mostly voice-tracking for their urban format, from what I can tell. As a commercial urban station, they don’t sound like typical ‘college radio.’ But they also have a whole different side operation of student-produced video news pieces, and some of those pieces are quite good.
I’m friendly with the management and staff at WUVA, and we have talked about collaborating on some back-end tech projects. But we don’t like get together for kickball matches or anything. (Yet anyway.)”
WUVA is one of a handful of commercial college radio stations in the United States (read about some others in my recent piece in the Radio Survivor Bulletin), most of which are descendents of 1940s carrier current stations. Read more about WUVA’s history on its website.
Student-run WXTJ is quiet for the summer (automated programming is running in the absence of live DJs), but will resume as a streaming station when school is back in session this fall. It’s hoped that the station will launch its LPFM broadcasts in the next few months. As it develops its own unique FM identity, it will be fascinating to see the variety of terrestrial radio options emanating from University of Virginia-connected stations. For more about WTJU’s history, see my 2012 Spinning Indie interview with Nathan Moore.