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CD players, equipment in college radio station WXTJ's studio. Photo: J. Waits

Freeform Music, House Shows, and Art: Touring College Radio Station WXTJ-LP at University of Virginia

There’s a lot of radio going on at University of Virginia and the newest station is WXTJ-LP, a student-run low power FM (LPFM) college radio station. Although its studio is in the same facility as WTJU (see my tour #129 here), WXTJ-LP has its own identity and air sound. Frustrated by the lack of student involvement at WTJU, General Manager Nathan Moore decided to create a second, student-only radio station. According to Moore, “I basically took the ‘go big or go home’ approach to student involvement at WTJU. I was having a hard time increasing the percentage of students involved at the station. So I built them a parallel second station. It worked.”

College radio station WXTJ's studio. Photo: J. Waits

College radio station WXTJ’s studio. Photo: J. Waits

Moore explained that WXTJ (originally WTJX) began as a webstream for three and a half years and then launched over FM in April, 2016. Describing it as a “fraternity for misfits,” Moore told me that the new station has already been a huge success as far as increasing student involvement. He told me that participation went from zero to 120 students in just a year. When I asked him why they decided to apply for the LPFM license, he explained:

We went for the LPFM license because it reaches a bigger audience – particularly in cars. And particularly community folks who are less apt to stream something coming from UVA grounds. It also lends more of a sense of importance and legitimacy to the whole enterprise when it’s an official FCC-licensed thing that students really control and operate.”

Poster from the WTJX days. Photo: J. Waits

Poster from the WTJX days. Photo: J. Waits

Although WXTJ has just one studio of its own, station members are able to use WTJU’s music library and production studio. The stations are still part of one big family and help each other out with events and promotions. Additionally, some WXTJ DJs have ended up on the air at WTJU. Moore explained the main differences between the stations, pointing out that, “WXTJ is all students, and the programing is totally freeform. Some days, you might hear a mix of EDM or old school hip-hop or indie rock. Or the students might raid our vinyl library and play an old record of traditional Swiss folk songs. Plus conversations and interviews thrown into the mix.”

CD players, equipment in WXTJ studio. Photo: J. Waits

CD players, equipment in WXTJ studio. Photo: J. Waits

Following my March 17, 2017 visit, WXTJ Co-Director Chase Browning filled in further details for me over email. Since University of Virginia has several radio stations, I was curious to hear what drew him to WXTJ. He told me that he joined in September, 2015 and shared that, “As a new student, I wasn’t totally sure of the difference between WTJU & XTJ – but what initially appealed to me was that XTJ was an all-student station, so I stuck with it.”

Flyers and artwork on the wall at WXTJ, including some referencing old call sign (WTJX). Photo: J. Waits

Flyers and artwork on the wall at WXTJ, including some referencing old call sign (WTJX). Photo: J. Waits

He said that around 100 students are affiliated with WXTJ, with 75 scheduled shows that run between 8am and 2am every day of the week. When there isn’t a live DJ in the studio, automation kicks in. According to Browning, “…we channel the broadcast to DJ Aud O’Mation (its actual name in the schedule) which is a songbank of around 3,000 songs. It’s going to be a summer project to do a complete jukebox overhaul, because while most of the stuff in there is bland folk or electronic, there is some bizarre spoken word, sonic collages, and recordings of live performances, most of which are wildly explicit. Who knows how those got in there – but we’re gonna clean it up.”

WXTJ board, with note about turning on automation system. Photo: J. Waits

WXTJ board, with note about turning on automation system. Photo: J. Waits

The freeform nature of WXTJ sets it apart from WTJU. Browning characterized the programming philosophy for me, saying that it largely has to do with DJ freedom:

By free form radio, we mean that we trust in the integrity of our DJs to play good quality music, and leave it up to them as to what counts as good. Some of the DJs who are transfer students and were active in their old college radio stations have talked about requirements where the song can’t have more than 5,000 views on YouTube, or a certain amount of listens on Spotify. We’ve discussed in XTJ on whether we should only play music that’s been released in the past year. Ultimately, those arguments always break down, because a good quality radio station necessarily cannot be uniform in content. Our station would lack all credibility if we didn’t have late night hip-hop shows, Saturday midnight electronic, femme, queer, and riot grrl, the one great classic rock show, and all the rest. Free form radio is the spirit of college radio, it’s the tradition we are inheriting, and it’s what the DJs do a hell of a job keeping alive and relevant.”

WXTJ sign on door at the college radio station. Photo: J. Waits

WXTJ sign on door at the college radio station. Photo: J. Waits

Beyond what’s going on over the air, WXTJ also regularly hosts events, including an art show and sale on the weekend of my visit. I actually learned about the art show from the General Manager of another college radio station (WXJM), so it had clearly gotten some buzz outside of Charlottesville. Browning told me,

This year’s art show was our second annual, and we tried splitting the proceeds 60/40 between the artist and a given charity. Submissions were open to anyone anywhere, and we received an even split between student / non-student submissions. A handful, actually, were from faculty / staff of the university.”

Flyer for WXTJ Art Show. Photo: J. Waits

Flyer for WXTJ Art Show. Photo: J. Waits

Music was part of the festivities at the art show, with live acoustic acts last year and DJs this year. Additionally, WXTJ puts on a variety of live music events regularly. Browning described the station’s role in the Charlottesville DIY music scene, saying,

WXTJ hosts a ton of concerts each year, usually at 1411 Gordon Avenue. Last year the house was known as ‘Camp Ugly,’ because one of the people living there founded an art / music / booking collective called Camp Ugly here in Charlottesville. They’ve done everything from host DIY shows, experimental dance, hold screenings and discussions of film, screen original films, and make clothing / pins / etc. They were really the first house full of students that brought DIY performance to UVa grounds.

Now the house known as ‘Trash House,’ has inherited the tradition, and hosts many similar events. Trash House has also collaborated with numerous other clubs, such as Feminism is for Everyone and the Student Hip-Hop Organization, to host larger events, namely our annual show in the UVa chapel. This annual show is reserved for bigger acts and has sold out each of its three years.

Lastly, toward the end of the year, there’s an annual event in Charlottesville known as ‘The Foxfield’s Races,’ which is a horse race about 20 minutes away from grounds. It’s a fairly bourgeoisie event that a fair amount of students attend, so radio hosts an ‘WXTJ Hates Foxfield’ event. This is an all-day festival with about 6-7 bands, a magician, plenty of refreshments, and a last big send-off for the end of the year.”

WXTJ staffers at College Radio Symposium. Photo: J. Waits

WXTJ staffers at College Radio Symposium. Photo: J. Waits

For a relatively new college radio station, it’s amazing to see that WXTJ is already deeply involved with local music and art scenes, particularly the “smaller, DIY and underground type of performances,” according to Browning. It’s also clearly created its own unique, all-student community in the short time that it’s been in existence. Browning described the impact the station has had on him, telling me, “WXTJ has been key to my time at university. The people I’ve met through radio and the music I’ve been exposed to has enriched my life and had an immense impact on how I understand and experience music.”

Praise for WXTJ from the 21 Society. Photo: J. Waits

Praise for WXTJ from the 21 Society. Photo: J. Waits

Thanks to Chase Browning and Nathan Moore for the interviews and to everyone at WXTJ for the warm welcome during my tour and at the College Radio: Then, Now and Next symposium. This is my 132nd radio station field trip report, with more on the way from my Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and California travels. My most recent field trips can be found on Radio Survivor and a full list of all my station tour reports is compiled on Spinning Indie.


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