WTJU’s Folk Marathon is a Week-Long Feast for Music Fans


Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday is one of the many themes of this year’s Folk Marathon

WTJU, the community radio station operated by the Unversity if Virginia, is about to turn 55. One of the many factors contributing to the stations’ longevity is the tradition of quarterly fundraising marathons, in which each of WTJU’s four music departments — Folk, Rock, Jazz, and Classical — takes over the airwaves once a year for a full week of specialty programming. Two- and three-hour shows are devoted to specific artists, labels, genres, and even song topics, and attention to detail that’s rare even in the world of freeform radio.

The 2012 Folk Marathon is currently underway. It began on Monday and continues through midnight this Sunday. Upcoming shows will pay tribute to beloved labels like Rounder and Island Records, as well as live on-air performances by Trees on Fire and the Downbeat Project, and shows devoted to more unusual themes, such as “The Music of Coal,” the songs of late Monkee Michael Nesmith, and a two-hour collection of songs about chickens. (The full schedule is available on WTJU’s website.)

One of the running themes in the Marathon is the music of Woody Guthrie, as 2012 marks his 100th Birthday. As of 2010, radio stations can no longer air more than four recordings by the same artist in a three-hour period (due to a clause in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act) but the inventive WTJU DJs have found ways around this problem, by including dozens of covers, collaborations, and live performances of Guthrie’s songs.

165 hours of music is more than any one listener could hope to take in, but any shows you might have missed will remain in WTJU’s “Vault,” a streaming online feature that archives shows for up to two weeks after their original airdate.

With programming like this, it’s no wonder that listeners faithfully tune in all around Charlottesville — and increasingly, around the country and the world, thanks to a website that allows live streaming and archives playlists from past shows. Many former residents and UVA Alumni keep in touch with Charlottesville via the station, including many former DJs, such as the WTJU in Exile group, founded in 2010 when the stations’ then-Manager, Burr Beard, threatened to impose pre-programmed playlisting and the elimination of several of the stations’ music departments.

Beard resigned from his position in October of 2010; since March of 2011, the station has been under the stewardship of General Manager Nathan Moore, who has committed himself to preserving WTJU’s unique content while helping to bring the station forward into the 21st century and continuing to meet the financial challenges of operating a listener-supported non-commercial radio station in a stagnant economy. One of Moore’s current projects involves securing funding for a power increase to the station’s FM transmitter, which would “boost” WTJU’s signal around the listening area, and increase the size of that area to cover a larger portion of central Virginia.

A significant percentage of the station’s operating budget comes from the quarterly Marathons, during which the DJs will frequently ask the listeners to donate to the station. The WTJU Folk Marathon has set a fundraising goal of $40,000 for the week. As of this writing on Wednesday afternoon, they have just surpassed the $10,000 mark.