Just how much radio can Charlottesville support?
Our little city already has a relatively large number of stations for its size: a total of 15 at last count. It’s hard to know just where the local radio market ranks, because ratings agency Nielsen no longer tracks Charlottesville. But similarly sized Winchester has seven stations, and Ann Arbor, Michigan—a college town of comparable size—has just three. Richmond, which has a metro area population more than six times that of Charlottesville, has 16 stations.
And despite what some might label market saturation, Charlottesville’s radio community is looking to grow the dial. Former WNRN general manager Mike Friend is in the process of launching a new rock station at 92.3 MHz. Dave Mitchell, one-time owner of 107.5 FM, has received Federal Communications Commission clearance to go forward with his own low-power FM station, and local businessmen Jeff Lenert and Rod Howard are rolling out WPVC 94.7 FM, which intends to air progressive talk radio and socially conscious hip-hop, among other things.
“There are lots of stories that need to be told,” Lenert said. “Local talk radio is definitely available, but I’m not sure enough of it speaks directly to the citizens of Charlottesville.”
Not everyone agrees this is the right time for the local radio market to grow. Conservative talk icon Joe Thomas said liberal programs in particular can have a tough time competing with National Public Radio. And Lenert himself admitted turning a buck on his radio venture is going to be a tough trick.
Then there’s the elephant on the airwaves: With new audio technology, from streaming Internet radio to podcasts to music sharing apps, rolling out all the time, is the long-anticipated death of the radio star finally nigh?
“They’ve been talking about the death of radio for a long time,” said Ian Solla-Yates, development director for WNRN 91.9 FM. “What happens is those innovations kill the innovation before it, and as far as I can tell, radio is something that can adapt to the changing world without losing its heart.”
One reason for the relative size of Charlottesville’s radio scene is simply its place on the map, according to Brad Eure, whose family owned the Charlottesville Radio Group before selling it to Saga Communications in 2004. Eure said cities like Ann Arbor have fewer stations than the likes of Charlottesville because they can piggyback on larger markets nearby. Why would Ann Arbor need to crank out a bunch of radio shows when the listeners will be just as happy listening to what Detroit has to offer?
Still, Eure said Charlottesville’s merchants have embraced radio as an advertising medium and contributed to their healthy balance sheets. What’s more, with Internet broadcasting allowing people to access stations from anywhere in the world, programming is as important as ever.
“You don’t have to be in Charlottesville to listen to local radio, which is a good thing, but at the same time I can listen to stations in any other market,” Eure said. “It’s all about who has the content.”
Show: Inside Charlottesville
Station: WCHV 107.5 FM
On since: 2013
What you’ll hear: News commentary with a focus on politics
If Coy Barefoot occasionally comes off as a know-it-all, it’s for good reason. He isn’t your average radio geek.
In addition to hosting and producing “Inside Charlottesville,” broadcast each weekday afternoon on WCHV 107.5 FM and on Sunday morning on CBS 19, Barefoot is a best-selling author and accomplished historian. He teaches at the University. He archives. He studies.
“I try to avoid adding to the inanity that fills so much of our airwaves,” Barefoot said. “People want to give you their time and attention; we have the responsibility to make it worth their while.”
By most accounts, Barefoot succeeds. He’s been yapping on the radio for almost 20 years, contributing to a local market he calls “packed with talented people who care about what they do and who work hard to be better.”
In addition to his current show, Barefoot hosted “Coy Barefoot Live” on WNRN 91.9 FM from 1996-2000 and hosted/produced “Charlottesville—Right Now!” on WINA 1070 AM from 2006-2013. He’s interviewed President Obama, both on the phone from the Oval Office and in person, among countless other esteemed guests.
I’m a big believer in giving people a chance to be heard.
“Regular listeners and viewers know I don’t sandbag my guests with ‘gotcha’ questions—I don’t believe in cheap shots,” Barefoot said. “At the same time, I’m not at all afraid to ask about any elephants that might be in the room. I’m a big believer in giving people a chance to be heard. I’m known as the host who lets his guests talk.”
Barefoot casts himself as neither a conservative nor liberal and counts liberty and personal accountability as two of the most important tenets of life and politics. Locally, he’s especially interested in growth issues, such as the Route 29 corridor, the Belmont-Downtown connection, and the future of West Main Street.
Barefoot said he’s “fascinated by the continued evolution of Virginia politics,” as the state has become increasingly purple. On his radio show, he tries to bring that home for the citizens of Charlottesville, which he’s called home since 1989.
“I pulled into Charlottesville in a beat-up ’78 Chevy Camaro that I’d spent the better part of the last year living out of,” he said. “I remember taking a long bike ride around town one evening, watching the sun slip away behind the Blue Ridge, and thinking, ‘I’m home.’”
Station: WVTF 89.7 AM
On since: 2008
What you’ll hear: Breaking news, investigative reporting, human interest features
Sandy Hausman didn’t tell anyone, not even her husband, she had applied for a job in Charlottesville. It was a whim, a lark, a never-gonna-happen.
But after answering an Internet ad for chief of public radio stalwart WVTF’s newly opening Charlottesville bureau in 2006, she got a call from the station’s general manager Glenn Gleixner.
“He introduced himself, thanked me for applying…and said I shouldn’t take another job because they were anxious to interview me,” Hausman said. “I hung up the phone and thought, ‘That was weird; who’s that nice anymore?’”
The phone call was the first step in bringing a reporter with major big city cred to the Charlottesville market. After graduating from the journalism school at the University of Michigan, Hausman started her career in Columbus, Ohio. She then spent the majority of the next 30 years doing TV and radio in Chicago and dabbling in investigative reporting via a newsletter/blog she started with her husband, a career newspaperman.
Hausman said she had a good thing going in Chicago, but the big city life wore on her. Add that to the fact that when Gleixner called, Hausman had recently visited Charlottesville, and she was “ripe” for the move. She told her husband about the job offer, and they picked up and set back down in Crozet.
“If you looked at what I was about to do on paper, you would scratch your head,” Hausman said of moving to the “number 200-something” radio market from Chicago. “Even the public radio market is fairly small. But my gut said, ‘This is what you should be doing. This is the job for you.’”
The move has given Hausman the chance to end her affair with television once and for all and settle down with her first love, radio.
“Like everyone in radio, I wanted to try television, but I realized two things,” she said. “You as a reporter are not the important person in TV. The important person is the camera person.” And second, “I love what I do and therefore I am a little protective of it, but inevitably TV is a collaboration. The job I have now is the first job I‘ve had that was all about me and my story.”
When Hausman joined the Roanoke-headquartered WVTF team, she expected to be doing mostly features. Instead, she’s become an investigative reporter first and foremost.
“I thought I didn’t have the chops,” Hausman said. “But I’m a passionate person, and when something seems wrong, I want to go deeper into it. It has to be done. It’s important.”
Hausman describes the stories she tells from her one-woman studio in downtown Charlottesville as those that matter to people that happen to live in Virginia. WVTF is a regional station, so while Hausman covers local happenings, the first question she asks herself about any story is whether it will impact people in the region as well as in C’Ville.
“Charlottesville is wonderful that way. There are lots of interesting, smart people doing cool things,” she said. “It’s been like drinking from a fire hose here.”
Show: Mornings on the Corner
Station: WCNR 106.1 FM
Airs: Sundays, 6am-noon
On since: 2006
What you’ll hear: Adult alternative rock and pop
Brad Savage is the genuine article. He is the exact same guy in real life as he is on the radio.
“I personally am just a music fan, and I never put myself in front of the music we play,” Savage said. “I keep the focus about music and about Charlottesville, our community.”
Savage is an on-air personality and brand manager of WCNR 106.1 The Corner, which falls under the ubiquitous station genre “triple-A.” Standing for “adult album alternative,” triple-A stations cater to those looking for slightly more obscure musicians than you’d find on the standard Top 40 station.
The Corner tends to delve a bit more into pop waters than many triple-A stations, according to Savage. They’ve embraced the Colbie Caillats of the world, for example, but they won’t be rocking Iggy Azalea anytime soon.
On Savage’s popular morning show, which runs daily from 6am-noon, the perpetually upbeat disc jockey tries to stay more firmly on the indie side of the spectrum.
“It’s just smart songs, smart pop. I’m steering clear of the disposable pop songs,” he said. “It’s the next step up as far as songwriting. We champion new bands that might build a career.”
Savage had worked in radio before coming to Charlottesville in 2006, but this is where he’s really sunk his teeth into the biz. In addition to introducing listeners to the latest in smart pop, he manages the Corner brand on all online platforms and coordinates with musicians for concert sponsorships and in-studio performances.
“Charlottesville is a great music town,” Savage said. “We get a lot of bands. I feel like Charlottesville is on the map, and I think part of that is there is an audience of people who are accepting of new music and touring bands.”
Savage said he especially appreciates the power of social media and other online forums to alert listeners to what’s coming up and for allowing them to hear things they might have missed.
“As an industry, radio is looking at this and trying to decide where to go next,” Savage said. “There are a lot of questions as to how to build a stronger brand with all these things.”
Rod Howard and Jeff Lenert
Show: Programming undecided
Station: WPVC 94.7 FM
On since: Fall/Winter 2014
What you’ll hear: Progressive talk, local news, hip-hop
Jeff Lenert and Rod Howard are hardly household names, but even as you read this, they’re busily trying to change the face of Charlottesville radio.
Lenert and Howard have Federal Communications Commission clearance to launch a new radio station on the dial at 94.7. If all goes well with procuring equipment, negotiating tower leases, and setting programming, the station will be broadcasting this fall or winter at the latest.
Answering the question of just what the new station will be has turned out to be more difficult for Lenert and Howard than jumping through the regulatory hoops. While the pair have so far been labeling the station “progressive talk and hip-hop,” Lenert has since softened the angle, saying only that 94.7 will give a platform to “people in the community that are chronically underserved.”
If ideas were dollar bills, I would have a million of them.
“Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t seek me out that has heard about the radio station and is very excited,” Lenert said. “If ideas were dollar bills, I would have a million of them.”
It’s all very positive input, Lenert said, people looking to do things that will better the Charlottesville community. The problem has been whittling all the ideas down to a realistic programming schedule. Nationally syndicated shows will fill some of the airwaves, but Lenert expects somewhere between eight and 12 hours per day to be devoted to local shows.
“At this point, until we are on the air, nothing is set in stone,” he said. “The landscape of the stuff we are thinking of putting on is constantly changing. I don’t want to promise things that we can’t deliver.”
The one thing that is set in stone is the radio station’s sports director. Lenert has given the gig to an 11-year-old neighbor, a sports-savvy young man who runs www.crazysportsdude.com. At least 94.7 already knows how to put on a radio stunt.
Show: Joe Thomas In-the-Morning
Station: WCHV 107.5 FM and 1260 AM
Airs: Weekdays, 5am-9am
On since: 2007
What you’ll hear: Commentary and analysis on local news, traffic, weather, and sports
Joe Thomas has the classic radio voice—smooth but with a touch of gravel, authoritative, self-assured. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons people think of his weekday program, “Joe Thomas In-the-Morning,” which airs daily from 5am-9am on WCHV 107.5 FM and 1260 AM, as being a conservative political talk show.
“I think the real hang-up is, too often the things that get in the way of living our lives, like paying our bills, are political, and you wind up talking about government officials,” Thomas said. “So it sounds like you are complaining about one party or the other.”
And while Thomas said his show is really just about making people’s lives in Charlottesville better, he’s definitely right of center politically. He defines himself as a classic Russell Kirk conservative, one who looks to “conserve our society and our way of life.”
For Thomas, that means always looking forward. He’s about finding solutions, he said, and figuring out how to better our collective situation, rather than just complaining about it. He calls underemployment in Charlottesville the most pressing current issue, and suggests the best thing the city can do to improve its lot is to make it easier to do business here.
“There are entire neighborhoods that barely make enough money to pay their bills,” he said. “What is missing is those jobs in the city where middle class incomes are earned.”
Thomas, who also directs the largely conservative programming at WCHV, believes local radio can make a difference on these issues and more. And he appreciates the wide-ranging competition among local programs in Charlottesville.
“Competition makes us all better, because you can’t take a day off or a week off,” he said. “Your competition will be there when the audience goes looking for something else.”
Station: WINA 1070 AM
Airs: Weekdays, noon-2pm
On since: 2002
What you’ll hear: Breaking news and news analysis
Rob Schilling takes himself and his radio career seriously. He prides himself on his scoops, calling “The Schilling Show,” a strongly conservative talk program which airs weekdays from noon to 2pm on WINA 1070 AM, “the only radio program in Charlottesville that has made the Drudge Report at least half a dozen times.” He considers his show a watchdog of sorts, a place where local politicians and administrators are held accountable.
“It’s a platform for advocacy,” Schilling said. “We take positions on things that affect the community, and sometimes we are successful in getting things to change.”
Schilling compares his show with those of Rush and Hannity, but he’s made his name by keeping his lens focused on Charlottesville. A former city councilor, he’s broken stories that are interesting enough to attract far-flung audiences: stories on the school system, transportation, real estate development, and government corruption.
“I know all the hijinks,” Schilling said.
Schilling said his experience in government has also fattened his Rolodex—he has “friends in high places and friends with big ears.” He’s conservative, but he said he tries to get on with guests from across the aisle. When it comes to exposing the ills of people in power, he said, party affiliation has no place.
It’s that sort of attitude that has turned Schilling into one of the most stubborn fixtures in local radio.
“I have lost my position twice, but I was hired back and given double the amount of hours,” he said. “I’m grateful for the outpouring of support from advertisers and listeners when I was off the air. To me, it shows that what I do is important to people.”
Schilling isn’t all about himself, though. He said he feels lucky to be in a radio market like Charlottesville.
“Having two local talk stations in a market of this size is unheard of,” he said. “The trend is going to syndication, but [WINA] airs more local programming than any other station on the eastern seaboard.”
Show: Sunday Morning Wake-up Call
Station: WNRN 91.9 FM
Airs: Sundays, 11am-noon
On since: 2000
What you’ll hear: Local feature stories
Rick Moore is humble about his role in the local radio scene. A career business management pro, he’s quick to point out all the other personalities in the area that deserve to be highlighted before him. But Moore has been working alongside the best of them for nearly 15 years, hosting the “Sunday Morning Wake-up Call” on WNRN 91.9 FM.
It all started innocently for Moore, a UVA grad with no prior radio experience, when a friend asked him to come into the studio as a co-host. The friend was Coy Barefoot. The show was “Coy Barefoot Live.”
“We had worked together previously, and I became sort of his Ed McMahon-ish co-host,” Moore said. “He left for family reasons, and WNRN asked me to do it. I stumbled across radio.”
Today, thanks to the help of some valued mentors like former WNRN general manager Mike Friend, Moore is happy to have graduated from his role as co-host. He decides what he’ll talk about each week, finds his guests, and shows up for the live recordings every Sunday at 11am.
Sure, going live at a time when most people are enjoying the last day of their weekend can be a drag, but Moore thinks it’s an important part of his show’s sensibility.
I feel like my role is to give 60 minutes to the conversation.
“I feel like my role is to give 60 minutes to the conversation,” he said. “Very few media formats of any type do that. Whether we’re highlighting the over-looked non-profit organization or the topic people don’t know much about…we give people the chance to call in and ask questions.”
It’s important to Moore that his guests are hyper-local. He prides himself in giving voice to the likes of David Toscano, Charlottesville/Albemarle County’s representative in the Virginia General Assembly, and Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools.
“I always tell my guests the lines are open, and I don’t know what is going to happen,” Moore said. “With the more educational pieces, the more people are learning about something, the phone won’t ring. With the more opinionated pieces, the phones will ring and ring.”
Show: Acoustic Sunrise
Station: WNRN 91.9 FM
Airs: Weekdays, 5:30am-10am
On Since: 2009
What You’ll Hear: Quiet indie pop, rock, and alt-country
Anne Williams listens to a lot of music. Last year, WNRN 91.9 FM pulled 4,700 CDs out of its mailbox, she said, and she “blazes through” a lot of it.
Williams is host of “Acoustic Sunrise,” WNRN’s wake-up show that airs daily from 5:30-10am. The show mostly follows WNRN’s “triple-A” format, delving into the deeper cuts on more obscure indie albums, but it tends to be a bit quieter, a blend of acoustic pop, folk, and alt-country songs. Williams herself picks all the tracks she plays.
“I’ve always had a passion for music. I reluctantly became a DJ,” she said. “If you want to review music and understand the context, you have to be a DJ.”
Williams started in radio at her local college station when she was 19. She majored in economics and minored in radio while in school, and although it was the minor that really stuck, she also works on the business side of WNRN, mainly raising funds for the community supported not-for-profit station.
“My economics major had a subspecialty in Third World economics, which made it a perfect fit for non-commercial radio,” she said.
After college, Williams spent eight years with another “non-com” outfit before learning the technical ropes at a commercial station, helping the engineers set up for remotes, wiring up for phone calls, and “checking the logs.” Those skills have been helpful in her career since, which has taken her to Ohio, where she was a folk DJ for WYSO and reviewer for National Public Radio, and briefly to WYEP in Pittsburgh, before being installed for the past 15 years in Charlottesville, where she’s behind the mic for “Acoustic Sunrise.”
The show got its start three years before Williams joined the station, and she said it has been successful in terms of listener and underwriting support.
“I’m not going to play the most rocking things; I play the most smart things,” she said. “That’s what keeps people interested. The core thing we do is choose new music.”