Switching formats: WVAI picks up where WUVA left off

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David Mitchell, WUVA’s new station manager, says country music is a popular radio format and should attract a large audience of both students and listeners. Photo by Ron Paris David Mitchell, WUVA’s new station manager, says country music is a popular radio format and should attract a large audience of both students and listeners. Photo by Ron Paris

On September 18, WUVA listeners who tuned in to 92.7 FM, the only urban station in Charlottesville, were surprised by the country twang pouring out of their radios.

“Obviously, the main reason is economic,” station manager David Mitchell says about WUVA’s sudden transition from one genre to another. Over the past few years, Mitchell says 92.7 FM’s 19-year-old urban format has failed to rake in the big bucks in Charlottesville’s competitive radio climate. In fact, it wasn’t making enough money to provide the financial stability the station needs. WUVA receives no money from the university.

“More revenue and success for 92.7 NASH Icon mean more opportunities for students to learn about how commercial broadcasting really works,” Mitchell says. “That includes online services and social media as well as news and public affairs. We think they will find the WUVA experience increasingly attractive and rewarding.”

Along with Mitchell, the station has hired two on-air professionals and a professional salesforce. The station was previously run by volunteers.

Mitchell says country music is one of the most popular radio formats and the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” but some think the station’s switch in genre is just another way to marginalize the local African-American population.

“[The station] became a safe haven for cultural expression in a town that discourages black and brown people from comfortably living out our culture,” Kiara Redd-Martin and Kishara Griffin from Charlottesville’s Operation Social Equality said in a statement to C-VILLE. “To us this abrupt change is not only a direct attack on black and brown culture in this town but also a denial of our existence.”

Operation Social Equality is a grassroots organization, which Redd-Martin and Griffin started to end social inequalities that result from racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and ethnocentrism.

Pointing out that 92.7 was previously used by many black community leaders, such as City Council candidate Wes Bellamy and local preachers, the women wrote, “They positioned [themselves] as the face to our struggle, they became self-proclaimed voices of the black community, but what they failed to do was appropriately inform us of what was to come.”

Redd-Martin and Griffin say they will no longer listen to 92.7 FM, but are excited about a new 24/7 hip-hop and R&B station called WVAI 101.3 JAMZ.

Damani Harrison, a local musician and partial WVAI owner, is currently focusing on promotions for 101.3 JAMZ and says he found out about WUVA’s new identity the same way everyone else did.

“There were rumors circulating many months ago that a change might be made, but I don’t pay attention to rumors or things out of my control,” he says. “So when I turned on the station last week and it was country, it was new to me.”

Though Harrison is a longtime WUVA fan, he says he is happy that African-Americans will still be represented by his new station and he’s “excited for [the] community to come see what we believe is the future of Charlottesville radio.”

Mitchell says directors and owners of WUVA were aware that 101.3 JAMZ would soon be broadcasting on-air, which made the decision to switch genres easier.