WTJU’s General Manager Nathan Moore is taking it on the road with a new live remote system. (Photo by John Robinson)
In 2010, WTJU was uncertain of its future. The unpopular general manager, Burr Beard, had just resigned after proposing a number of drastic programming changes. WTJU was left without a leader while the office of public affairs undertook the search for a replacement, and many wondered where the station was headed. In the interim, volunteers formed committees to guide the future of the station. One year later, Nathan Moore was hired as general manager and the programming committee began to wrestle with the difficult task of reviewing and redesigning the station’s weekly schedule. (It should be noted that the author of this article serves as a member of WTJU’s programming committee.)
Designing the ideal weekly schedule for a radio station is trickier than one might think, considering the task of balancing the station’s four departments: folk, rock, jazz, and classical, while maintaining consistent programming from day to day. “One of our goals was to make it less of a patchwork,” Moore said. “We’re a station with a lot of variety, so it’s important to have block programming, so there’s consistency during the week, which is just basic conventional radio wisdom. People get into their cars, coming home from work, they expect something similar from day to day. We’ve arranged our schedule so that it’s easier for folks to find what they’re looking for; it’s easier for them to tune in, and stay tuned in.”
For much of the week, the new schedule will look pretty similar to the old one. The most significant change is that the 4-6pm “drive time” hours will now be occupied by folk and roots programming. The evening classical shows will be bumped forward an hour; jazz will lose an hour of morning programming but gain an hour in the evening.
The schedule also allows the station to feature live music, with bands appearing in the studio and via broadcast from local concert venues. The station recently set up a live remote system, and has aired shows from around the region. “Over the last year we have made live music a priority,” said WTJU’s folk director Peter Jones.
Another significant change is the addition of public affairs and news programming from 9-10am every weekday. WTJU had public affairs shows in the past, but for most of the last decade the only major public affairs show was the syndicated program “Democracy Now.” “It’s a great program, but it wasn’t fulfilling the core goals of what we’re after at WTJU” said Moore. “We’ve decided to give public affairs at the station a fresh start.” In February, the Charlottesville Tomorrow staff approached Moore and C-VILLE Weekly editor Giles Morris about starting a new local news podcast. “As we talked, it became clear that what we were talking about was a radio show,” Moore said.
“Soundboard” had a “soft launch” in early March, and currently airs every Friday. “There’s a lot of music-heads at the station who were skeptical of public affairs programming—we had to show them that it could be done, and that it could be done well.” said Moore. By mid-July, he hopes to expand to twice a week, and eventually air it for an hour every weekday. “We’d like to run it when it has a shot at succeeding. It’ll be airing right after NPR’s “Morning Edition,” so hopefully a lot of listeners will carry over from that.”
WTJU found itself doing an unexpected bit of public affairs reporting as the Teresa Sullivan resignation scandal erupted two weeks ago. As thousands gathered on the UVA Lawn to protest the actions of the University’s Board of Visitors, WTJU brought its live remote system along to broadcast comments from the crowd on-air. Moore said, “It was an important thing for us to do. At that time things were still really up in the air, and we wanted to be a platform for people to share their views, and to share their vision for the University. It’s important to go out into the community, not only to be present, but also to bring those voices to our listeners.”
With the new schedule set to launch on July 15, Moore’s plans for the station include strengthening the FM signal, increasing student involvement, and revamping the station’s website with the help of Ken Garson, web guru for forward-thinking New Jersey station WFMU, and a recent Charlottesville transplant.
“It’s not just about increasing our online listeners, but thinking of ourselves as a media outlet, and showing the same attention to our website that we do to our radio station,” Moore said. “What’s gonna keep us going—and thriving, not just staying afloat—is the things that listeners value about WTJU. Not just that it’s well-curated, but that we can really connect with listeners, that we bring the community together.”