Thank you, Burr Beard

Let me play Devil’s advocate here for a moment. Burr Beard—the controversial general manager who left WTJU last week less than six months after being hired, citing “family concerns”—is the best thing that ever happened to UVA’s community radio station.

When Beard announced plans to introduce changes to WTJU’s programming that DJs feared would curb its free-form legacy, there were nearly riots. There were community meetings. There were blogs. Google groups. 

At the peak of the controversy, one of the most vocal opponents to proposed changes to the station was Pete Marshall, who hosts a program called Sunset Road on Friday afternoons. Marshall, a host for more than two decades, walked out on the station when he learned by e-mail that his program had been axed. But after July’s town hall meeting that drew 200 supporters—a number that trumped the station’s listenership at many points in the day—Beard approached Marshall.

“Burr came over to me personally and apologized to me and asked me if I would come back to the station. When I said that I would, he shook my hand. I really appreciated that,” says Marshall. 

That was after Beard’s plan to create a WTJU with “consistent and reliable” programming fell through. “Burr was trying to come up with a plan that the University had required of him when it hired him,” says Marshall.

Now Beard is gone. And what has WTJU gained? Its staff banded together in the name of what they held sacred, and the months since have seen an increase in student involvement, and a revamped website with greater streaming capacity that’s better integrated into UVA’s homepage. A group of about 70 WTJU alumni banded together to promise $20,000 to the station, contingent upon its “soul” being preserved. (The gift is still in the planning stages, according to Business Manager Jane McDonald.) In short, it managed the unthinkable: In a time when only NPR stands virtually alone in bucking trends towards lower levels of radio listenership, people are—gasp!—talking about WTJU.

Concerns remain that the Office of Public Affairs won’t have the resources to deal with another set of changes at the station. On the WTJU in Crisis blog, an information clearinghouse founded during this summer’s kerfuffle, DJ Tyler Magill voiced concern that the Office of Public Affairs—which has been managing crises at the Virginia Quarterly Review and the response to a recent rash of violence against UVA students, all under a new President—is too busy to deal with another set of changes at the station. “Without our help,” writes Magill, “WTJU is going to get half-assed to death, and not because Carol Wood, Marian Anderfuren and the [Office of Public Affairs] don’t care, but because they simply don’t have time to deal with us in the fashion we deserve.” 

Wood sought to quell these concerns in an e-mail to C-VILLE. “There are times when one area may receive more attention than another, given what might be going on at the time. In recent months, WTJU has needed and received a great deal of time and resources—as it should have. I don’t see that changing,” she wrote.

In the meantime, what’s this you’re holding in your hands? An article about WTJU, which hosts a jazz fund drive this week, and whose staff is now doubly dedicated to its mission—thanks to Beard.

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