Uprooting radio: At WTJU’s new home, DJs spin records to break a record

WTJU began in 1957 as a classical music and education station and now includes jazz, folk, and rock, as well as community stories. The station launched from its new home in Ivy by breaking the Guinness World Record for most simultaneous DJs in a single show. Photo by Eze Amos WTJU began in 1957 as a classical music and education station and now includes jazz, folk, and rock, as well as community stories. The station launched from its new home in Ivy by breaking the Guinness World Record for most simultaneous DJs in a single show. Photo by Eze Amos

The broadcast to WTJU listeners on the afternoon of Saturday, March 23, began with one DJ announcing to a sea of others, “Here’s Ol’ Blue Eyes, spreading the news that we’re leaving today—Lambeth, that is,” followed by a snippet of Sinatra’s iconic “New York, New York.”

It was the first day of operations in its new Ivy Road home, and local station WTJU packed 82 announcers into the space. The crowd was diverse, composed of both student DJs and locals, but everyone had a common cause—to christen the new location with a momentous, Guinness World Record-breaking feat. Within two hours, each of the participants would sit in the announcer’s seat for less than a minute to introduce themself and play a sample of a chosen song, in a madcap game of music-lovers musical chairs.

Nathan Moore, WTJU’s general manager, admits that the record-breaking stunt was his idea, but the move to Ivy Road wasn’t. About two years ago, Moore was informed by UVA student affairs and housing that the station’s longtime location within Lambeth Commons, a home it had held for 19 years, must be vacated. “We hunted around for a lot of different spaces,” he says, but soon realized that not many spots in the city could accommodate WTJU’s needs. “Where can we find at least 2,500 square feet that we have round-the-clock access to, that students can get to readily, that can be slightly noisy…that has parking, that has visibility?”

Moore was pleased, and a little relieved, to find the Ivy Road real estate, which once housed beloved indie video store Sneak Reviews. Instead of DVDs, the building’s walls are now lined with WTJU’s massive record collection, most of which is housed on the second floor. While Moore is excited about this area, his passion is focused on the first floor, which he expects to be conducive to community building—an essential component, in his opinion, of the station’s future. “We have to be more than just a great place to spin records,” Moore says. “We also have to be a place where people experience music and arts and connection.”

Saturday’s event certainly fit this vision. The DJs took turns jostling their way to the microphone, contributing tunes and cracking jokes. The humor was unfailingly corny, but the music proved a bit more diverse. Aside from Sinatra, everything from k.d. lang to Still Woozy got airtime. The genres spanned classical to K-Pop, and local artists got some love too, whether a classic Landlords track or a song from Alice Clair’s new album—played by Clair’s mother and dedicated to the musician herself, present in the crowd.

The stunt was successful, beating previous record holders by 22 DJs, but it doesn’t erase the fact that some members of the radio community have concerns about the move. Audrey Parks (or DJ Al), a second-year at UVA and a co-rock director for WTJU, says she understands both the student perspective and the administrative side. As a local with a few years of radio under her belt, she also grew to love the Lambeth location. “I feel like the old station had such a personal value for me,” Parks says.

One of the students’ main worries—the distance from Grounds to the new location—is on her mind too. “For the late-night shows…that would be a pretty scary hike.” But even at Lambeth, she points out, “it was also kinda scary going back through frats at that time.” And she’s a fan of the move in that it sets WTJU apart as a community landmark. “It’s an interesting process‚ you know, still making it a UVA space, but being part of the Charlottesville community too.”

The station has become just as essential to the city as it is to students. Professor Bebop, aka Dave Rogers, hosts of one of WTJU’s longest-running shows—he initially got involved in 1973—and has witnessed several moves. “We were in Humphreys, the basement…then we moved to Peabody Hall,” says Rogers. Next was Lambeth, and now Professor Bebop finds himself spinning his signature mix of rhythm and blues on Ivy Road.

He says that the previous location changes “didn’t change the flavor of what we were doing.” Strong leadership is essential to keeping the same spirit, he adds, praising both former manager Chuck Taylor and Moore. “He continues to come up with great ideas that are really amazing ways of reaching out to community,” Rogers says, referring to Saturday’s event. “You’ve got people who haven’t been back in 15 years who came in to do this.”

The station will host its annual rock marathon from April 8-14. This year’s fundraiser T-shirt is a design by award-winning syndicated (and C-VILLE Weekly) cartoonist Jen Sorensen, and fans of Bowie, the Beatles, and Frank Zappa will be happy to hear that entire shows are planned around those artists’ music.

Change is inevitable, it seems, especially for a media outlet that wants to remain relevant and available to the community. And if their record-breaking event is any indication, the DJs of WTJU aren’t going to let a detour down Ivy stop their weird, eclectic mix of music from reaching Charlottesville. As Moore said near the end of the 82-person broadcast, “There are scant few institutions that still bring people together in genuine ways, in genuine community connections—and we’re that. We’re one of them.”

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Brian Hastings

Awesome post! Thanks for sharing the knowledge and keep up the good work.