“Christmas to End” is a reference to an email sent station-wide by a volunteer when I posted my comments made during a meeting discussing changes at WTJU in the mid-2000s. As in the current situation, announcers declared the end before hearing the complete proposal. This note includes a bit of history and a warning about pre-judging a proposal before it’s actually presented for discussion. Please also note that I have NOT read Burr’s preliminary proposals and specifically didn’t want to before writing this. Whether I agree or disagree is not the issue. Please attend Thursday’s meeting with thoughtful, pertinent and succinctly prepared support or viable counter-proposals or comments.
Look for a moment at the whole and not just the parts. Please give Burr Beard your utmost attention. Listen carefully, cogitate, consider seriously and engage. Research and negotiate…but ONLY with all knowledge at hand and weigh everything carefully as if the station’s future depends on it. Please note that I support Burr's right to present his proposal for discussion because of what I know about the Division of Public Affairs investment in WTJU (attention, time, money and more) and the fact that they heeded most if not all of MY recommendations for WTJU.
A little history: In 2000, through the generosity and support of the University of Virginia, WTJU moved out of the stinky-rug basement of Peabody Hall and into a $450,000 facility upgrade at Lambeth Commons. We spent another $125,000 (that we borrowed from UVA) in equipment upgrades. In 2005 that loan was paid-off and I began meeting with groups of you to enable growth and change at WTJU to ensue in 2006 after the above reduction of financial risk.
It would include: Reducing fund drives from four to two; taking a hard look at programming; looking at the location of various programs and adjusting them just as I did in the mid-to-late 1990s; and adding more news and public affairs. The goal: continue the transformation of WTJU from the “college radio station” model to a full-fledged “community station” model.
If you search U.S. “college” or “campus” radio stations the first entry is the wiki page for “campus” radio stations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Aside: the University of Virginia HAS a student “campus” station, KISS-FM (i.e. WUVA) founded 10 years before WTJU. WTJU on the other hand, though originally all-student, was intentionally envisioned by its founders as a more community-focused radio station.
If KISS-FM is the college radio station then what is WTJU? Many of you have heard me use the phrase “hybrid” and indeed there are several university and college stations around the country that consider themselves “hybrids” stations. Truth be told, a hybrid is just a baby “community radio station”. It is a more advanced waypoint on the road to adulthood.
In 1993 when I got the job at WTJU I hit the road running. It first took a few years of putting out the fires that had nearly led to the demise of WTJU in 1992. Throughout that time I continued my radio shows (“From a Whisper to a Scream” and “Uncle Chuck”) until 1997. But in 1997 I intentionally gave up all my on-air shows and switched from saying “my radio show” to “our radio station”. Was it hard? Oh, yeah. But moving the station forward was more rewarding and I wanted to devote more time to that.
WTJU’s membership in the NFCB http://www.nfcb.org/index.jsp since the late '80s and my attendance at 10 of the conferences…the last two as NFCB Board member…has helped me see the bigger picture and the importance of stations becoming more beholden to their community in order to thrive. It was that realization that led to my actions in 1997 when I changed my focus from inward to outward.
Now, around the country in both the college AND the community radio world, many, if not most, stations are going through some variant of the process that is knocking at WTJU’s front door. That’s because the majority of them…as was true of WTJU…were only able to endure about one year of downturns in financial support before they realized they had to tighten their belts and focus their programming more carefully to survive the current challenges to the economy.
WTJU is not unique in having turmoil during these transitional points in growth. For instance, the host station (KFAI, a “community” station) of the recent NFCB conference in Minneapolis was going through the same transition as WTJU literally while we were there two weeks ago.
It may come as shock to those of you saying “This change is all about MONEY!” but it COSTS MONEY to run a radio station. And as the money has dwindled over the last few years the consequent effect it’s had on equipment and other things has been noticeable. All of radio, whether commercial or noncommercial, ultimately depends upon listenership support, advertising revenue, grants or donations. Our CPB grant, which accounts for substantial support is for “service to the community,” which includes news, public affairs and related. But ultimately, intelligently-presented and entertaining local programming delivers listeners to your doorstep and they will donate to support that.
So why are stations around the country making programming changes or adjustments NOW? Because of the economic downturn of course. Those making change care about the future of community broadcasting first and foremost and realize that it may require some degree of sacrifice.
What is the typical consequence when a station cannot reinvent itself? In the last three years I’ve become aware of other stations both “college” and community that were having the plug pulled by their managing boards, overseers or owners. It continues to be regular occurrence for college/university stations in particular. I would be severely disappointed if it came to that because of an unwillingness to change in any way or form.
Some of you have asked whether I left WTJU because of my increased responsibilities to the University. That is part of the truth. When I was distracted from my duties at the station during the last three years the old tug-of-war between those at the station who want it to remain a “college radio station” and those who are ready for a community station begins anew. Anything unrelated to music suffers and comments from listeners ignored. News and public affairs shows are treated with contempt. “Do we have to do PSAs during the fund drive?” The fact that people even ask such a question illustrates how far we’ve drifted from serving the community. And alternating hosts? I can’t find evidence of that at any other station, yet it is status quo at WTJU. It is NOT good programming.
Burr has 30 years of experience just as I do…but his has the advantage of time being spent at several stations. He also has the advantage of a fresh look and is the station’s BEST BET to survive even another year. He’s coming to a station in a broadcast market that is about as competitive as it gets: you’ve got program variants of WTJU offerings upwards of eleven radio stations with WNRN and “the Corner” having the biggest impact. “Serving your audience” includes understanding the area market. Corrections or changes to programming, when done creatively and with accumulated knowledge and feedback, is the key to moving forward.
So I ask that each of you look inside yourself and ask these questions:
1. “Do I love my show or the radio station more?”
2. “Is it important to have diversity of membership reflecting the community of service (including people of color)?”
3. “Should programming serve the community or serve my own interests?”
4. “Do I want to stymie every change proposed at WTJU or participate, negotiate and propel WTJU to the next phase: great programming supplemented by greater financial support?”
When stations go through this process it is not easy and I won’t tell you otherwise. But most are astounded at how great it is to still have incredibly cool programming…not offered anywhere else…that brings in financial support for the station and doesn’t require propping up from the University.
Finally, this is NOT the University compelling you to be something. I’ll repeat what I stated at the beginning of this note:
It is a sincere attempt to assist the station to grow into its potential. Look for a moment at the whole and not just the parts. Please give Burr Beard your utmost attention. Listen carefully, cogitate, consider seriously and engage. Research and negotiate…but ONLY with all knowledge at hand and weigh everything carefully as if the station’s future depends on it. Because it DOES.
You have a fresh leader succeeding a worn-out leader. Take advantage of that and move the station into the future. Give me a chance to attend the 60th anniversary of WTJU.