Monday, June 21, 2010

9. An Open Letter from John Ruscher (creator of to Burr Beard

Dear Mr. Beard,

I write to you as a longtime resident of Charlottesville and central Virginia, as someone who has been an active member of the Charlottesville music and media community, as an alumnus of the University of Virginia and WTJU, and as a music journalist who now resides in Brooklyn, New York and continues to keep an eye on the greater Charlottesville community that offered me so many great things over my 23 years living there.

While living in Charlottesville and attending UVA, I started the local music website, which is now run by WTJU DJ James Ford and a few other volunteers and continues to be a popular destination for local music coverage. I also served as the Music Columnist and Online Editor at C-VILLE Weekly a year. During that time I had the privilege of hosting WTJU shows, first on a weekend night from 1-3am and then an afternoon show from 2-4pm.

I write this letter to you with a sense of urgency, which I think is very unfortunate. It seems that changes that you have proposed at WTJU are coming swiftly and surprisingly, and may be announced as early as this week. I know from many friends that are still actively involved with the station that many are upset about these potential changes. I recognize that changes are necessary, as fundraising and listenership has dropped and things need to be done to reinvigorate the station. You are in a terrific position to do that. But to offer such major changes under a short deadline and to leave many of WTJU’s volunteer DJs wondering exactly what is going on seems like a rash and extremely detrimental decision.

I could go into much detail about how I feel that selected and required rotations would be detrimental to the spirit of WTJU, both from the standpoint of a DJ and listener, but for now I will be brief. In New York, in addition to tuning into WTJU via the website, I listen frequently to freeform stations WFMU and Newtown Radio. Both are valuable precisely because they don’t have rotations or playlists, and I feel that WTJU is valuable for that same reason.

I would like to emphasize that, based on the information that I have received, it appears that changes are coming far too quickly and without nearly enough transparency or input, considering that WTJU is a station whose existence hinges upon the donated time and funds offered by volunteers and listeners. If not for my personal connections with people still volunteering at WTJU, I would not be aware of any proposed changes. I think such a lack of openness and involvement is disrespectful to myself and all of WTJU’s listeners. To learn that many of the station’s volunteers feel that they themselves are “in the dark” about what is happening is even more disturbing.

I hope that, if large-scale changes are in the works (as they seem to be), you and the other people guiding such changes will take a step back and realize how detrimental quick and drastic measures could be. You propose to increase consistency and readership, but enacting changes quickly and rashly could have the exact opposite effect, causing great damage the identity and support that WTJU now receives.

I recently talked with a friend who lives in Charlottesville and asked her about what she had heard regarding these changes. She mentioned that she would want the money that she donated in the last fundraising marathon back if that donation was not going towards the type of programming that she expected it to fund. I understand that neither she nor I may be fully aware of the process through which changes will be implemented or the full extent of the planned changes, but I think this is a striking example of why quick changes would be wrong. Many people have invested their time and money in WTJU, and suddenly redirecting and reconfiguring that commitment is rightfully upsetting.

I hope that you will slow down any large-scale changes to WTJU and welcome extensive input and ideas from WTJU’s many volunteers and dedicated listeners. To not do so would be a disservice to the station’s listeners, volunteers and the Charlottesville community at large.


John Ruscher

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