Monday, July 5, 2010

37. Response from Scott Shisler, AKA DJ Goldfinger, in regards to the "Open Minds" Letter

After spending a few days letting this email sink in, I've been on a low boil. I've purposely backed off from commenting, instead absorbing the excellent ideas and encouragement that have been flowing into the various forums... particularly from those outside of WTJU. Those that look to the station for their information and entertainment are the crucial element, here. They certainly aren't shy about calling during shows for clarification and comments (and makes for interesting multi-tasking in the war against Dead Air).

In Burr's personal comments in his forwarded email from WNCW, he complimented the volunteers for their "passion and work". Just as important, I believe, is our "commitment": to the Mission Statement (our Book of Rules), to UVa, to our audience, and not the least to our love of music.

I take exception to many remarks made by his colleague in the space of a short few sentences. It's all very easy to make pithy assumptions about our motivations through what has been written in the press, but assuming that our primary concern is to "protect our own turf" so that we can "play whatever we like", is more than a little insulting.
I also doubt the opinion of those who spout impenetrable Arbitron lingo when they make value judgments about whether a show is "interesting" or not. That's up to the public that tunes in. Any paid ratings service that discounts listenership outside of the confines of Charlottesville and ignores the potential of live or archival streaming sounds like wasted money, to me.

So, to investigate from whence these comments originated, I logged onto the WNCW website. A well-designed, welcoming homepage (though painfully inadequate with posted playlists). Three frequencies from which they broadcast (in NC's "Research Triangle", as well). An iPhone app.
A pared-down schedule, with big chunks of NPR (that much-loved "repetition"!), seven hours of bluegrass. An upcoming dedicated spot to showcase new music. "Eclectic" shows relegated to the weekend. Not a mention of "rock"... and no classical or jazz in the lineup. And, it takes a lot of digging to find out who actually runs the station.

Not a fair comparison.

A comment By Bill Tetzeli on the WTJU Chat and Help Forum reminded me of a declaration during the OPA/DJ meeting, how the proposed "changes" were "the last roll of the dice". I keep thinking about how many changes we could have initiated over the years with cooperation from the University. How many ideas were shot down because they supposedly wouldn't pass muster with UVa?

It took years to get the "go ahead" to launch a website (yet, we are not allowed to link to the supplemental show sites of announcers), even longer to find a way to toe the non-profit line with respect to streaming. Once up, it faced the same fate as our broadcasts: if you knew about it, already, fine. NO Promotion. Word-of-mouth only goes so far.
There are huge opportunities to widen our listenership, and our "product" is already here... that is, if more of our best DJs don't head for the exits. That exodus is an irreparable loss--show hosts who not only worked to present educational and entertaining shows, but brought in the very musicians who make the music they spin.

iPhone apps. iTunes links. Pandora. Satellite radio. Expanded signal range. Setting up individual archived streams on the website for each department (culled from our Tape Vault) so listeners can listen to their favorite genre, whenever they want, from wherever in the globe they are (Ralph Graves' idea). Investment in real promotion (which should be pursued ASAP, since WTJU is finally a topic of conversation in the media. This adversity is an opportunity, while the public might actually know who we are, now). The possibilities are only limited by our imagination... and the Glass Wall of what the University will allow.

Personally, I'd trade our palatial studios for the ratty orange carpet at Peabody Hall if it meant that WTJU would endure.

WRNR's Mike "We Will Bury You" Friend came from WTJU, it should be noted (and was an alternate on Reggae Vibrations, when I joined... an experience not to be taken lightly)... and when he left the station to start his own, he immediately went to work to widen his audience (with translators to points south), to promote, and solicit underwriters... though his "methods" look suspiciously at odds with "non-commercial" status. Still, you have to give the Devil his due: he took us on, on a shoestring, and was off-and-running, right out of the box... though his underwriting methods are extremely suspect, and the programming is ever more indistinguishable for any other "alternative" station.

If we homogenize our programming by trying to be another NPR affiliate or WNRN, He'll be laughing all the way to the bank.


Scott Shisler aka goldfinger


  1. I am staggered at how unfairly WTJU's condition is being assessed, with no acknowledgement of extenuating circumstances (not least of which has been the University's relative silence/inertia about publicizing the station and its funding needs).

    I think it's abundantly clear from the meetings I've attended that the announcers have lots of ideas and organizational juice. Many of us have existing connections to UVa that I think we'd be happy to develop for the station...given the chance. If Burr is a one-trick "Roots" pony (it is very, very hard for me not to refer to him mentally as "Kunta Kinte"), then it's to his advantage to acknowledge that limitation and draw on the expertise of those around him--just as, I think, we as announcers are willing to discuss format changes to the station as long as those discussions are thoughtful and inclusive.