Friday, July 9, 2010

41. Burr Beard Installs Automated DJ System; Some Opinions in Lieu of News

With the big post having been made, the lines being drawn, the Town Hall meeting approaching, and only minor jockeying for position left, there's not much to report. The announcers are working feverishly, creating an alternative plan that will meet the OPA's demands while keeping the soul of the station. I've seen many drafts, but they remain just that; as soon as one is finalized, I'll share it here. The drafts are impressive. They are calm, without drama, they logically address every problem that has been suggested.

Well, a dearth of things to say has never stopped me opening my mouth, so here goes again. These come from several discussions I've had with other DJs. Those opinions that are unsound are mine, and those that are sound can be attributed to them.

Burr Beard's monomaniacal belief in "roots" programming as silver bullet for WTJU's financial success overlooks one crucial fact: there is no room in Charlottesville for another formatted radio station. Charlottesville already has over 30 radio stations serving her (source: here), and Charlottesville is the 230th-largest radio market in America, behind Elmira-Corning NY and behind Winchester Va (source: here).

Burr has had some success with his silver bullet, turning three community college radio stations into more popular media presences. He has been able to increase cumulative audiences, certainly. But he has never worked with a station like WTJU before. I can't speak to what the staffs at those stations were like when he got there, but I will dare say that they were not like ours. Our staff, to be short, know what it is doing with its programming. I believe that this is the first time Burr has dealt with DJs who know what they are doing, who care. I don't think he understands that. Certainly, he seemed taken aback, confused when we didn't just sign on to his cool new idea. He was confused that we might want more than one show to say goodbye to our audiences.

Of course, Burr was ready to go with his silver bullet from jump; he was ready to go with it on July 5th. He had not modified it one iota from the 5th to last weekend's secret meeting. He is not interested in changing it. That plan is the entirety of his professional identity; his career rests on presenting it as panacea. From his attempt to syndicate an Americana Top 20 (which can be found here) to his renaming of every station he can get his hands on to "Roots W___," everything depends on people buying in to him as a guru of Americana. So how can he modify his plan? It would be a repudiation of everything he claims to be worth as a hired hand.

A 30-year professional broadcaster, Beard managed stations since 1988, including WNCW-FM (which he founded) and currently WXLV-FM a full service Americana station in market #68. Beard was part of the beginning of Triple-A and Americana in the late 80's.

Anyway, as I was saying, he was ready to go on July 5th, and isn't interested in changing his philosophy. Anyone who could present alternatives has to go. And here is where his constant stream of offensive behavior starts to make sense. It would be easiest for him to have the vast majority of DJs quit; he only needs a handful of DJs to keep the station on the air, and he is also installing an automated DJ (ostensibly so that WTJU can broadcast from 3-6AM when no-one wants to be on air... uh-huh). The less DJs are around, the less hassle it is making sure everyone plays what he wants to play. So he has gone out of his way to disgust us. Pete Marshall walked, and Emmett Boaz walked over Burr's public derision of Pete. I've come close on a number of occasions. His disregard for the feelings and intellects of the DJs and the community they serve is staggering.

With this in mind, if you support WTJU, that means you are supporting the DJs. Have you been listening to a show for a while, but you've never called? Call the DJ. Tell them. And email Burr Beard at Tell him about that show, how often you listen to it, something you'll always remember about that show, something you did when that show was playing.

Burr is determined to drive the DJs away, so he can say, looks like they really were just whiny babies determined to have their way or nothing. That's not true at all. In this time when management is actively tearing them down, remind the DJs that you care. Burr's way doesn't work precisely because at this station, the DJs care. No amount of chart research or demographic idolatry can replace that.

PS: On last thing. It should be noted that the last station Burr managed, WXLV in Lehigh, PA, wasted very little time in repudiating his philosophy after he left:

...WXLV has embraced the “Free Form” model of radio, allowing on air talent comprised of both students and community volunteers, to play the music they enjoy and can educate the public about.

One wonders what they have to say about Burr Beard. I plan on finding out, personally. It's interesting to note that a couple of days ago, Burr Beard's own webpage, where I and many other people found out about his history, has been taken offline.


  1. Keep fighting the good fight, Tyler. This whole thing smacks of the overnight corporate radio gig a friend had in Va. Beach in the late 80s-early 90s -- color-codes for items in the rotation and the frequency with which you needed to play them and all. Great when you are a teen looking to break in to radio, not so great otherwise.

  2. I refuse to make a personal attack on Burr Beard until I've met him and can evaluate him for myself. However, I can say rather forcefully, he has a deep hole to climb out of to impress me.

    To not listen to someone is to fear what they have to say. It's clear that he fears the musical knowledge of the average WTJU DJ.

    We've listened to him, we've researched his position, and we've come to the conclusion that he's misguided. We've approached him, we've approached management and we've worked very hard to try to save our station.

    He has never shown any evidence of listening to us. He forwards an email about open minds, but has never engaged in a mind-opening conversation with his peers. He has shown no wavering from his opinions on how to move this station forward, regardless of dissenting facts in plain site. He continues to pursue his agenda, regardless of the opinions of the people that have built and maintained this station for the past 50 years. He has chased people away from the station, celebrated their departures, tracked members of the station online, has resisted approach by current and former DJs, has ignored the storied history of this station, the FIRST FM station in Charlottesville, and has inserted himself squarely into the politics without engaging anyone except those above him in management. Now, he's even taken his webpage down. As if he hates even looking at himself.

    Above all: Throughout this saga we've done nothing but show our love for the station and each other. Burr has shown contempt for everyone. This cannot go unnoticed by the University.

    If The University moves forward with Burr Beard they will have made a loud statement that they have no understanding or respect for the cultural institution that is WTJU. They will have said that they disregard the position of the broad Charlottesville community.

    And yet, having said all of this, I have to believe that the University will listen to us. We have the track record. We've been there for them over the years. We've kept the station afloat through many tough times and we've shown our devotion to continue to support and grow this station. That cannot go unnoticed either.

  3. Tyler, I am incredibly, indescribably grateful that you are giving public voice to these thoughts, most if not all of which echo my own.

    The one area I think we still need to mention is his idea of freeform weekend programming. I've seen the proposed lineup, and it's hard for me to avoid the thought that he's setting many of these shows up to fail. I mean, Danza Latina on a Sunday afternoon? Seriously?

    Obviously management discounts the importance of the announcers in this process, and I'm not sure we can change that. I hope the town meeting has a good turnout (I'm sure certain other managers of certain other stations won't resist the chance to put in their two cents, for good or bad). I think people need to hear just how little stock UVa puts in its employees and volunteers. This isn't the first time I've encountered this oligarchic, arbitrary, unthinking, narrow approach to effecting change from them.

    I am writing up a couple of paragraphs to read at the town meeting on Monday, for whatever good that will do. I hope some. This whole situation has been ripping me apart emotionally and personally, and as I've said before, my 11 years of announcing make me a baby compared to many others at the station.

    I'll end where I began: THANK YOU, Tyler.

  4. It is very telling that as Beard attempts to forcefully mutate the station to an Americana format, his first two victim defectors, Marshall and Boaz, are both DJs in that idiom. Shouldn't that tell him something? Are you listening, Mr. Beard?