Turn on any radio station and the song playing will almost always be something familiar, whether it is top 40 hits, rock, pop or hip hop. From the University of Virginia, however, comes WTJU, which prides itself on the unfamiliar.
The volunteer-run station provides UVA and the surrounding community with commercial-free, entertaining, education radio. It is an alternative outlet to other broadcast media in the Charlottesville area. Record companies usually pay radio stations to play certain songs, but at WTJU, the DJs are free to choose their own playlists. According to volunteer and PVCC student Darby Wootten, there are only a few radio stations in the country that are free to run this way.
Wootten has been a volunteer at the station for about six months, although he has been a listener for several years. He said that those interested can “tune in at any given point and if you don’t like that music, just tune in two hours [later]…and chances are it’ll be something you like.” The station has four main departments: rock, jazz, folk and classical, although “if there’s one underlying theme to WTJU, [it is] weird music,” he continued.
Some of the shows have been around for almost four decades, including a reggae show that has “been in the same time slot, 2 to 4 p.m. on Fridays, since 1976,” Wootten said. The radio station was first started in 1957, and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007.
Many of the DJs are either musicians or are very dedicated to the craft, and include such artists and critics as Stephen Malkmus of the band Pavement, Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield, Yo La Tengo’s James McNew and Dave Matthews Band’s Boyd Tinsley.
Wootten himself is a musician for two separate bands. He plays drums for rock and roll cover band Modern Tactics, and bluegrass band Rock River Gypsies. He has been with both for about two years. With the Gypsies, Wootten explained, “We play some funky stuff. We have some traditional music which gets the older people, and we have some funky fresh things which can get the younger crowd.” His drumming idol, Carter Beauford, of the Dave Matthews Band, is “so tricky. The simplest beat he’ll try to play where you don’t expect it.”
About WTJU he said, “I think it stretches people’s minds when they listen to something unfamiliar. It makes them think a little more than if you hear ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for the fiftieth time.” He continued, “You turn on [WWWV] you’re going to hear something familiar. [WTJU] is the opposite. It’s not familiar, you’ve never heard this music.”
The college station plays every kind of music, without commercials. The DJs do read public service announcements, though, which can be anything from “a new method of CPR to stroke signs or talking about Virginia state parks,” Wootten said.
WTJU operates on donations and support from UVA. The station recently ran a rock marathon that raised $24,000 to help pay for a transmit signal, the tower rent, power, and legal fees. “Some people think it’s a complete waste of the government’s money to be funding this radio station,” Wootten said and he explained that if enough money cannot be raised, the university must pick up the extra costs, which has brought up talks of shutting the station down.
“Keep [WTJU] weird. That’s what we want,” he said. For those looking to experience the unfamiliar, turn the radio dial to 91.1 or listen to the live stream on wtju.net .