WTJU uproar: Staffers fuming over station's changes
It’s been just two months since Burr Beard replaced retiring WTJU station manager Chuck Taylor, but he already appears to have a full-scale revolt on his hands. Recently, emails from WTJU volunteers, disgruntled about "sweeping changes" that Beard was implementing, began circulating.
"There's major trouble at WTJU," one staffer wrote, "Burr Beard, the new manager, is attempting to impose sweeping, if yet undisclosed, changes. What has leaked out so far has the longtime volunteer staff in an uproar and threatening a strike."
In a call to the Hook, another WTJU staffer complained that Beard wasn’t going to "let DJs play their own songs" and that there was a "mutiny" going on.
Beard has sent messages to WTJU’s staff explaining the proposed changes, a kind of cheerleading effort to get WTJU staff excited about strategies to increase listenership and fundraising. As Beard pointed out, "on average only 7,500 people listen each week. That's the smallest audience of any non-comm station serving Charlottesville." Beard has proposed introducing commercial radio-style play lists or rotations.
"Radio’s strong point is repetition," wrote Beard. "That’s why commercials are repeated so often. It also works when we repeat songs a number of times per week. How can we make spin count and repetition work for us while still remaining fresh and non-commercial?"
The story already appears to have become news without the media. A DJ named Pete Marshall, concerned that his Friday-night roots music showcase, "Sunset Road," was on the chopping block, decided to resign after nearly 20 years with WTJU.
"The master plan might work but honestly, Burr," wrote Marshall, "your communication skills suck."
Despite a request from Beard to his staff to “keep this internal so we can go with a controlled media release,” Marshall's departure has become the first shot fired in a war that has begun moving to a blog called "WTJU in Crisis."
"I do believe that the public deserves to know about what is happening," says DJ Tyler Magill, who created the blog, "and that the public should, if they so desire, have a say in what happens."
There, one DJ lauds a recent show by Magill featuring a sermon set to electronic music. "It was long and irreverent, exactly the thing the sets our station apart," writes Elizabeth Stark.
However, such quirky content may have had a downside. Another letter, this one from UVA's director of media relations, Marian Anderfuren, suggests that a lack of accessible music contributed to listenership and financial malaise– a situation Beard was hired to fix.
"We had approval from the highest levels of University leadership," Anderfuren writes, "to close the station down if we didn't see a reasonable path toward improvement."
So what does Beard think of all this? Well, he’s not saying anything now, but promises to on Thursday, June 24 during an all-station meeting at 5:30pm
“I'll invite you to get the full package of factual information on the changes and a chance to interview lots of people,” he says.