When UVA’s Black Student Alliance rallied in fall 2014 to protest police actions in Ferguson, Missouri, Will Mullany (Col ’16) was there with his tape recorder, interviewing students and capturing their speeches and poems on the Lawn for “Black Lives Matter,” a special programming segment for WXTJ, UVA’s newest radio station.
The segment won a Silver Microphone Trophy Award from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System for best documentary. It was a chance, says Mullany, to document student voices on Grounds and showcase the power of radio storytelling. “NPR and the relatively recent podcast boom have blown the whole radio field wide open and there isn’t much you can’t do in that domain right now,” says Mullany, co-director of WXTJ. “A radio station can be something greater than just songs being played in your car.”
For Mullany and the nearly 150 other students who make up the station, WXTJ isn’t just driving music. It’s a cultural force, a community of students sharing music and stories, hosting listening parties in their houses and booking concerts on Grounds and in Charlottesville.
WXTJ, which began streaming online as WTJX in October 2013 but this year changed its call sign, is one of three radio stations broadcasting from Grounds and is the only one entirely staffed by students. The other two, WTJU and WUVA, offer some opportunities for students. Nathan Moore, station manager for WTJU, wanted to create more of those opportunities, so in spring 2013 he brought the student radio project to Hannah Patrick (Col ’14), then a WTJU student intern. Patrick brought in WTJU student DJ Corrigan Blanchfield (Col ’15) as WXTJ’s first programming director, and the two set about building a following while Moore and WTJU’s engineer, Pete Yadlowsky (Engr ’80, ’82), built the new station from old, finicky parts lying around WTJU’s studio in Lambeth Commons. Moore still serves as an adviser for WXTJ.
The station’s early recruitment efforts were simple: reach out to students who had been turned away from WTJU’s already-full rock department. Set up a table at the activities fair. Send out emails.
The free-form radio format is ideal for creative students: there is no set song or story rotation. WXTJ listeners are likely to hear something they haven’t heard before, be it a new story, a new song or a new theme running through old favorites. “We play literally anything we feel we can get away with,” says Judith Young (Col ’17), co-host of WXTJ’s Judith and Sam Awesome Show, Great Job!
Young and her radio partner like to challenge themselves to adhere to strict show themes. For one two-hour block, they played only songs by artists whose names start and end in S (the Strokes, the Shins, Sufjan Stevens, Sleigh Bells). Another week, they stuck to an “artists with animals in the name” theme and played Phox, Gorillaz, Sheryl Crow, Dr. Dog and others.
On Hummus for Breakfast, Mullany and Sasan Mousavi (Col ’14, Grad ’16) play music from a different genre each week and discuss culture and news between tunes. The station also has a special programming department that produces a few hours of talk-based segments, like Mullany’s “Black Lives Matter,” each week.
DJs have access to the entire WTJU music library of records, CDs and digital files, and many bring their own.
The station initially offered eight hours of live programming each day, but as interest in the station has grown, so has student air time. Currently, WXTJ broadcasts live from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. In the off hours, an automated system randomly plays songs from the WXTJ playlist.
WXTJ is also amping up the alternative music scene by bringing live acts to Grounds and Charlottesville. Last January, the station co-sponsored the Parquet Courts/Priests bill at the Southern Café & Music Hall and, in April, booked indie musicians Julianna Barwick and Grouper at the UVA Chapel. The show sold out, and some of the 250 attendees drove in from as far as Maryland, “which just goes to show that WXTJ has the power to energize the Charlottesville music scene,” says station co-director Sara Ho (Col ’17).
And that power is about to grow. WXTJ was approved for a low-power FM frequency—100.1—that will soon broadcast within the city of Charlottesville. The station will continue to stream online as well, and the WXTJ crew is eager to share its programming with a larger audience. “We have a lot of fun with it,” says Mullany. “These are the perfect conditions to try something new.”