Freeform Music, House Shows, and Art: Touring College Radio Station WXTJ-LP at University of Virginia

by Jennifer Waits of Radio Survivor:

There’s a lot of radio going on at University of Virginia and the newest station is WXTJ-LP, a student-run low power FM (LPFM) college radio station. Although its studio is in the same facility as WTJU (see my tour #129 here), WXTJ-LP has its own identity and air sound. Frustrated by the lack of student involvement at WTJU, General Manager Nathan Moore decided to create a second, student-only radio station. According to Moore, “I basically took the ‘go big or go home’ approach to student involvement at WTJU. I was having a hard time increasing the percentage of students involved at the station. So I built them a parallel second station. It worked.”

Moore explained that WXTJ (originally WTJX) began as a webstream for three and a half years and then launched over FM in April, 2016. Describing it as a “fraternity for misfits,” Moore told me that the new station has already been a huge success as far as increasing student involvement. He told me that participation went from zero to 120 students in just a year.

Although WXTJ has just one studio of its own, station members are able to use WTJU’s music library and production studio. The stations are still part of one big family and help each other out with events and promotions. Additionally, some WXTJ DJs have ended up on the air at WTJU. Moore explained the main differences between the stations, pointing out that, “WXTJ is all students, and the programing is totally freeform. Some days, you might hear a mix of EDM or old school hip-hop or indie rock. Or the students might raid our vinyl library and play an old record of traditional Swiss folk songs. Plus conversations and interviews thrown into the mix.”

Following my March 17, 2017 visit, WXTJ Co-Director Chase Browning filled in further details for me over email. Since University of Virginia has several radio stations, I was curious to hear what drew him to WXTJ. He told me that he joined in September, 2015 and shared that, “As a new student, I wasn’t totally sure of the difference between WTJU & XTJ – but what initially appealed to me was that XTJ was an all-student station, so I stuck with it.”

The freeform nature of WXTJ sets it apart from WTJU. Browning characterized the programming philosophy for me, saying that it largely has to do with DJ freedom:

“By free form radio, we mean that we trust in the integrity of our DJs to play good quality music, and leave it up to them as to what counts as good. Some of the DJs who are transfer students and were active in their old college radio stations have talked about requirements where the song can’t have more than 5,000 views on YouTube, or a certain amount of listens on Spotify. We’ve discussed in XTJ on whether we should only play music that’s been released in the past year. Ultimately, those arguments always break down, because a good quality radio station necessarily cannot be uniform in content. Our station would lack all credibility if we didn’t have late night hip-hop shows, Saturday midnight electronic, femme, queer, and riot grrl, the one great classic rock show, and all the rest. Free form radio is the spirit of college radio, it’s the tradition we are inheriting, and it’s what the DJs do a hell of a job keeping alive and relevant.”

Beyond what’s going on over the air, WXTJ also regularly hosts events, including an art show and sale on the weekend of my visit. I actually learned about the art show from the General Manager of another college radio station (WXJM), so it had clearly gotten some buzz outside of Charlottesville. Browning told me,

“This year’s art show was our second annual, and we tried splitting the proceeds 60/40 between the artist and a given charity. Submissions were open to anyone anywhere, and we received an even split between student / non-student submissions. A handful, actually, were from faculty / staff of the university.”

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