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For the Last 20 Years, WTJU-FM
By Karen Sacks

In 1946, the Federal Communications Commission set up a frequency range for non-commercial, 10-watt, educational radio stations (on the FM band between 8B and 92). FCC law required that these stations be owned and operated by an educational institution, that no commercial copy be broadcast, and that FCC regulations regarding engineering standards and logs be followed. An FM station at the University of Virginia had been discussed for many years, the most extensive discussion taking place in the late 1940's for a Virginia college FM network consisting of nine educational stations, but no one had the iniative or money to carry this plan out. The only such station in Virginia until 1957 was WFOS in Norfolk, now under the auspices of Great Bridge High School. (WFOS now operates at 90.5 watts.) Throughout the United States, in 1956, only 58 such educational stations existed.

In 1955, Kappa Delta Pi, an honorary education fraternity, donated $450 to the Department of Speech and Drama to found an educational radio station. WBMZ in Washington, D.C., was going off the air and selling their Navy World War II surplus transmitter, referred to as the "Gates Wonder." Rowland Johnson, an engineering student, discovered the transmitter, gave up time from his honeymoon, and hauled the transmitter from .iashington to Charlottesville in a rented truck with the help of his groomsmen. Thus, WTJU got its start in what is now the sound booth in the Radio-TV Center in Cabell Hall. George P. Wilson, Jr., professor in the Speech and Drama Department, was the sponsor of the new radio station. Ten years before, Wilson had founded WUVA. Wilson and the FCC corresponded for several years via letters and telegrams, discussing call letters, and most important, a license. As soon as Wilson's application was processed, the FCC telegrammed, requesting at least five call signals in order of preference. The signals immediately requested were WTJU (Thomas Jefferson's University), WMJU (Mister Jefferson's University), WUVC (University of Virginia at Charlottesville), WDSD (Department of Speech and Drama), and WKDP (Kappa Delta Pi). This was in July of 1956.

WTJU was approved, and planned to enter Charlottesville's airwaves in January of 1957. Because of license problems, the station did not begin test broadcasts until late March. At this time, the Board of Directors for WTJU was established, and one of its offices was that of "Party Chairman." Like any other self-respecting University organization, WTJU was a social group, and the Party Chairman kept the station's forty- some members from losing interest during a frustrating period of waiting. Therefore, Beril Abraham, WTJU first Party Chairman, was responsible for two or three "blasts" each year.

Arthur Prosper, a part-time speech instructor and station manager in 1957, wrote the required field study for his PhD dissertation on the establishment of WTJU. (This paper is supposed to be floating somewhere in the depths of a library.) Rod Collins, then a graduate student in Speech and Education, currently Information Director of the Radio-TV Center in Cabell Hall, was WTJU's first program director.

Test broadcasts began in late March. Chalottesville's Daily Progressreported on May 8, 1957, that over 100 listeners had stumbled across WTJU in FM dialing and had called or written in regarding the excellent quality of the 10-watt signal. The most distant report came from thirteen miles away--in Crozet; most came from within a seven-mile radius of Cabell Hall

It was both amazing and impressive that so many people could hear WTJU; FM radios were quite uncommon at the time. According to Welcome Wagon reports, only 25% of the people who moved to Charlottesville in the mid-1950's owned FM radios, and even fewer residents did. But FM was only beginning to emerge: Electronics Industries Association predicted that by the late 1960's FM sales would be far above those of AM-only radios. They cited three; reasons for the projected FM gain: 1) according to FCC law, separate broadcasting was required for AM and FM stations of the same origin. In other words, no simulcasting was allowed over a certain amount of hours, 2) a constantly increasing number of FM stations throughout the country, and 3) the great sales push of both domestic and foreign FM radios.

WTJU continued to broadcast on a regular schedule from 7:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at 91.3 FM. Programming included dinner music (Mantovani-type), news and classical music. News was obtained from WUVA in Madison Hall. At lO:OO p.m., WUVA would air their news. WTJU personnel would than run from Cabell to Madison Hall, pick up the used UPI copy, run it back to Cabell where it was edited and read at 11:00. Speeches were occasionally broadcast live. Facilities were connected from Cabell into Maury Hall, and Rod Collins tells of the time a speaker was 45 minutes late, and the Maury Hall remote was on the air. There was no reversing the situation; by the time the speaker arrived, anyone who had been listening knew Maury Hall down to the last cobweb

A program guide was available to anyone who requested it by May, 1957. This service was continued regularly, in one form or another until very recently. In 1957, with 45mstaff members, WTJU offered these programs nightly: "High Fidelity Concert" from 9:00 to 10:30 and "Music in a Lighter Vein" from 10:45 to 11:00. Ideas for future programming included "Education on the March," "Headlines in Chemistry," "The University Hour," "The U.N. Story," and "What's the Good Word?"

On May 2, 1957, the Cavalier Daily wrote an editorial about University funding. They discussed WTJU: "...the University's 'good music' radio station, now being sponsored by the Department (of Speech and Drama)." WTJU's request for University funds was turned down due to the fact that only a limited number of University students owned FM radios, and that only one department backed the activity. For three years, Kappa Delta Pi continued to donate $160 each year to enlarge the classical music library. Records were purchased from University Bookstore as well as being supplied from private collections.

A 1973 Cavalier Daily article quotes then Program Director Michael Leech discussing WTJU's past: "Professor Wilson would pay his periodic visit to the transmitter in Cabell Hall's attic. One day, after the station had been on the air a couple of years, he discovered that the station's FCC license had been expired for months." Consequently, the station was off the air for half a year while the FCC granted WTJU another license.

The Daily Progress was at hand in 1959 (January 31) when WTJU closed its first annual exam marathon: 24 hours/day of music. This may not seem like much now, but the 264-hour marathon set a record for continuous broadcasting in the Charlottesville ares: eleven days and nights of classical music, with jazz played from 1-5:00 a.m. only.

In 1961, a first year engineering student, Matthew Lucas, accidentally signed up for a 24-hour marathon: "I couldn't believe it when my roommate came back and told me I'd signed up for a 24-hour shift, but a change would have meant trouble for everybody, so I decided I might as well go through with it." (Matthew Lucas, Daily Progress)

During the years when the station only broadcast eight hours per day, marathon slots were difficult to fill. Traditionally, the marathon would end if there was no announcer to fill a slot, and the station would go off the air until the next semester. In 1966, a serious all-night gap appeared in the sign-up sheet. According to President Ronald Stenlake, "we broadcast a plea for anyone with the required (3rd class)' license to 'come on over'. Surprisingly someone no one had ever seen before or since showed up with the license, did the all night show, and the marathon proceeded unbroken for a new record of continuous hours on the air."

Listenerb comments on the marathon go like this:

Thank you for the fine music and the splendid and needful service to our community. For ten years I've been an avid fan. Enjoy the programs with heart and soul. And appreciate the never-ending courtesy extended to all.

The examination marathon is giving me (and countless others) the greatest pleasure. When a day begins with Beethoven's Ninth, what other wonders will it hold!

I wish to thank all the altruistic young people who man the broadcast of the only oasis of good music in town.

My appreciation for the Exam Marathon. It was most enjoyable.

I wish to express my enthusiastic appreciation of your "Exam marathon" broadcast. For the first time in many years our FM radios were operating practically constantly during our waking hours.

In an attempt to set new records in 1977, program director John Klemm plans to remain on the air for 30 hours and close the marathon on May 15 at 2:00 a.m. Comments John, "I think it will be fun.'

By December 1957, programming had expanded from 7:30- 11:00 to midnight. The station began its fall schedule for the 1958-59 school year in October, boasting new programming: three hours of jazz each week, as well as two documentary public affairs shows: "The People Act" and "Doorway to the Future." Plans were underway to enable students living in the dormitories to listen, and WTJU instituted the AM cable to the New Dorms (Monroe Hill) on 810 AM. In 1967, this wire was traded to WUVA for two years of United Press Intetnational wire copy.

In 1960, when it was time for the fall staff auditions, WTJU boasted a listening audience of over 500 people. The transmitter began causing problems about that time (according to the Cavalier Daily, October 7, 1960, "..the expected life span of their World War II surplus model is well past..."), so a new transmitter was ordered with borrowed funds from Student Council. Transmitter problems prohibited going on the air as WTJU conducted its first fund drive. Said Richard Stanley, then President, "The response has been most gratifying." The new transmitter cost $1500. Air time was cut back due to the constant need for repair on the old Gates. By November '61, the new transmitter was installed and WTJU was back to operating ten watts from Cabell Hall.

Innovations in the Spring of 1961 included the inception of a program for children, an educational show for Charlottesville's seventh graders, played each Tuesday at 2 00 p.m. The program, called, "Let's Make Friends With Music" was formulated by Rod Collins who wrote and narrated the six 15-minute programs and prepared collateral study materials for teachers and students.

1962 was the year for cobtail parties --at least twice a semester. Programming continued as usual, and very soon, WTJU decided to become independent of the Speech and Drama Department. The Student Activities Board allocated sufficent funds to relocate the studio from Cabell Hall to Humphreys basement. According to Jim Jenkins, president at the time, "Not only did this change give us much better studios, but more importantly, for the first time, we were completely on our own and out from under the wing of the Speech and Drama Department. The student staff thereafter had full responsibility for the operation of the station." The mood was one of independence, and Jenkins supplied a photograph of himself and Program Manager John Graham turning off the transmister in Cabell Hall for the lash time.

Optimism reigned, and the Board of Directors went to a 1963 Student Activities forum with closed circuit TV equipment labeled "WTJU-TV" to suggest that it might be possible for the University to operate its own television station in the future. But the Humphreys studio was poorly equipped; according to Stenlake, president in 1964, "I don't know why they were so pleased to have been in Humphreys House. My assessment of the situation was that they had left an expertly equipped broadcast facility for a minimally equipped facility." The 1966-67 budget request, approved in April, 1966, described the studios:

From 1957 until 1963, WTJU-FM was located in Cabell Hall at the Radio and Recording Center. The Center offered tape recording facilities, control room and production room facilities, several microphones, and adequate studio and office space. When the move to Humphries was made, the initial installation was but a skeleton of the basic requirements of a radio station...

WTJU-FM moved to Humphries House with little more than the absolute minimum requirements for broadcasting records: two turntables, a control panel and transmitter. Since 1963, we have been attempting piece by piece to get the facilities to the point where we can operate efficiently in all areas. For example, we have done some work on the main control room (added tape recorders), increased our power from 10 to 360 watts, expanded our AM dormitory coverage, and added needed equipment to the engineering shop.

The request for the move to Humphreys described the AM cable; which by then reached the New Dorms (McCormick Rd.) and McKim Hall. Airtime had grown from 30 hours to 56 hours per week. This was to be the third phase of WTJU expansion. (The first two were establishment and breaking away from the Speech Department, although remaining in their studios.) The projected fourth phase was expansion into an expanded Newcomb Hall, and into a pre-designed radio studio.

Within twelve months of the move to Humphreys, WTJU had increased power to 250 watts. The transmitter was pieced together and the antenna, still atop Cabell Hall, was designed in a double halo, so it would not deface the Lawn. Increasing power proved to be a disadvantage at first, because any open air station with more than ten watts power must have a first class FCC licensed engineer, as well as licensed personnel (3rd class FCC) running the control board. At the time, almost none of the staff was licensed, so WTJU sponsored a cram course for the required license. The classical marathon was scheduled to begin a few weeks later, and the station became desperate for 3rd class broadcasters.

According to Stenlake:

...a letter was dispatched to the Chairman of the FCC noting the injustice of depriving the University community of its semi-annual examination marathon because of the new regulation. This letter resulted in a temporary waiver of the requirement from the FCC.

In the next two years, it became a constant battle to teach students how to pass the exam, and then get them to Washington to take the exam. I believe the FCC on one or two occasions gave the exam at the University.

It now became the Board of Director's task to keep the station on the air. For several years (around 1963), the station went on the air whenever the announcer showed up. It became a duty to keep the station on the air from 3:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. no matter what happened. The officers put in a great amount of time both on and off the air. There was some sort of activity each week, alternating between board meetings, staff meetings, and cocktail parties. Elaborate notes were taken at all meetings by secretaries Richard Stanley (1964-65), Thomas Thompson (1965-66), Thomas McCaleb (1966-67), and John Toler (1967-68).

The program guide, which was printed each semester from Spring, 1964 to Fall, 1966, lost a great amount of money, but looked very nice. A four by nine-inch booklet, the program guide featured the station's logo at the time: the Graphics Department design of a tuning fork with the abstract design of the Rotunda to form a microphone. A large drawing of Thomas Jefferson formed the background; inside was a detailed schedule for the semester, from November through January. Some of the different shows offered were: A United Nations Information program called "Scope", "Collector's Corner" (rare recordings of classical music). Music from France, Germany, Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands, "BBC Radio Drama Hour," "Longwood Speaks," and "Midnight Symphony", which ended each broadcast day at 2:00 a.m, WTJU's broadcast day then went from 3:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. seven days each week. The Program Guide was of great service to the University and community, but it was too expensive. According to the 1966 budget request report,

We blundered badly on the Program Guide Account during fiscal '65-'66. This was the first year we had to arrange on our own for both printing and typing of the program guide. Consequently, we allocated just enough for printing expenses, but did not foresee the expenditure of nearly $100 for the photo-ready typing of the program guide by the Department of Graphics. To cover this outrageous, unanticipated expense, we were forced to take roughly equal amounts from the Program and Office Supplies Accounts.

WTJU reached a peak in its career under the direction of Ron Stenlake, who transformed the station into a full-time classical station with an active staff after several lean years. Stenlake re-established ties with Rod Collins and the Radio-Recording Center. WTJU and the Radio-Recording Center produced an audio line from Cabell Hall to Humphreys and broadcast live special events.

During this period, the station specifically and unfortunately rejected stereo. Lack of audience analysis also constituted aproblem, but nothing compared to some of the things that happened after Stenlake's graduation. Student support dropped, the schedule fell back to eight hours per day, the staff fell to about 25 students, and a social fraternity began a brief period of dictatorship over WTJU.

During this time, WTJU-FM further increased its power to 360 watts. Until 1964, a Gates ten-watt exciter had served as a transmitter. The application for a power increase was in, but more had to be considered. WTJU's antenna lies barely inside the National Radio Astronomy quiet zone, which means that both the National Radio Astronomy facility in Greenbank, West Virginia and the U.S. Navy facility in Sugar Grove, West Virginia have to approve all power increases through the FCC. All public radio stations within a certain radius of these facilities must abide by these standards. Numerous tests were run for each power increase. In early 1967, WTJU had reached its present 750 watts (a compromise between WTJU and the two facilities--1100 watts were requested) thanks to Chief Engineer Larry Whitehurst, who installed a new Collins transmitter in the summer of 1968.

Another item of concern was the production studio. The budget request in 1966 indicated that this was to be a goal for the next year. At the March 30th board meeting, it was decided that "the present office would be turned into the production studio." The budget request included finances for a production control board. By 1968, the University had supplied enough money for a production studio. Paul Shumate, chief engineer at the time said, "We even painted the studio and put in the second little board along with the tape and phono equipment."

The "second little board" was the production board, which served an overly long and full life at WTJU. In the early '70s, this board was used for production. Air boards began causing problems in the early '70s, and a fund drive began for a new board in 1972. For some time, the station was forced to broadcast from the production studio, or as Teri Towe called it in 1972: "This is Teri Towe coming to you live and direct from the Black Hole of Calcutta." The fund drive raised $3700 for the purchase of a new board, which turned out to be a lemon. In 1974-75, Chief Engineer Grant Bingeman built a board from scratch which had a cigarette lighter, calculator, and flashed "WTJU." It did everything but pass FCC standards. So in the fall of 1975, the Sparta production board was moved into the air studio. For a full semester, while WTJU conducted another fund drive, the Sparta board was on the air 24 hours per day. It did a good job for such a small board, and over Christmas Break, it was replaced with the Ampro board, which took over in January, 1976. Plans for 1977-78 involve moving the new Ampro board into the production studio since the Sparta was sold during the summer of 1976. A new Collins board will be purchased for the air studio.

WTJU continued to broadcast 85% classical music until 1969. Throughout the period from 1966-69, when the least classical of all broadcast music was traditional folk-music (10%), there was intense fighting on the part of the traditionalists and the newcomers to introduce rock programming. John Toler, secretary during the arguments remembers:

During the end of 1968-69 a change in people and in commurity became noticeable. There were fewer and fewer announcers with classical background, and fewer willing to learn. The station continued to grow strong, but a change was evident. Some of the old line staff, including myself, were called "the War horses" by the younger staff, who wanted more varied programming. Arguments went both ways on policy, and with the gradual phasing out of the traditionalists, the transition was made.

The schedule became disorganized, and marathons grew to include both classical and rock. Despite its anarchic atmosphere, these were the growing years for WlTJU. From an 8-hour per day schedule in 1967, the station went to 12 and 18 hours per day. The staff grew from 30 to 80 people. WTJU gained a news staff. On May 20, 1967 WTJU and WUVA entered an agreement whereby WUVA would assume ownership of the four WTJU AM rebroadcast transmitters and associated equipment. WTJU would be able to use a minimum of 15 minutes worth of UPI teletype news each day for a period of two years (excluding summer vacations). Several days later, at the WTJU staff meeting and elections, a need was cited for a news department. The News department grew quickly, and was cited for its excellent coverage of the post-Cambodia Kent State bombings and other campus unrest throughout the country. Said Dan Richards of the Daily Progress "Poor Richards' Almanac" column on May 12, 1970:

I have mentioned the University's FM-radio station, WTJU several times in recent columns. I am proud to say that my friends who make up the news staff of this station have stayed up around the clock during the past week, reporting reliable campus news amid an atmosphere which sometimes seemed nearly devoid of reason.

Throughout this period, bitter arguments raged about programming. The classical staff was afraid the station would wind up like WUVA, playing "the little round records with the big round holes." (I would like to credit this definition of 45 rpm record to Harry Swope.) In 1970, Joe Bourdow and Mike Leech came to work at WTJU. Together, they played an integral role in the development of the station.

In 1972, the Board of Directors split down the middle with Program Director Joe Bourdow end Finance Director Mike Leech play the traditionalist role and supporting the retention of classical music and album-oriented rock, and Doug McLaughlin (Station Manager) with Chief Engineer Lee Garlock pushing for an all-rock station. According to Teri Towe, who was to settle the dispute, "Boston" Bob Graham, then President, who would have settled the matter, committed "the heinous sin" of flunking out of the college. It should be mentioned here that many dedicated TJUers went this route, and most of the students on academic probation could be recognized as WTJU or WUVA personnel. Radio stations, at this time, were at their peak, and became a home for wayward students.

WTJU acquired the "Chapel' in Humphreys House in 1971 (the room between the production studio and engineering room), and it became the lobby and front office. It also became the lounge for students between classes.

Each member of the Board came to Towe separately, and asked him to take over Graham's position as President until the end of the year. He did this, and as a classical announcer, sided with Bourdow and Leech. The three of them, forming a 3/5 quorum ran the station. Although Towe was replaced by Joe Ruffini and Charles Janoff, these three years were the most successful improvement-wise and publicity-wise WTJU ever saw. 1970-73 "saw the station grow from a very small limited appeal station into a dynamic college station with significant audience impact." (Joe Bourdow)

Facilities were, at the time, very bad, and so the fund drive was held. Of the $3700 raised, $500 came from Mr. and Mrs. Colgate Darden, the former University President and his wife. After moving back into the air studio, a consistent programming was developed, and the station began 24-hour broadcasting on a regular basis. The rock format was settled (15-minute blocks of music), and the Album of the Day (courtesy of a grant from the Back Alley Disc Corporation) was instituted. Classical music was consistently pre-programmed, and 500 people subscribed to the program guide. The news department grew with live coverage of lectures (as well as concerts), remote broadcasts (Lee Wilder got his start by interviewing a tree), and the addition of a UPI wire. Other features were old-time radio and National Public Radio network.

National Public Radio lasted only two years, for it was impossible for WTJU to follow their requirements: two full-time, paid personnel. "Old-time Radio," playing such favorites as "The Shadow," "The Green Hornett," "The Lone Ranger," "Fibber Maghee and Molly," and "The Clock" was a popular feature (weeknights at 12:15 a.m.) among the community before WWWV, WQMC, and the CBS Radio Mystery Theater came into being. The "Morning Show" featuring light rock, news, weather, and sports often featured a popular faculty or administration figure as well (*** disc jockeyed on WTJU this morning!).

Public service announcements reached their full development during this era. They still excell, and today include the "Community Notebook," "Rider's Digest," "Lost and Found," "Ticket Block," and the "Trading Post."

1973 was the top and final year for Bourdow and Leech. WTJU finally went stereo, and to celebrate, threw a "WTJU Stereo Party" in April. Over 500 attended this party in Humphreys lawn at which the station gave away a free vacation to Europe through an arrangement with TWA. Good relations with the press were maintained throughout 1970-73, and a press release was sent to the Cavalier Daily each week. To quote Bill Bruckner (1975-76 President), "All in all, it was probably the best year TJU ever saw."

Since the so-called "Bourdow and Leech" years, WTJU has remained on the air 24 hours/day. Of course, there have been difficulties: managerial problems, lack of time to be both students and radio professionals (or amateurs), lack of facilities. Programming has remained basically the same. The Album of the Day program has expanded to include a Classical Album of the Evening (Monday through Friday at 7:30 p.m.) and Jazz album of the weekend (Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.). The Board of Directors, a constantly changing group has consisted of these elected offices: President, Program Director, Station Manager, Operations Director, and Finance Director since the early 1970s. This group has created an appointed board of any or all of the following offices: News Director, Sports Director, Classical, Jazz and Rock Directors.

The first woman on the WTJU Board was Georgeann Herbert, who held the post of finance director as a second-year woman in 1973-74. During this year, things became quite disorganized at WTJU. The next year was worse, but last year, this year and next year, looked, look, and looks better. For the first time in the history of the station, three out of five Board members are women; an answer to the "lib ladies" with whom Teri Towe was constantly arguing.

WTJU has spent the last two years rebuilding and enlarging its listenership in the community. After several years of poor or no publicity, this is necessary. As opposed to WWWV, the area's newest radio station, WTJU is full of humans -- approximately 85 volunteers who come in, play records, do news and get acquainted with radio at the University. All of these people have had "20th Anniversary'!!" showed through their heads until it comes out their toes for the past several months. But twenty years have passed rapidly for long-standing listeners as well as students, and they have culminated partly in this (all too-brief) report. I am afraid I have only touched on WTJU's past; the stories and other memories will have to come from reading the letters written in response to my original letter (March 11, 1977).

In further celebration of the twentieth anniversary, a gala edition of the Program Guide is now being prepared for the Classical Exam Marathon to be held May 4 through 14. A program guide was regularly available throughout most of WTJU's time on the air. In 1975-76, it became economically and otherwise unfeasible; we look forward to its return in the near future.

Non-commercial media is a great tool in broadcasting. It has grown immensely over the last 20 years throughout the United States (What self-respecting college doesn't have an FM station these days?) By its very design, listener-supported radio is both an alternative and listener-oriented. There is always something in it for everyone, something worth listening to for everyone, be it for staff or audience. Non-commercial radio offers to share.

WTJU Timelines | Histories | Interviews | Photo Gallery

Last update May 1, 2001

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