Cripsy Duck’s Confessions of a WTJU Addict

(DUCK NOTE: Recent discussions of reformatting WTJU, our beloved multi-format college/community radio station, inspired this retrospective rant.)

“I LOVE RADIO! I have learned of more incredible music listening to WTJU 91.1FM – local multi-format UVa radio – in my umpteen years in Charlottesville than anywhere else. Something about broadcast makes music seem more alive, and the djs have always been so deliciously anarchic. Heaven is a kickass TJU rock show.”

That’s verbatim from my personal Myspace page under “Music.” (Copied and pasted, actually.) I wrote that in 2005 or whenever I set that thing up. (Oh Myspace, so much promise, and then… Murdoch. Blech.)

At that time, I had been listening to WTJU for about twenty years. The station had gone through some mostly cosmetic changes, but one beautiful, crucial thing remained constant: when a DJ was on his game, and you were in the mood: MAGIC.

I’m not suggesting that this cosmic convergence is entirely lacking on other stations. The delightful experience of someone broadcasting random music – their music – into your personal space, inducing revelation/relaxation/revelry, regularly forms a glorious respite for many music lovers. That magic is readily available at the touch of a dial. Assuming people keep making dials.

But TJU is not a giant computer crunching stats and data, determining exactly which shade of yellow makes your eyes water when the tenor hits that one note just as the heroine kisses the hero. No, TJU is a place where TRUE MUSIC ADDICTS lurk with headphones, researching for themselves what’s crap and what is epic.

The value of this cannot be overstated. For although the format revolves from folk to jazz to rock to classical as the day progresses, sometimes leaving you wondering “[Insert genre], now? It’s [insert time], and I’m trying to get my drink/sleep/dance/study/party on,” you can rest assured that each show is chosen and organized with enormous care by the DJ at the helm.

At WTJU Virgin Islanders with thick accents spun rare imported b-sides pressed on recycled plastic, introverted librarians with suspenders lugged heavy estate-sale 78s and dork-chic record store clerks stayed up until all hours of the morning, taking phone calls, filling requests from music fans even weirder than they and basically putting on the BEST DAMN RADIO available. Period.

When I was in college at UVa (here we go) in the EIGHTIES (I said it), WTJU was much as it is today. Multi-format, varied content, lovable, listenable, not always what you’re in the mood for WTJU. Back then it was at 91.3 FM, and I’d turn it on between spins of the Minutemen or the Specials or Bongwater or Bauhaus or Bob Marley or whatever was on my turntable at the time. (This was before CDs, kids.)

TJU was legend even then. Coolest rock programming. A weekly reggae show. Folk that never found its way to stores. Jazz for audiophiles. Musical anthropologists and archivists of all stripes converging on one signal to get the whole sermon out to the masses. The moral of their screed: there’s way more out there than you can ever know or hear, and there are people trying to digest it all and bring the choicest cuts back to you.

This did not go without notice. I’ve not been able to find a reference, but I seem to remember WTJU regularly placing in the top 5 college radio stations in Playboy’s yearly roundups. This was, of course, before the advent of “modern rock and more.” (My apologies to whoever trademarked that phrase.)

At the time, WTJU appeared to be pretty successful. Their rock marathon fund drives were University-wide events. On Saturdays during the marathon they’d have a six (or was it eight?) hour Grateful Dead show, which never failed to bring in thousands of dollars. You could walk down Rugby Rd and hear the Dead show cranking from every fraternity. (Wow, that’s a happy memory. I think I just got a little rebate from the 80s acid. Good stuff.)

Anyway, I’ve been tuning in for 25 years now, and I still absolutely love the fact that I never know what I’m going to get. I’ve zoned out to droning, gyrating distortion at 2AM, learned the history of popular jazz at noon and researched the obscure bowels of chamber music at 5. I’ve heard stuff I haven’t cared for and stuff that literally changed the way I approach my own songwriting. I can honestly say that much of what I think about music was formed while dialed in to that strange frequency, that 91.1.

A huge personal victory for me came in July 2004 when, following the release of our first cd, Puberty and Justice for All, Barling and Collins ranked as WTJU’s most-played artist for one whole week. (Not that amazing a statistic when you consider all the different formats involved, but still pretty damn cool.)

I’ve performed on WTJU and spoken on WTJU, but more than anything, I’ve reveled in WTJU. At one point back in the day I even applied to become a DJ at WTJU. I was not accepted, and it’s no wonder. I simply didn’t know enough about recorded music. It takes a special breed.

What makes WTJU great – what sets it apart – is this special breed. You can find a classical station. You can find a rock station. But can you find a classical station manned by genuine aficionados, people who show up not because they’ve got a smoky voice and it’s their job, but because it’s IMPORTANT? Can you find a rock station where the playlists aren’t nationally syndicated, but rather the hard-found treasures of compulsive vinyl collectors?

I can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve said to myself “Where do they find THIS STUFF? I mean, seriously, who makes this/promotes this/listens to this/plays this?” That’s a rare gift. As a listener, I’m constantly thankful for some new (or old) artist, some rare recording, some odd interview, some unearthed gem twinkling on the airwaves for three and a half minutes.

I’d hate to have to try to live without it, and if that means coming down there and paying my long overdue $25 pledge from two fundraisers ago, then dammit, I will. Whatever it takes. Just keep TJU freaky. Please.

Stephen Barling – a.k.a. Cripsy Duck
Musician, writer, photographer, UVa alum and genuine WTJU fan.

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7 Responses to “Cripsy Duck’s Confessions of a WTJU Addict”

  1. Well said!

  2. I love the personal passion!!!! of both you, and the station…

  3. Jeff Jaeger Says:

    I could not agree more. My memories of college are enmeshed with TJU. I have strong fond memories of all nighters where I know it was just me, the DJ, and a few other people grooving on whatever he was playing. I remember hearing “Fuck you Tipper Gore” (Was that Todd Rundgren) played on a night when the supreme court had just upheld some horrible censorship law. I recall the hard decision about during shich show to make my pledge every year, knowing that pledge dollars often were used to determine a DJ’s popularity or longevity. There are countless dollars in vinyl in my collection that was purchased solely based on one listening to one track on TJU. TJU and stations like it forged my musical soul. I am really sorry to hear that there is a push for change. I cannot imagine why this would be considered. Fight the good fight, Steve. OK to add my name to any list or post links to petitions etc.

  4. I don’t have your history with WTJU — only been in C’ville for a couple of years — but once I discovered it was my main station. I too revel in the diversity and originality I find there, and losing it would be truly terrible. I sure hope a way can be found to save it!

    Thanks for the heartfelt beautifully written plea, Steven. I’m glad I saw it…

  5. […] also of note: a non-cville blog called Radio Survivor has a write-up here; another one called Keep the Public in Public Radio summarizes things nicely here; and here are two letters from the guys who drunk-dial my shows the most often. […]

  6. Awesome!

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