WTJU: UVa’s hidden radio treasure

Excited fingers glide over the cardboard sleeves. Eager eyes are glued to the crates for hours at a time. Finally there is a satisfied grin as some classic record, some cult hit, is pulled from the deteriorating cardboard box, dusted off and examined intently. To anyone who frequents record sales, this is no uncommon scene, and anyone who went to the WTJU’s LP and CD sale on Saturday knows how thrilling this moment of discovery can be.

Founded in 1955, WTJU is a University-run student broadcasting organization, serving up 24 hours of original broadcasting a day. In every sense of the term, WTJU is a true college radio station.

During an average day, the station is afflicted by the typical college station maladies; as a listener, you’d be lucky to get through an hour without a period of extended silence, a technical malfunction or an awkward DJ.

But there’s another side to the college radio coin; just look at WTJU’s weekly program guide. On Monday at 11 p.m. there’s Adrenaline Nightshift, a show that plays “rap, oldies, singing saws” as well as “electrical noises.” “The Groove Tube” airs at 9 p.m. on Saturdays and plays every variety of funk under the sun. Though better funded stations may sound more polished and professional, WTJU has something that most larger stations lack: freedom. Because the station is largely free from commercial pressures or University guidelines, it is able to air the most eclectic and interesting programming of any radio station that we can receive in Charlottesville.

Saturday’s benefit sale marked WTJU’s 50-year purge, a clearance sale of innumerable CDs and records that have accumulated in the station’s libraries over the years. After entering to the main sale floor, customer were surrounded on all sides by boxes upon boxes of music, a welcome sight to any bona fide crate-digger. From indie rock to golden age hip-hop, classical symphonies to experimental jazz, whatever genre you were looking for could probably be found buried deep within the crates of WTJU’s archives.

Still, it would be unwise to enter a sale like this with a specific expectation in mind. Like the station itself, the boxes of vinyl and CDs were slightly jumbled, making it difficult to casually “shop,” and forcing customers to “dig.” Now, digging through a sale like this takes an immense amount of patience, but this is exactly what makes it so appealing. Other sources of music today — iTunes, Spotify, The Pirate Bay — have made it laughably easy to get new music, diluting the joyful exhilaration of acquiring new tunes. Here, one could spend hours painfully searching, but the effort expended and the anticipation felt only heightened the joy of finally discovering that hidden treasure.

Sure, it’d be easier to get the exact record you want if you went to an established record store or searched the web — much like you’d get more consistency from a big commercial radio station — but this exhilaration, this sense that anything could happen, can only be found with small and independent organizations like WTJU.

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