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Students on air at U.Va.’s underrated freeform radio station

WXTJ and its vital role in the University arts scene

<p>Ashley Park, WXTJ director and fourth-year College student, co-hosts MUSIC BOX N’ TALKS each Wednesday from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m.</p>

Ashley Park, WXTJ director and fourth-year College student, co-hosts MUSIC BOX N’ TALKS each Wednesday from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Operating out of a snug studio one mile west of the Rotunda, University students are on the air from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily on 100.1 FM. WXTJ is the University’s freeform student radio station, and it’s been a beloved home to student DJs for nearly 10 years. 

WXTJ began in 2013 when diminishing student membership at WTJU — a local radio station owned and operated by the University — encouraged station manager Nathan Moore to found a student-only branch. 

“It's fully student staffed, and student run,” said Ashley Park, WXTJ director and fourth-year College student. “Now we have over 200 student volunteers.”

Although WXTJ adheres to rules outlined by the Federal Communications Commission — including mandating against on-air swearing before 10 p.m. — DJs still have a lot of autonomy. Unlike WTJU, which divides shows by genre, WXTJ operates under a free-form programming format, meaning students are free to play music of any genre that might interest them. 

Similarly, students are free to find their own balance between chatting and playing music. DJs remind listeners that they’re listening to WXTJ on the hour — other than that, students might spend their entire slots in conversation, or they might play their songs in silence. 

Park shares a two-hour slot with Ella Fesler, co-host and fourth-year College student — Fesler is also the organization’s programming manager. Their show — MUSIC BOX N’ TALKS — is on the air from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Wednesdays, and their approach to DJing is loose and personal. 

“We want people to feel comfortable playing what they want,” Park said. “We just talk about the songs we like, and also our lives, and just have really vulnerable conversations on the air.”

This approach is shared by fourth-year College student Naomi Wren. Along with fourth-year College student Abby Adams, Wren hosts “Window Seat Radio” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays. 

“Sometimes we do say that the music is going to be better if you’re looking out a window,” Wren said. “[We] report on whether the moon is out, and how it’s looking and the weather.”

When they’re not encouraging their listeners to skygaze, Wren said the duo picks a different theme each week to guide their song selection. They get creative with their themes, curating playlists that feel like looking at Klimt paintings or lying in the grass. 

Third-year College student Grace Guinan and her co-host, first-year Architecture student Olivia Quintero, once created a playlist evoking a plant growing in the sun. Their show “Goodness Gracious! Live a Little!” airs Sundays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and is the second show Guinan has co-hosted on WXTJ. 

Unlike Park and Wren, who conceived of shows with friends, Guinan first applied to the station on her own during her second year and let the programming manager pair her with a co-host based on availability.

“You have a two hour slot, and you can split it up into one hour each and just do it by yourself, but both times I was just like, ‘I'm willing to meet a new person,’” Guinan said. “So I decided to do the two hours with strangers, and it worked out both times.”

Guinan’s experience is representative of the connections WXTJ creates between involved students and the friendships that come out of collaboration. As station manager, Park noted her goals in reinforcing a supportive WXTJ environment. 

“Because there's so much freedom, people feel like they can be themselves and bring to the radio station what they have to offer,” Park said. “But I also think, because it's rooted in the community, you get to meet so many cool people … For me, personally, it keeps me very creatively fulfilled.”

WXTJ tends to fly under the radar at the University — its listeners represent a minority of the student body. The size of the station’s audience varies — Park estimates 100.1 FM’s online stream might see hundreds of listeners in a given week, or it might see thousands. The station hit a record high in October of last year, when 3,500 unique listeners tuned into the stream. 

Still, the organization’s support of the University’s arts scene shouldn’t be understated — in addition to radio, WXTJ hosts house shows and other live music events and produces videos showcasing local and student acts in their studio space. Students involved in WXTJ have the opportunity to share their interests on air and form close connections with their listeners.

“I think it's a really special form of media,” Wren said. “I mean, not a lot of people tune in, at least from what I've seen, but the people who do, it's kind of intimate. My friends will tune in, and they’ve said it feels like I'm talking to them.” 

“It’s a place where a lot of people can find a safe space, and it’s just so free and open,” Guinan said. “Music is a very personal thing, so we’re just letting people be who they are on air.”

WXTJ accepts applications for new members at the beginning of each fall semester. The station’s active airtime adds up to about 112 hours per week, but the availability of these hours varies from year to year depending on the number of returning DJs. While not everyone who applies is accepted, Park estimates that the organization welcomes approximately 90 new members per year, both DJs with designated time slots and subs trained to take over when DJs have to miss their shows. 

“I feel like it's a little [secret] code in the University,” Park said. “Like, once you discover it, it's really cool.”