March 29, 2007 -- WTJU-FM first transmitted its broadcast signal to listeners in the University of Virginia community and surrounding areas on April 1, 1957, at 7:30 p.m. Hosted by U.Va. students, programming included lite classics, easy listening, news, public affairs and a smattering of jazz. Today, aided by community members and U.Va. students, faculty and staff, the station broadcasts a variety of classical, jazz, folk, indie-rock and international music, national and local news, public affairs and more.
To celebrate WTJU’s 50 years on the air, a number of events are being planned, beginning with special programming on the evening of April 1.
On June 1-3, WTJU will welcome its alumni during U.Va.’s 2007 Reunions Weekend. Alumni from every era of the past half-century are expected, and many plan to host shows and relive their glory days on the radio.
The station is also planning a reception and other special events during Reunions Weekend. Details as they unfold, along with updated pictures, historic show promos and other documents will be posted on the WTJU Web site, http://wtju.net.
Station Manager Chuck Taylor, involved with WTJU since 1979, said he is excited about the return of the announcers for the alumni reception, many still remembered with fondness by longtime Charlottesville residents.
HOW THE STATION CAME TO BE
In 1938, the FCC set aside FM bandwith for educational and nonprofit radio stations. By 1940 plans were under way to create a statewide system of educational stations in Virginia. Though the statewide system ultimately failed, it sowed the broadcasting seeds in the tiny college town of Charlottesville.
In 1947, WUVA began limited service to University listeners. The station was founded by then associate professor George P. Wilson of the Department of Speech and Drama. In 1949 Wilson and professor Russell H. Wagner, proposed that the University develop an educational FM license. No actions were taken at that time.
Under Wilson’s leadership in the early 1950s, DSD created the Radio Recording Center to record speeches and concerts at the University. Wilson’s continued pursuit of an educational FM station finally bore fruit in the mid-1950s when the U.Va. Alumni Fund pledged money to support the project. This ultimately led to the day in 1956 when U.Va. engineering student Rowland Johnson drove to Washington, D.C., to pick up a broadcast transmitter to be used for a new radio station at U.Va.
On April 1, 1957, at 7:30 p.m., WTJU (W-Thomas Jefferson University) began limited broadcasting, soon attracting listeners who owned the day’s cutting-edge technology — FM radios. The frequency was 91.3 FM (changed to 91.1 in 1992). At that time it was only the second FM educational station in Virginia. WTJU studios have been located in New Cabell Hall (1957-1963), Humphreys House dorm (1963-1983), Peabody Hall (1983-2000) and now in studios at Lambeth Commons.
The location of the station may have changed over time but through the years listeners’ support has remained constant, Taylor said.