Everyone comes from somewhere. Everyone has a story. And recently, WTJU-FM was awarded top honors in broadcasting for telling those stories.
On June 21, WTJU-FM 91.1 – a noncommercial educational radio station licensed to the Rector and Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia – was recognized for excellence in broadcasting at the 76th Annual Virginia Broadcasting Awards ceremony held by the Virginia Association of Broadcasters in Virginia Beach. This was the first time the station has won an award from the organization.
WTJU placed first in the category of “Best Human Interest Series Radio” for its program, “Origin: Stories of Charlottesville Refugees.” The series aired May 17 to June 20, 2012, during WTJU’s regular broadcast schedule. (The submitted “Origin” stories that won the award can be heard here.)
The awards were based on projects first aired in 2012, Commercial and noncommercial stations were judged separately, and the award categories were broken down by market size. The awards were presented as trophies in the shape of microphones.
As a university town, Charlottesville has many residents who are from other parts of the world – brought to the community for work, education or simply looking for a better life. To help people from these global communities, Charlottesville supports refugee resettlement projects that assist recent immigrants in adapting to the local and American lifestyles.
Last year, Bruce Penner, one of WTJU’s regular programmers, had the idea of gathering stories from some of the refugees who have resettled in Charlottesville, especially through the International Rescue Committee.
The idea sprang naturally from Penner’s love of world music, which he shares every Wednesday at noon on “Radio Tropicale,” a WTJU staple since 1997. Penner’s program description reads: “From the old world to the new, from the villages to the cities where it all flows together … rhythm is the universal language on WTJU, your sonic life raft.”
Charlottesville is among the key cities in the United States where the International Rescue Committee resettles refugees from around the world. The worldwide organization responds to global humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. At work in more than 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities, the organization offers refugees “the way from harm to home.”
Members of the WTJU team – Penner, Jane McDonald, Caroline Bruce and Rebecca Foster, as well as Debra Tuler of the Charlottesville Adult Education Center – began collecting stories for the station’s “Origin Stories Project” from recent refugees.
A few of the basic questions included: Where did you come from? Why did you leave? How did you get here?
Many of the answers were both powerful and poignant.
“Charlottesville has an incredibly rich cultural fabric, made richer by the refugees from around the world who make a home here,” said Nathan Moore, general manager of WTJU-FM.for more than two years. “I’m so proud that we could collect some of their stories and air them on WTJU.”
After Moore, Penner and Foster edited the refugee stories, WTJU began interspersing them throughout its regular programming, bookended by the Charlottesville’s Festival of Cultures on May 12 and World Refugee Day on June 20. To mark the United Nations-designated World Refugee Day, Penner hosted a discussion on WTJU with local International Rescue Committee executive director Harriet Kuhr regarding today’s problems and solutions for the world’s displaced peoples.
Moore eventually selected two of the most compelling refugee stories from the batch and submitted them to the Virginia Association of Broadcasters for its annual broadcasting awards. (You can hear audio of some of the stories here.)
“This project was about what WTJU does best: connecting people to one another, whether it’s through music, stories or conversation,” Moore said.