COVER- Radioheads: Locals succumb to the call of the airwaves

They usually don't do drive time. They don't get paid. Sometimes, in the wee hours, they wonder if anyone is even listening. 

Yet hundreds of locals do radio on their own nickels, and without them, the local airwaves would sound very different indeed.

Charlottesville has two non-commercial stations that are largely driven by volunteers. All of WTJU's DJs are volunteers, and after 7pm, so are WNRN's.

WTJU general manager Chuck Taylor counts "in excess of 200" volunteers, including those who work behind the scenes. "If there were no volunteers, we'd have to have purchased programming," he says.

Over at WNRN, which has four paid staffers, about 80 volunteers join in the fun, according to GM Mike Friend. There, the more senior volunteers can pick up a stipend. 

"They're on the air from 7pm to 5:30am Monday through Friday, and most of the time on the weekend," says Friend. "They're pretty important."

At both stations, experience is not a prerequisite for getting on the air. "If they have good voices, sound good on the air and have half a brain, we'll train 'em," says Friend, who has an ongoing training program. 

"It's pretty easy to learn the technical stuff," says Taylor. He guides volunteers through rules and regulations and common courtesy in the control booth. Novice announcers sit in on two or three shows with similar music in 'TJU's mostly classical/jazz/folk/rock line-up.

Not everyone makes the cut. "Sometimes it's clear they've never listened to the station," says Taylor. "I swear to God a young woman proposed an all Shania Twain show."

And not all volunteers are dream dates. There are the  occasional no-shows. At WNRN, cash seemed to disappear when one DJ was on the premises. Another  DJ doing the Boombox allowed friends in who shouted obscenities on the air, says Friend. He also had to let a news person go who wanted to to advocacy journalism and "get on the air and editorialize," says Friend.

Those who want to dabble in radio don't have to play music: news, technical support and of course, fundraising are other opportunities.

One common motive emerges from the volunteers  who come in week after week to do their shows: "They really enjoy it," says Taylor. "That really helps."

Rebecca Foster

Age: 50

Show: WTJU– Walk Right In

Genre: Folk

Slot: 12-2pm Tuesdays

Theme song: "Walk Right In." The original 1929 version was done by a jug band. Foster opens the show with one of 15 versions of the song. 

Prep: At least three hours per show.

Worst on-air gaffe: "The DJ nightmare is that right before the show, you find yourself in the studio and the equipment doesn't work or there's no music. I've opened my mouth and the wrong word comes out or played the wrong thing."

Rebecca Foster was destined for WTJU. When she lived in California and Oregon, she heard ordinary people doing radio, and she liked the idea of people in the community actually doing the programming. 

Her parents exposed her to all kinds of music, and her husband, known on-air as the Monster of Happiness, also does a show on WTJU called "Jumping on the Bed."

Foster started doing news spots at WNRN. "I don't really care about the news," she says. "I like truly eclectic music driven by the personality of the DJ."

She describes her show as "mostly acoustic, folk-based eclectic." That can embrace old mountain music, blues, '20s and '30s pop, contemporary folk, world and Hawaiian music.

"The thing I love about WTJU is you can do an eclectic show because there are no playlists," she says. "It's an opportunity to share what I love with community."

Foster, who grew up here, calls her show "the most fun hobby" she's ever had. "It's all about being queen for the day for two hours," she explains. "It's really creative, and I dictate what's going to be played."

Ralph Graves

Age: 51

Day job: Copywriter at Crutchfield 

Show: WTJU– Gamut, with the premise that he never plays the same song twice.

Genre: Classical

Slot: 6-9am Wednesdays

Theme song: Intro– Alfred Schnittke, "Music for an Imaginary Play." Outro– The closing credits music by Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Monkees' movie Head. 

Signature line: "This is Ralph Graves, radio star."

Prep: None. With a job, his own two companies, a couple of blogs and getting up at 5am to compose music, "I don't have time."

Worst on-air gaffe: On his first fund drive, Graves was told to not make comparisons to other stations. "The first thing I said was, 'Welcome to the fundraiser for WVTF.' I didn't raise much money."

Ralph Graves mimics the "pretentious," "museum mentality" drone common among classical music announcers, listing composer, conductor, musicians, record label and catalogue number. Catalogue number?

"Can you imagine anything more boring?" he asks.

"One of the problems with classical music, it's composer rather than performer driven," he says. Another– "You get a lot of letters and numbers thrown at you." 

Growing up in the DC area, he loved the "brilliant" radio skits of Hardin and Weaver on WMAL, Joy Boys Willard Scott and Ed Walker, and Stan Freberg. He also fell in love with classical music.

He dates classical music from 1100 A.D. to the present. "One thing I'm trying to do is show how broad classical music is," he says of the genre he finds "exciting, vibrant and alive." And never play anything twice.

Nick Page

Age: 64

Day job: Car salesman at Carmax 

Show: WTJU– Nick at Nine 

Genre: Jazz

Slot: 9-10:30am Mondays

Theme song: "Bow Legs" by Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff.  

Signature line: "Monday morning jazz to make you feel good."

Prep: Thirty minutes max. "When I'm in the studio, it's the same as being on a gig– I call the tune depending on my mood." 

Worst on-air gaffe: "I have real trouble with Piedmont Virginia Community College. It comes out Piedmont Virginity College. Now I try to say 'PVCC.'"

A jazz musician who plays tenor and alto sax with the Red Hot Smoothies, Page says he was recruited to 'TJU by jazz director David Eisenman, and he just celebrated his seventh anniversary there.

Page was trained by Ann Porotti, who has her own jazz show. His first solo show, "I've never been so scared in my life," he remembers.

Once a month, Page hosts "New Month, New Music" and plays new jazz releases. "I want the young jazz musicians who are not getting played," he says.

Unlike some DJs who bring in their own music, Page uses WTJU's "fabulous" library. He finds melodic jazz an easy sell and loves talking about musicians. "So many I've known or done on gigs," he says.

And Page doesn't wonder if anyone is out there listening.

"I get so many phone calls," he admits. "It's rare that I don't get calls."

Greg Weaver

Age: 24

Day job: 2nd-year med student at UVA 

Show: WTJU– Can't Say That I've Heard It 

Genre: Rock

Slot: 2-4pm every other Tuesday

Prep: 6 hours– 4 listening to new music, then a couple of hours to make a playlist and burn it onto two CDs.  

Worst on-air gaffe: On his first show, answering the phone with the mike on. "Five minutes into my show, I'd already screwed up."

Greg Weaver always knew he wanted to be a doctor. But his freshman year at Bates College in Maine, "A guy on my floor convinced me to do a show," he says. "It was more of a talk show and we actually ended up getting kicked off the air. He had a habit of swearing."

That won't happen on his current show, which he alternates with Tim Conlon and plays new rock music, usually what he wants to listen to. Sealing the deal was when GM Chuck Taylor told him, "I will never tell you what to play."

"It's hard to be connected with new music," says Weaver, and he's convinced people want to be. "I find for me, community stations are a little more eclectic. You can find some of the neatest stuff. And you know there's someone in their apartment coming out with the best song you ever heard."

Weaver's future as a DJ is cloudy. "My classmates say, 'You have a radio show? You're crazy. You're a med student,'" he relates. But not for always. 

Ronda Chollock

Age: 32

Day job: UVA grad student in English, part-time job working on the papers of George Washington. 

Show: WNRN– New Rock Now

Genre: Rock

Slot: 8-10pm Sundays

Prep: "New rock is very high maintenance." 

Worst on-air gaffe: "Any second of dead air is horrifying to me. We used to have different CD players and if you hit eject, your song stopped playing."

Ronda Chollock was not to new rock born. She grew up in a small town and had never heard much alternative music until she came to Charlottesville for grad school. When exposed to WNRN, she thought, "This is the type of music I've been waiting to hear."

During the heyday of Napster, "I could download music and became familiar with '90s music," recalls Chollock.

Now on the station's board, she started in 2000 as news reader and news director. "That's high burnout," she notes. She fills in for Mike Friend's weekday show or Anne Williams' Acoustic Sunrise– "anything except the Boombox," she laughs.  

Friend points out almost all of the female DJs use their real names on the air. "In the beginning," says Chollock, "I think I was afraid if I used a fake name I'd forget it."

Jason Haag

Age: 35

Day job: Project manager for Medical Automation Systems 

Show: WNRN– Download 

Genre: Electronic dance music

Slot: Midnight-2am Mondays

Radio name: AudioRapture 

Theme song: Evolution Control Committee's "5,000


Prep: 1-4 hours. 

Worst on-air gaffe: Playing a song with explicit lyrics and not catching them. "Fortunately no one who cares was listening."

Frankfurt, Germany, where Ullrich "Jason" Haag grew up, was a "hotbed" for electronic dance music. "Typically, what you did on weekends was go to clubs and dance," he says. And before coming to the States, he worked as a club DJ. 

Once here, because of a work visa snafu, "Pretty much all I could do besides sit home twiddling my thumbs was volunteer," he says.

Enter WNRN, where Haag got his modern rock training back in 1999.

He's used to his coworkers blinking when he tells them about the music he plays, the more mainstream of which includes Chemical Brothers, Oakenfold, Fat Boy Slim, Goldfrapp, and Daft Punk.

And they wonder how he stays awake. 

"I think I dozed off once or twice, but didn't fall asleep," AudioRapture confesses. He doesn't think the dead air was any longer than 10 or 15 seconds, "but in radio, that's an eternity."

James Randle

Age: 27

Day job: Radio Shack 

Show: WNRN– The Boombox: Hip Hop Monday and Saturday Night Main Event 

Genre: Hip hop, R&B

Slot: 10pm-12am Mondays, 10pm-2am Saturdays

Radio name: King James

Prep: 2 hours 

Worst on-air gaffe: Forgetting the song is running out and having five seconds of dead air. "When the song is ending, I don't answer the phone. I learned." 

Before he started on the air, radio newcomer James Randle was a Boombox fan for years. He's been announcing for less than a year, but now he's doing two Boombox shows a week. "I just love the music," he says.

An artist and producer, Randle wanted to learn the business side, and volunteering made the most sense to him. Besides, "I'm good at it," he says.

He makes occasional forays into reggae and go-go, but from the most part, his music is "just the latest and greatest gangsta rap," he says. "That's what people want to hear."

Some DJs wonder if anyone's listening. Not Randle. "We do shout-outs and requests," he says. "I do at least 20 on Saturday."

And not all the shout-outs are affirmations of love. "Occasionally they'll be, 'Tell so and so to stay away from my man,'" says Randle.

Chad VanPelt

Age: 28

Day job: F-Stop Photo. "I'm the digital guy."

Show: WNRN– The Core 

Genre: Industrial electronic

Slot: Midnight-2am Thursdays

Radio name: DJ Rift 

Prep: 2 hours– an hour before the show to check on new music, an hour after to trim and compress his show to put it on his website,, plus an unknown amount of time keeping up with new music. 

Worst on-air gaffe: Run-of-the-mill playing the wrong song or pushing a button and the CD doesn't play.

Who knew that Eastern Mennonite College's WEMC was a hotbed of metal and industrial music– in a Christian format, of course? 

That's where Chad VanPelt started doing radio. He moved on to party DJ for friends at Virginia Tech and to host another late-night show at JMU. 

After graduation, he picked up "basically a button-pushing job" running commericals at a Clear Channel station. He also promotes the Dawning, the weekly goth night at the Outback Lodge, which he's attended for the past nine years.

"I'm used to being up and staying up," he understates.

For the past three years he's hosted the Core, which he describes as a "pretty wide net, from Nine-Inch Nails to pure synthesizer."

 VanPelt suffers the angst of the late-night DJ who wonders: Is anyone out there? "It's always nice to get phone calls or IMs," he says. Sometimes he picks up Boombox listeners. And no, he doesn't do shout-outs.

Rebecca Foster

Ralph Graves

Nick Page

Greg Weaver

Ronda Chollock

Jason Haag

James Randle

Chad VanPelt

 SIDEBAR- Professor Bebop emeritus

At 4pm on a Friday afternoon, it's a little too early for Charlottesville's longest playing DJ to be ready for his 11pm-1am show.

Dave Rogers is winding up the week as Sutherland Middle School's principal. After dinner, he'll prepare for his second job and journey to Heptown, where as Professor Bebop, he's been laying down the rhythm-and-blues tracks since 1976.

When Rogers started at WTJU doing rock in 1973, the station still used reel-to-reel tapes and turntables to play the tunes in those long-ago days before CDs and iPods. News was rip-and-read wire service copy.

Thirty one years later, "Professor Bebop has gotten completely into my biorhythm," says Rogers. "When the kids were growing up, we didn't do a lot on Fridays. If I do miss a show, I'm really climbing the walls to get back."

Despite his lengthy tenure on the show, Rogers still takes between three and four hours to put together a two-hour show. "I try to pay attention to how it goes together– the tempo, the style...," he says. "My family says nobody cares, but I do."

Rogers has never nodded off on his own show, but he did crash and burn– "under noble intentions"– trying to keep the station on the air when it went to a 24-hour format.

"A couple of times the late night people didn't show up," he recalls. "My show was supposed to be over at 2, and I just stayed on." One night, the 2am DJ didn't show, nor did the 6am, nor did the 9am DJ–  and the phone list with contact numbers was outdated.

"At this point, I'm starting to grab anything," says Rogers. "I put on a long album and fell asleep. Eventually my head hit the microphone. I was snoozing a good 15 or 20 minutes. [The record] was not playing when I woke up."

Finally during his 12-hour shift, Rogers put out an SOS. "I was on the air saying, 'Anyone connected with this station who's listening, please come in," he laughs.

Despite being left holding the mic by fellow DJs in the past, Rogers calls having a show at WTJU "like being in the best club in the world." 

And after 31 years, "I never get sick of doing the show," he insists. "I really like it because I don't have a pre-determined format. I can do what I want to do."

Professor Bebop, we're diggin' it.

For 31 years, every Friday night finds principal Dave Rogers moonlighting as Professor Bebop at the Blues University.




For almost twenty years, I did a show for WTJU as "the bartender". There is nothing like doing radio from the seat of your pants. "Whiz bang radio" is what one of the former program directors at WTJU used to call it. I still do non-commercial radio down here in New Orleans, on WWOZ and I have interviewed many greats in American music. It has been a great pleasure of my life to play music for the wonderful audiences in Cville as well as here in the Crescent City. Professor Bebop, you're my idol still, keep boppin'

My Dad is one of featured DJs - the one with no repeats. I am so proud of him and his accomplishments in the world of broadcasting. I used to go to the radio station with him on special occasions. The chance to go was coveted in our household because it was the most fantastic thing. We'd leave the house very early (we lived far away) and drive in the darkness to go play classical music for people who weren't yet awake. I always got caught up in the excitement and energy brought on by the "ON AIR" sign. I miss sitting on the studio floor listening to Dad talking to callers with his beloved classical music playing in the background. It makes me sad that I live in another state entirely and cannot listen to his show at all.

I hope independent radio never dies.

Ellen, you certainly can listen to your Dad on WTJU. They broadcast on line at

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Nick Page did his last Nick@Nine show yesterday morning. He has decided to retire, in part because of programming changes coming to WTJU and in part because he has been experiencing difficulty running his show due to his diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia. Over the last year, he has had to have other DJs in the studio with him to help run the board, as he gets easily confused. Their support has been invaluable. His show will be missed by us all.