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WTJU Founder, George P. Wilson, Jr. RIP

WTJU Founder George P. Wilson, Jr.
RIP May 14, 2007

Obituary

George P. Wilson, Jr. was Associate Professor in the Department of Speech and Drama at the University of Virginia from 1946 to 1962. He had a real passion for radio broadcasting and during the time he was affiliated with the University of Virginia, founded not one, but two radio stations: the then Carrier Current station, WUVA (now KISS-FM) and WTJU-FM.

In the months before WTJU's 40th Anniversary there were attempts to determine Professor Wilson's whereabouts so as to invite him to anniversary events and to hear the history from his point of view. Attempts were repeated this past year as we approached our 50th but we were unsuccessful in locating Professor Wilson.

On August 6, 2007 I received word from Rowland S. Johnson, who also played a critical and important part in WTJU's history, that he had discovered that Professor Wilson passed away on May 14th in Tuscon, Arizona where he was Professor in the Department of Media Arts at the University of Arizona. This was 44 days after our official anniversary date (April 1, 2007) and 19 days before our 50th Anniversary Celebration.

Lee Breakiron wrote a detailed history of the early days of WTJU. The section that covers the earliest history provides a brief overview of the dedication that Professor Wilson had for WTJU as well as the part he played in its founding.

We, at WTJU, thank Professor Wilson for the passion and dedication he exhibited that ultimately willed us into existence and we regret that we were unable to locate him so that he could hear it from us.

Chuck Taylor
General Manager, WTJU-FM, 1993-2010


Lee Breakiron History excerpt

Since 1927, four University committees have studied the desirability and feasibility of setting up an educational FM station, but funds were never available. For instance, in 1940, plans were made for a state-wide system of nine such stations. These, of course, were never realized. The Federal Communications Commission (hereafter, FCC) had relaxed its rigid requirements concerning equipment, personnel, and engineering standards to encourage educational institutions in establishing "midget" educational FM stations of l0-watts or less in power.

WUVA was established in 1947 (second in the area after WCHV) under the auspices of the Department of Speech and Drama (hereafter, DSD) as the University's popular, carrier-current, student-operated AM station. The DSD at this time occupied Madison Hall, WUVA's studios being located in the basement.

In 1949, Professor Russell H. Wagner and Assistant Professor George P. Wilson, Jr., as members of the University Radio Committee, submitted to President Darden the results of their study on the feasibility of the expenses involved in establishment of a cultural, educational, open-air, student-operated FM station (the last of the four studies mentioned above). Initially, it was to operate at 10 watts, but a power increase to 250 watts was anticipated. The studios were to be located adjacent to WUVA (though a later move to another building was planned) and its staff was to have access to WUVA's reproduction equipment and the DSD's recording facilities. The antenna and transmitter were to be located on and in either Madison Hall, the Rotunda, or Peabody Hall. The expenditure they recommended came to $11,041.50. A copy of this report is in the files.

In 1950, New Cabell Hall was built and the DSD moved into its first floor. What effect this had on WUVA is unknown to the author. At dates unknown, WUVA severed relations with the DSD, became a student activity, and moved its studios to their present location in the basement of Lefevre House. Since WUVA was not open air, it was permitted to run commercials, and the funds derived therefrom gave WUVA a self-sufficiency that enabled it to become incorporated in 1963.

Sometime after the move to Cabell Hall, the DSD gathered its recording facilities together and created the Radio Recording Center (later the Radio and TV Recording Center; hereafter, RRC), which recorded speeches and concerts given at the University. Now, it's also produced seven weekly musical-educational tape programs ("The University of Virginia Tape Network") and distributes these to the 250-odd member stations of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (hereafter, IBS) throughout the U.S. and Canada. The RRC is located in room 135 and manned by a small corps of (paid) graduate and undergraduate students under the supervision of a faculty member. Since it constantly turns a profit for the University, the RRC is in the administration's perpetual good graces.

By 1955, George Wilson had acquired his doctorate, become an associated professor in the DSD, and taken over as director of the RRC. The creation of an educational FM station remained his pet project, and he is truly the man to be called our founder. In May 1955, the Alumni Fund pledged $500 towards the construction of the studios and transmitter of such a station. When Wilson learned that a used, World War II surplus transmitter was being put up for sale by WMBZ in the state of Washington, Wilson went to the honorary education fraternity, Kappa Delta Pi, which had indicated an interest in educational radio, and, at its annual business meeting on August 10, 1955, delivered an eloquent plea for aid.

Consequently, Kappa Delta Pi donated $450.00 to finance the purchase, shipping, and installation of the 1-kilowatt Gates BFE-IA transmitter (hereafter, Gates #1). Rowland S. Johnson, chief engineer of the RRC (and WTJU's until the fall of 1958; he engineered for us till at least as late as the spring of '61), arranged the purchase, took time off from his honeymoon to transport the 8000-pound transmitter, by truck from the state of Washington with the aid of several of his ushers, and installed[and tuned] it in the attic of New Cabell Hall with the advice of Dr. Orville Harris and the help if several of his engineering students. We only used the 10-watt BF-250A driving stage. Harris designed and Dalton Webb built our two-bay ring antenna, which was set up on the roof. Contributions towards the construction of our studios besides the mentioned Alumni donation were made by the University's Engineering Experiment Station, the University's Buildings and Grounds, Sperry Piedmont, WUVA, WCHV, WINA, the Music Center, and the University Book Store.

Wilson had applied for our license and construction permit in early 1956. He was forced to go through a maze of red tape before the FCC finally gave us our frequency (91.3 FM) on July 18, 1956 and approved our construction permit on November 2, 1956. We were only able to obtain this license on the conditions that we be noncommercial and owned by an educational institution, i.e. the University. Until 1960, WTJV-FM was financed and administrated as a branch of the DSD and supervised by the director of the RRC. In this capacity, Wilson, being the only person available with any broadcasting experience, organized the staff, assigned program slots, ordered all records, and handled all administrative matters during the first year or two on the air.

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The opinions expressed by announcers or guests on WTJU are not necessarily the opinions of WTJU or the University of Virginia.