WJSV has been a cherished part of the Morristown High School experience for more than four decades.
But the sudden termination of the radio station’s chief engineer, announced Tuesday, left stunned students wondering whether their beloved 90.5 FM might be next to go.
“We don’t know what will happen at the radio station,” said Dominic Cupo, a senior who is a deejay as well as a student engineer at the 150-watt station.
Students at WJSV-FM were told that the Morris School District board had eliminated the position of Steve Woodruff, a popular “non-tenured support staff member” who was the station’s chief engineer for 10 years.
One student wept when the announcement was made.
Dominic said the move fueled student speculation that the district was planning to sell the radio license– a notion that district Superintendent Thomas Ficarra quickly sought to dispel.
“Any rumors of selling it, I can’t even fathom that,” the Superintendent told MorristownGreen.com.
“There’s not going to be any downgrading of programs at all. We love the station. The kids do a great job. We’re very proud of it… We are not selling the station or doing away with it.”
The termination–quietly approved by the school board on Monday evening–was part of a “reorganization of the staff, to provide a thorough and efficient education, which is our obligation,” the Superintendent said.
Reached on Tuesday night, Steve Woodruff said he was “beyond saddened.
“It’s difficult to understand and a tough time for my family,” he said via email.
Beamed from a tower atop the Mountain Way Elementary School in Morris Plains, the WJSV signal reaches about as far as the Great Swamp. Since WJSV went live in Morristown in 1971, alumni have gone on to jobs in broadcast news and audio engineering; one has engineered concert telecasts of Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.
But this school year has been bumpy for MHS broadcasters, starting with mold issues that shut their ground-floor studios last fall. An equipment problem prevented the station from covering the football season.
And Steve’s termination comes as WJSV’s educational license is up for renewal by the Federal Communications Commission.
Broadcasting teacher Michael Butler, who informed WJSV’s 30 student members about the situation, said his colleague oversaw WJSV’s transformation from analog to digital operations.
Steve also was the tech person who set up student broadcasts of sporting events, theatrical productions and graduation ceremonies.
“He will be missed,” said Michael, Steve’s band-mate in The Dogs, a faculty group that performed at a 2012 benefit for the station.
Board President Leonard Posey, who described Steve as “a nice guy,” said the administration submitted a plan for covering the engineer’s duties.
“We will be fully staffed,” said Superintendent Ficarra.
Sophomore Abby Semple, a winner of last summer’s MorristownGreen.com Film Festival, cried when she learned that Steve won’t be around for next week’s radio marathon.
That all-night mix of pizza and playlists, a bonding exercise for student broadcasters that is an annual WJSV tradition, is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2014.
“Mr. Woodruff taught us a lot about technology, and what life is really like out there… that it’s so important to learn everything you can now, and never stop doing what you love, or you’re never going to enjoy life. We all greatly feel his loss,” Abby said.
Dominic Cupo discovered WJSV about halfway through his freshman year and was hooked. He learned the engineering side of broadcasting from Mr. Woodruff, he said. Every Wednesday afternoon the student polishes his deejay chops, teaming with his girlfriend on a rock program they call “Serenity.”
But the mood was far from serene after Tuesday’s announcement.
“It came out of nowhere,” Dominic said. “Everyone was speechless. It was not a happy day at the station.”