Covey, Walker and Becker address ORR documents

Discussions and planning of the current GSU-GPB partnership began in 2012-2013, according to documents obtained through an open records request (ORR) by The Signal.

Douglass Covey, Jeff Walker and Kerry Heyward sent emails about changes being made to WRAS 88.5 FM before the May 6 university announcement. Covey is the Current Vice President of Student Affairs, Walker is the outgoing Operations Manager for Album 88 and Heyward is Georgia State’s attorney.

President Mark Becker also sent emails to these individuals about the partnership, according to documents.

See previous stories Part (I) and Part (II) published by The Signal to view the documentation. Below are Covey, Walker and Becker’s responses:

Covey’s Responses:

-What was your role in planning / possible creation of the GSU-GPB partnership?

Covey: Organizationally, the radio station is within the Division of Student Affairs and as the chief student affairs officer I have delegated responsibility for its operation. As the Vice President, I was aware of discussions between the University and GPB and received updates as the discussions progressed. I participated in meetings with University staff regarding the implications of the potential agreement and various factors related to implementation of a partnership should an agreement be reached.

-Documentation shows that discussions of the partnership began in 2012, and planning began in August 2013 – would you like to comment?

Covey: Given the complexity of forming such a partnership, extended discussions were required”

Who all were you in contact with between the years of 2012 – current, specifically about the GSU-GPB partnership and changes being made to WRAS 88.5 FM?

Covey: I was involved in discussions with the President, Legal Affairs , Public Relations and the WRAS staff advisor.

Who is Tannenwald, and what role did they play in the partnership or anything concerning Album 88?

Covey: Peter Tannenwald is our special appointed attorney general who was engaged because of the complexity of the the FCC regulations and to ensure that the university’s interests were protected.

-Originally students and other supporters of WRAS stated that because they are a student-run radio station, they said they didn’t realize that their ratings mattered – however emails between you and Jeff Walker show much discussion of ratings, plus a comparison to WABE’s ratings. Could you please comment on the matter, and why was this important?

Covey: As has been repeatedly said, improving ratings was not a motivating factor in striking the agreement, however, we did recognize the potential for audience growth as new listeners to GPB programming were exposed to student programming during the evening transition at 7PM. Discussions with Mr. Walker on the topic were related to gaining an understanding of the station’s place in the market as a non-commercial broadcaster.

– Why was the start-date [GPB programming on WRAS] pushed back to June 29th?

Covey: The starting date for the agreement was delayed in order to give the university more time to explore options in the manner in which we operationalize the partnership. As the president has said, we are willing to examine means of addressing student concerns within the context of proceeding with our partnership with GPB.

-Documents show that Steven Brett contacted you and a few other individuals about an educational opportunity back in 2012 for the station – according to Brett in an interview, he was never contacted again after he was told the university did not have the funds to support the educational opportunity, and was never contacted by students. Could you briefly explain what opportunities he presented, if this had anything to do with the GSU-GPB partnership and why he was never contacted back?

Covey: Mr. Brett made an unsolicited suggestion that he be involved in programming the station. We were not interested in pursuing an arrangement with him. This was unrelated to GPB.

-Could you comment on about your role and being in in communication throughout 2008 – current about the partnership (with Heyward, Walker, President Becker, and GPB representatives?)

Covey: The current agreement should not be viewed as the result of a continuous negotiation between GSU and GPB . The current agreement resulted from discussions held during the past year. Circumstances and programs at the university have changed greatly since 2008. The decision not to pursue a collaboration in 2008 was based upon the realities of the time. The partnership which we now value reflects the university’s comprehensive interests today.

As I said in answer to your earlier question, my role then, as now, was not that of negotiator or decision maker. I served as the delegated supervisor of station operations and was involved in discussions with University colleagues regarding the implementation of the potential agreement.

 

– Documents show that you had also served on the board but in an interview with Creative Loafing you said there was no conflict of interest. Could you briefly explain that situation, what role you played and why there is no conflict of interest?

Covey: The GSU President is represented on the APB Board by an appointee. Dr. Becker’s predecessor asked me to serve in that capacity and I continued to do so in Dr. Becker’s administration.I was neither a decision maker or a negotiator with regard to this new partnership. There was no conflict of interest.

Walker’s Responses:

– Documents reveal discussions for the GSU-GPB partnership date back to 2012, and planning began in 2013Would you like to comment on the matter?

Walker: No.

Throughout the documents provided by an ORR request, it shows you were in contact with Covey, Dr. Becker, Heyward and other individuals about possible changes to the station from 2012 / 2013. Could you give a brief description of what role you played in those?

Walker: I provided technical advice regarding station operations as requested by senior administrators.

The 2008 partnership proposal is similar to the current GSU-GPB partnership, why was it decided to be beneficial for the students now, did you know anything about this and were students notified about this at the time?

Walker: I wasn’t involved in making the decision.

– Steven Brett originally contacted the university back in 2012 with an educational opportunity for the station, however in an interview with The Signal he said he was never contacted again after that point in time, and also did not hear back from WRAS leadership. Could you briefly explain that situation?

Walker: Covey answer.

– President Mark Becker called for a meeting on Oct. 24, 2012 with an email titled “Meeting to Discuss Radio”. Were you involved with this, if not were you notified by Covey at a later time and did this have anything to do with the GSU-GPB partnership?

 

Walker: I wasn’t involved in the meeting, but Dr. Covey later informed me of it.

-Documents reveal Covey sent you a draft agreement from GPB on Jan. 22. 2013. Would you like to comment on the matter and what role did you play reviewing the agreement? Attached to the same document was a “WRAS-FM Revenue and Expenditure Projections” sheet. Could you give a brief description of the information provided?

Walker: This was a document prepared and created by GPB. My role was in providing technical advice, not in reviewing the business terms.

– Who is Laura Sillins, and why was she given a tour of the WRAS office in March 15. 2013?

Walker: Laura Sillins is a development officer who provided a tour of WRAS to a benefactor of the station. It was completely unrelated to the GPB agreement.

Could you comment on the tower lease contract that was discussed in an email with Covey on March 26, 2013?

 

Walker: We were discussing options for bringing the antenna intown to improve the signal on campus and in the Georgia Dome for football games. This was in conjunction with a construction permit we received in 2001 that was unrelated to GPB.

Could you comment on the GPB moving their Rome FM closer to atlanta that you sent an email to covey about on April 4, 2013?

Walker: This was an email to update Dr. Covey. In my technical role, I am always monitoring all non-commercial activity in the metro Atlanta area.

Documents reveal there were discussions about the WRAS antenna being moved to Stone Mountain. Could you briefly explain?

 

Walker: Stone Mountain was one location that was suggested by GPB. We rejected this location because we felt it wasn’t in the university’s best interest.

Could you comment about the station’s FCC license and construction grants?

 

Walker: We have received permits, not grants, and they have been to move our antenna intown for the previously stated benefits.

-Could explain the GPB Roll out schedule that was created and found within the requested documents?

 

Walker: As planning progressed, there were several different suggested timelines for implementing the agreement.

-What role did Robert Butler play in the discussions / planning of the GSU-GPB partnership?

Walker: He is GPB’s head of engineering and represents GPB in the technical matters of the collaboration.

On Feb. 3, 2014 you contacted Covey about a WRAS timeline and GPB roll-out. In the email you specifically state GPB was considering having a joint staff meeting with students of the station between March 31 – April 2, but you didn’t think it was a good idea.“The WRAS messages should be crafted within GSU and communicated with the student General Manager internally.” Could you please comment on this, why did you feel that way and was the student general manager notified?

Walker: As the long time station adviser, I felt it was more appropriate to meet separately to inform the students of the agreement prior to a public announcement. The student general manager was notified first.

Another GPB meeting was discussed on April 21, 2014 with multiple individuals (Jones, Covey, Brandenburg, & Heyward). Did that meeting ever happen…?

Walker: I don’t recall having a meeting.

– Explain the Ibiquity purchasing company, and your contact you had with them.

 

Walker: This is company that owns the patent to HD radio. I was in contact with them concerning the arrangements to utilize HD technology. It is required for all stations wishing to broadcast in HD. It is unrelated to the GPB proposal.

Becker’s Responses:

-What were the main priorities for Georgia State when signing the 2014 agreement with GPB?

Becker: Establish a collaborative partnership with GPB that will provide significant new and expanded opportunities for Georgia State students, and for sharing the work of Georgia State faculty, staff and students with the broader community across Georgia. Specifically for students, this partnership will provide for GSU students majoring in journalism and film opportunities we have long sought to provide. A key benefit of the agreement is the commitment by GPB to make available to GSU 12 hours a day of programming access to their digital TV network, 365 days a year. That commitment of over-network TV time will enable extraordinary new educational possibilities for the hundreds of students majoring in film and TV production at Georgia State. Other new student opportunities include expanded internships possibilities and the production of radio content for distribution by GPB across their network, and nationally if the demand emerges. The partnership also provides for the production of new radio and television content for the GPB network that will feature Georgia State experts, be they faculty, staff or students. Preserving Album 88 as a full-time (24 hours a day), student-run radio station.

– Dr. Becker elaborated on these points in an interview with Rodney Ho of the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC)

Becker: Everything has come together around this being an attractive opportunity for Georgia State University… First off, for the radio side, the WRAS component, the students continue to program 24/7 as they always have. The only difference is that it won’t be out on an analog antenna at all times. At times, it will be purely digital, at times, it will be both. On top of that, they get the opportunity to program a new show for a much larger audience and go statewide. That’s the music stories piece in the announcement. [It’s a 30-minute weekly show created by the students that will be part of the block GPB controls.] Another opportunity for the students is pick up a new group of listeners above and beyond those they already have when the switch flips at 7 p.m. They continue to do a great job and have shows at 7, 8 and 9 where they could potentially grow their listenership.Another component that made us more interested was a year and a half ago, our communications department that runs our film production program in a meeting said they were looking for an opportunity for an outlet for students to produce more film and TV. We have an internal GSU television studio that is not run by students. This provides the same opportunity for students on the film and video side have that radio students have. It expands student opportunities [by allowing them to work at GPB.]. It’s a big growing part of Georgia State University. You know what the film industry is doing here (in Georgia). We are a big player here in terms of our programs.

– On Oct. 24, 2012 President Becker sent an email to Kerry Heyward, Douglass Covey, Joseph Rackliffe, Risa Palm and Ethel Brown with the subject “Meeting about Radio”, according to documentation obtained by The Signal through an ORR request What was the meeting about, why was the meeting held and what did this have to do with GPB?

Becker: I cannot recall with 100% certainty, but most likely it was a preliminary meeting to discuss the possibility of a entering into a partnership with GPB.

-Previously Covey told Creative Loafing that there was no conflict of interest or involvement with the planning of GPB, however documentation also reveals that he was involved with a lot in the years 2012 to now, What is your opinion of this, is there an actual conflict of interest and who will be the next person to serve on the board?

Becker: Dr. Covey spoke truthfully. While he participated in conversations with university staff about the partnership as discussions evolved, he did not participate in negotiations with GPB. He did nothing to compromise his position as a member of the WABE Board. I have not yet been approached personally about the appointment of a new GSU representative to the board

– January 22, 2013, Heyward sent Covey a draft of the GSU-

GPB contract, according to documents obtained through an ORR request: Why was this not announced to the public, what was your involvement in this and how were you involved in the drafting of the contract?

Becker: That would have been a preliminary draft prepared by legal counsel, as are all contracts involving the university. In contract processes, my role is to review contract documents, discuss with appropriate individuals when and where needed, and to authorize and sign contracts that require my approval.

-Documentation also reveals that planning began in August 2013, and discussions date back to 2012. When this planning went on Heyward, Covey, Walker and other individuals were in communication frequently. Did you have any knowledge of this, if so how were you involved?

Becker: I was provided with updates on discussions as they process evolved.

There were discussions and plans for towers being built in correlation to the GSU-GPB partnership dating back to Oct. 2013. Could you comment on that, who pays for that and were the students activities fee committee involved with this?

Becker: I was told that we were planning a digital conversion regardless of the relationship with GPB. The conversion was funded with student fee reserves, and the Student Activities Fee Committee was consulted.

– How involved were you in the planning of this partnership?

Becker: I ultimately was responsible for approving the agreement, and therefore was kept abreast of discussions throughout the process.

-Who all were you in contact with from GPB from the time you became President of the University till now and how large of a role did they play?

Becker: My point of contact at GPB was Teya Ryan, President and Executive Director.

-“…I don’t know why the purpose of the equipment is necessary to reveal. If you have a moment today, we can discuss this issue.” – Walker to Covey (Jan. 8, 2014). What do you have to say about this, did you know anything about planning or the equipment being installed?

Becker: I did not participate in that correspondence, and hence have no knowledge of it.

-Did you know about the various meetings that were being held between Covey, Walker, Heyward…etc? Who was in charge of those meetings, did you attend any of the additional meetings and what were they about?

Becker: I was aware that meetings were taking place, participated only in those meetings where my input was needed, and otherwise was provided with updates as appropriate.

-Tom Lewis originally had denied a previous proposal to the university made back in 2008, according to documentation. If you compare and contrast there are many similarities of the project proposals. Why was the newest agreed upon, why had the proposals been denied previously in 2008 and what do you personally have to say about this?

Becker: I was not at Georgia State in 2008 and hence did not participate in those discussions.

– Why was the newest partnership seen as a positive for students when previously it was seen as non-beneficial for the students at WRAS?

Becker: In 2014 the opportunities provided GSU through a partnership with GPB are considerably different and better than they would have been in 2008. For example, I am told that there was not a television component in the 2008 discussions. The 2009 shift to all television being digital and the continued rapid expansion of digital radio provides for new and very different opportunities that were not available to Georgia State previously.

-What additional commentary do you have about the documents revealing essentially the partnership and planning dated back almost 2 years ago?

Becker: The process we went through is typical of an interagency agreement.

-Why was there a decision made to push the start-date back to June 29th?

Becker: I made the decision out of respect for the WRAS students. As you know, we met with student representatives from WRAS on May 16 and had an extremely positive and productive meeting. We are working in good faith to find options to the concerns they raised, and pushing back the date to June 29 was necessary for us to continue that work.

About Ciara Frisbie 77 Articles
Ciara Bri'd Frisbie is an adventurer, investigator and coffee enthusiast. She considers herself to be a feisty spitfire, but says she is determined enough to change the world...that is one news package at a time. Ciara is also The Signal's former News Editor for Fall 2014- Spring 2015

10 Comments

  1. I hate seeing Jeff Walker’s name dragged through the mud. He’s done as much for WRAS over the years as anyone. Maybe my analysis is incorrect, but he comes off as a guy doing his job (and likely to his chagrin, knowing how much he cares about the station).

    I’d be curious to heat what Ciara or other Signal writers would suggest — should Walker have leaked the GPB takeover news and risk losing any pension or benefits he has coming to him? C’mon, man. It’s not Walker’s fault. Save WRAS!

    • How could anyone lose his pension for talking about this? Was it so necessary that the students be kept in the dark about the radio station’s future? This is the atmosphere of intimidation that is permeating this whole takeover. The students STILL don’t know what is happening. Now the students feel so intimidated that they are not even sure they can announce the upcoming switchover on air, let alone discuss it, even in the most unbiased fashion. Why is it all right for the academics to be shaking in fear before these administrators?

      • In a surprisingly similar situation, I saw a retirement turn into a forced resignation over leaked information. The individual lost considerable compensation because of it. So with that said, what would you have Walker do?

        • If you are stating unequivocally in a public forum that Jeff Walker was going to be forced out of his position and denied pension if he refused to help Becker and Covey plan this takeover. and keep it a secret from the students who put their hearts and souls into this Station which we love, all I can say is this a much more deceitful and underhanded business than I am able to fathom.

    • Don’t forget that the official group established for handling policies that relate to Student Media under the Code of Conduct is the “Committee on Student Communications”. Covey and Walker sit as ex officio members of that board which is composed of student, faculty and some administrators. It is the body that provides community ascertainment regarding the media and holds them to responsible journalism standards while protecting their First Amendment rights.
      As this was a significant policy change for WRAS that the CSC would, as the body created by the Regents to make such decisions, both Covey and Walker violated their “due diligence” requirements to note that such negotiations were occurring. As well, Becker should have brought the proposal to the CSC for discussion and approval.

      Then there is the $750,000 awarded by the Committee on Student Fees for the new transmitter (of which much discussion occurs in the emails). Neither Walker nor Covey, who presented the proposal for the new transmitter, noted that there was a real possibility of students losing half their analog time. That omission certainly was information that would have been important in the discussion of the Committee…particularly when one component of the contract is that GPB may become the licensee within a year. Essentially the students just donated GPB $750,000.

      • One point in Walkers favor…he did try to suggest to Becker that GPB should be getting a digital sub-carrier rather than the analog channel because their audience would be more likely to have vehicles and home entertainment systems that would carry that signal than students and lower socio-economic groups that might be in WRAS’ audience.

  2. BOO!!! I would have expected better from Walker! This makes me sad and angry at the same time. I hate that they are taking the airwaves away from the students and destroying this historical and cultural icon of Atlanta. I will miss my WRAS! This can’t happen!

  3. Good work staying on top of this but –there appear to be a number of formatting and typing errors above. Quotes attributed to Walker that appear to be from Becker based on his other answers. Who is Rodney? Are you talking about Rodney from CL or AJC? You guys slow down and get this right, please.

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