At the expense of drowning out student voices, the University has made an egregious move to allow WRAS 88.5 FM to have “unprecedented access” to Georgia Public Broadcasting’s (GPB) news programming.
An official university press release stated that during a two-year contract, GPB will take over air time on WRAS 88.5 FM from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting June 2. WRAS students and management found out about the decision only the morning of the public press release, though the discussion had been going on for weeks.
Given no choice to discuss the matter, WRAS staff and management were forced to accept the decision.
WRAS was meant to reach out to the student audience and provide grounds for discovering new and diverse alternative music. Operating from downtown Atlanta since 1971, WRAS became one of the most reputable student-run radio stations in the nation. It is often boasted at orientation and welcome tour sessions throughout the year.
So why change the way the station is run? Why now?
In the University press release, President Mark Becker said the decision would be a “proverbial win-win” that would open doors for future collaboration.
The University received a measly $150,000 deal for a 14-hour news programming block that will not serve our students’ interests. The University plans to use some of the new GPB air time to release public service announcements and promote Georgia State. This seems to be serving only the University and GPB, not the students.
According to an official WRAS statement, the University also cited increasing listenership as one of the reasons for the change. And although the news programming might be relevant to a more general audience, it would not resonate as much with current listeners or students on our campus.
The decision contrasts with the campus culture at Georgia State, where art and music flourish. We have the Courtyard Music Series every Tuesday. The excitement can be heard from inside the walls of classrooms near the Unity Plaza. Not to mention, some of our own students and alumni become invested in the local music community, which WRAS has always supported.
For example, WRAS hosts WRASfest every year, where they showcase local bands to a live student audience. They have already set a name and culture for themselves as well as those who associate with them.
This campus is about promoting diversity, which is exactly what the current WRAS programming does.
We have already seen other programs “fail” because of low student attendance. We have recently seen Cinefest hours get cut dramatically and move to an all-digital format. We struggle in student attendance at football games. And now we want to cut something that already far beyond succeeds in bonding students?
What’s even more troubling is that WRAS is supposed to be an independent, student-run organization. The University seems to think it will remain so even in making a monumental decision for them.
In the official University statement, they say “WRAS does not have to change any programming and the student broadcasting experience will be unchanged.” But this statement assumes students working for WRAS will not be interested in curating shows during daytime hours, because GPB will now be taking up all of them.
In the official WRAS statement, the organization states that the University never even made the station aware that ratings mattered. However, increased listenership was cited in the University’s press release as one of the reasons for the so-called partnership. The way programming was handled has always been the station’s call. Still, the University stepped in without even consulting the students who manage WRAS. What other organization is the university is going to get their hands on next?
If the number one student-run station in the country is excluded from making important management and programming decisions, it sets an unsettling precedent for the rest of us.
It is our First Amendment right to freely choose the content we release and not be an extended arm of the institution. On this principle, the University is unethically trampling on the station’s and the students’ morale by controlling future content and planning to use air time for self-promotion. As student media organizations, our priority is to serve our students, not the University.
It is important for us to function independently from the institutions we interact with so we can unbiasedly serve our public, our students, our people. Student media is a sanctuary where we are supposed to be able to practice pure journalism without giving into the heavy influence and strain of the corporations around us.
When the University made the move without consulting with WRAS, they sent a much larger message: That we, as student media representatives, are not trusted to serve our community. This stunts our education and growth as communications students and student journalists, making us premature for the jungle after college.
Although we acknowledge that the programming would allow the University to create more positive partnerships for the campus, we cannot rest knowing the decision to allow GPB to take over was made without the inclusion of our WRAS team. Again, not giving WRAS management a chance to speak for themselves is an ethical issue on the principle of the First Amendment right.
We strongly support the push to give independent control to the students again and allow WRAS to renegotiate the contract with GPB. A petition has already been started by the community to support this renegotiation. For more information, read our story here.
WRAS, being one of the most influential student media organizations—not only in Georgia but also in the nation—is a voice for the students. By not even letting the station have a say in the decision of running GPB programming, the University has also shunned the voices of Georgia State students.