WABE 90.1 FM changing daytime programming


“My guess is that they heard from the supporting listeners that they wanted this change. And when you’re listener supported and not tax-payer supported, those opinions are valid enough to make a change.” – Matt Steadman

Atlanta public radio will make another altering shift as WABE 90.1 FM, Atlanta’s NPR station, announced its plan to cut daytime classical programming for additional news, talk and art shows, according to Creative Loafing. This is to compete with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB).

The station has had classical music-focused programming on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and station officials have discussed extending news programming, according to Creative Loafing.

“Over the past four years, they have conducted extensive research including focus groups, surveys and strategic planning,” Creative Loafing states. “But those plans were ramped up once GPB controversially entered Atlanta’s radio market by taking over daytime programming on WRAS 88.5 FM this past summer.”

Creative Loafing interviewed WABE Chief Operating Officer John Weatherford and he said there’s a significant need for more news as well as diverse selections of music.

“… To be frank, I can’t tell you [GPB’s entry into Atlanta’s market] had no effect. It did something that hadn’t been done before. There was a public radio competitor with WABE as of late June. But this is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Weatherfod told Creative Loafing.

Additionally GPB President Teya Ryan sat down with Creative Loafing on Nov. 6 for a Q&A; session and said the company is friends with WABE in regards to entering the Atlanta market.

“We love what they do with regard to music. We strongly believe that a healthy city and demographic like Atlanta benefits from two kinds of public media services. There are no top-nine media markets in the country that don’t have more than one public media service…,” she said.

Note: Despite multiple attempts to contact Weatherford, other Atlanta Educational Telecommunications Collaborative (AETC) board members and GPB, The Signal has yet to receive a response.

A less recent shift in Atlanta radio occurred this past May when Georgia State entered a partnership with GPB that would allow the company to air content over the university’s station, WRAS 88.5 FM (Album 88), 14 hours a day.

The partnership was go to into effect on June 2 but was later pushed back to June 29 to address the concerns of WRAS student leaders.

Zachary Lancaster, president of Album 88 Alumni (A88A), said Ryan’s comments were interesting but it has been an attempt to cut off a chunk of market from WABE.

“So any statement to the contrary is, while maybe not an outright lie, disingenuous. GPB has been reporting losses quarter to quarter in their public meeting minutes since at least 2012 if not earlier so any assertion that this was an attempt to do anything but grab some fraction of the listeners from WABE in an attempt to capitalize the Atlanta market for GPB and financially destabilize WABE is a fallacy,” Lancaster said. “Mrs. Ryan and GPB are not interested so much in serving this market as they are interested in empire building and creating a hegemonic monopoly over all NPR donors in Georgia.”

He also said he believes this is a market adjustment to adjust the demand for more NPR content.

“They are doing this in a way that is reasonable and respectful to the Atlanta community. Something that cannot be said for the ham fisted way that GPB went about entering the Atlanta market,” Lancaster said. “What I think this does do is signal the death of any claim to credibility that GPB has that there is no other source in Atlanta for this type of NPR content…”

WRAS Promotions Director Hannah Frank said WABE’s program change is interesting because not many people expected it to happen in such a short amount of time.

“…I figured that they would keep their classical-musical programming for a while,” she said. “I think that they’re responding to the community’s needs, they’re asking for more news programming that’s not coming from GPB, so I think that this will be really interesting to see how it plays out in the market place, the community [and] see how people respond to it.”

Music Director for WMLB 1960 AM (The Voice of the Arts in Atlanta) and former WRAS staff member Matt Steadman said WABE’s change is something people have discussed for years but hasn’t negatively impacted the station’s ratings.

“At least over the past year or so they’ve remained fairly consistent with small drops here and there but nothing drastic. I don’t know their exact daypart ratings but I imagine that most radio stations have a drop between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” he said. “In fact, compared to most other Top 10 radio markets, WABE has incredibly impressive ratings overall.”

Frank said she believes other’s reactions have positive because of the potential to listen to news programming outside of GPB but feels the company also doesn’t have an advantage in the situation.

“…WABE recently exceeded their fundraising goal for this past quarter, so honestly, for me personally, I don’t think that GPB has the upperhand here. I don’t know if they ever really had the upper hand,” she said. “They made the first move but the way WABE has responded is by re-branding. They are now calling themselves Atlanta’s NPR station.”

Fundraising periods are a time where stations can hear listeners’ concerns, according to Steadman.

“My guess is that they heard from the supporting listeners that they wanted this change. And when you’re listener supported and not tax-payer supported, those opinions are valid enough to make a change,” he said.

Frank said additional funds to WABE contributed to the station exceeding fundraising goals.

“For them to exceed is exceptional. So I think the community is voting with their pockets. I think more people are listening to them, I mean their ratings have gone up, whereas GPB ratings have gone down if you compare them,” she said. “If you compare our ratings before the takeover with GPB ratings, their ratings have gone down. If you compare even the first month it’s like a significant drop-off… ”

However Steadman said the change may not impact the community as much as some may believe but serves as a great transitional period.

“There are a lot of young and incredibly talented radio folks over at WABE that are starting to realize their voice at the station and I think their fresh voice will be welcomed, even if it does mean sacrificing some of the elements that have made WABE what it is for many years,” he said.

Steadman also said WABE’s shift provides some justification for the way the Georgia State-GPB partnership took Album 88 from its home on 88.5.

“They made clear in their press release that classics would still be available on their HD/2 station for WABE Classics. Isn’t this the same basic rationale that GPB gave for moving Album 88 to 88.5 HD/2?,” he said. “In a way this move is less of a negative shot at GPB and more of a sign of relevancy towards the decisions of GPB and the GSU administration. Obviously those who listen to classical music and those who listen to electric indie music are a completely different demographic but right now they’ve both got the same basic gripe towards two different radio outlets.”

Steadman also said there is a possibility that HD radio and streaming online is the future of radio but WABE’s move is alienating those who did to the station for the classics.

The programming shift will occur in late 2014 or early 2015 and time-slots between 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. will combine local news reports from journalists at WABE along with national news segments from NPR’s Morning Edition program, according to Creative Loafing.

1 Comment

  1. I always held N.P.R. in high reguard as projecting itself as completely unbiased and setting themselves apart from normal media outlets. Normal media outlets are so into leaning the public towards THEIR way of thinking. NPR , I asummed, was better than that , but it seems now they are falling in line with the crowd. Maybe I am wrong, but catching an interview on sunday morning discussing Donald Trump, they seemed to lean towards Hillary Clinton. I prefer a totally neutral report.
    When Truth no longer means EVERYTHING,
    Truth means nothing at all.

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