WRAS staff pushes back against station takeover by GPB, which was decided by GSU and GPB without consent of staff or management
(ATLANTA) – Georgia State University and Georgia Public Broadcasting announced an unprecedented deal yesterday affecting WRAS Atlanta (May 6, 2014) – shocking the all-student radio staff. According to representatives from central GSU administration, this deal will begin a 2-year contract that will increase GSU’s presence on the GPB statewide network of affiliate stations. With this new deal that begins on June 2, programming on WRAS 88.5 FM will consist of GPB news programming from 5 AM to 7 PM. WRAS programming will fill the 7 PM to 5 AM time range on the analog station (88.5 FM), but will air around the clock on our HD FM stream along with our online stream. WRAS Atlanta Album 88 is a 100,000-watt student-run and managed radio station that has been operating from downtown Atlanta since 1971.
This unilateral move by the GSU administration – in coordination with GPB – was made without any student input or forewarning. Failure to consult WRAS leadership and the Committee for Student Communications – which consists of leaders from all GSU student media outlets – marks a huge misstep by the GSU administration in our view. Timing of this announcement coincides with the end of spring semester as well as changing of the guard within WRAS management – both of which give the impression that the GSU administration wants to push this forward quietly and quickly. Motivations for the decision were described in relation to ratings at the initial meeting, while more recent statements simply emphasize the ‘opportunity’ for collaboration.
GPB characterizes the deal as a benefit for students, since WRAS will forfeit 14 hours of daily airtime in exchange for “unprecedented [student] access to GPB’s resources.” Further, GSU president Mark Becker has described the deal as “a proverbial win-win” for WRAS. However, WRAS staff takes issue with these claims for a few reasons. First, WRAS staff was never of the understanding that our ratings mattered prior to this announcement. As a college radio station, the mission of our station has never been to make the rich richer or to give airtime to mainstream music. Our interests, instead of ratings, are delivering quality and diverse music to our listeners and supplying an alternative to mainstream radio. Second, claims of new means for ‘collaboration’ and access to GPB resources are simply misleading. GPB resources that WRAS will have access to involve a TV studio – of which WRAS as a radio station has no interest in. GPB has also stated they will offer 30 minutes of weekly music programming by students, which pales in comparison to our current schedule of over 40 2-hour specialty shows. Overall, this decision reflects a “proverbial win-win” for two parties: GPB and the GSU administration – the former scoring a cheap way to finally compete in the Atlanta radio market and the latter via ill-perceived potential for promotion of the university.
Considering that no staff at WRAS were consulted about this sends a clear message that University administration does not value or take into account the input of the student body that produces its programming. While we respect GSU as the FCC licensee for WRAS, we believe the mechanics of this decision reflect the priority of self-promotion by GSU over the education and desires of its students. Following an extreme outpouring of support from GSU alumni along with the Atlanta community and beyond, WRAS management and staff have begun to review our options for moving forward. Other than filing Open Records Act requests with GSU legal counsel as well as GPB, we are working around-the-clock to find a solution that satisfies GSU while also allowing us to fulfill our mission. We encourage listeners and alumni alike to continue pursuing an open dialogue with GSU and GPB administration. As a staff, we hope to open up a dialogue with President Becker and Ms. Ryan of GPB to discuss how we will go forward.
WRAS Atlanta Album 88 has been around for over 43 years bringing unique and eclectic programming to its community. The station prides itself on helping break out artists such as R.E.M., The Shins, B-52s, Deerhunter, M83, Tame Impala, OutKast (which made their radio debut on the station) and more. By intervening in the daily operations here at WRAS, the administration of Georgia State is setting a dangerous precedent. In order for student media to have any meaning, it has to remain in the hands of the students. Students of this University should be able to create and innovate without the fear of a unilateral takeover guised as a ‘partnership.’