I don’t often ask you guys for help, but today I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: a radio station named WRAS. It’s the “student voice of Georgia State University”, which broadcasts “live from the concrete campus in downtown Atlanta”. It played a HUGE role in making me who I am today, and is one of the things that made Atlanta a great place to live.
See, WRAS isn’t just your average college radio station. It has a 100,000 watt transmitter, which made it the most powerful college radio station in the United States before Georgia Tech’s WREK upgraded their tower to 100,000 watts, too. WRAS can be heard over the entire metro Atlanta area. Founded in 1971 – the same year I was born – the station is known for being one of the most innovative college radio stations in the country:
- WRAS was the first radio station in the world to play Arrested Development.
- WRAS was the first radio station in the world to play OutKast.
- WRAS was one of the first radio stations to ever play R.E.M. and was the first to put them in regular rotation.
- WRAS was one of the first stations to ever play the Indigo Girls, and was the first to put them in regular rotation.
- Bob Geldof was sitting in the studio at WRAS giving an interview when news of a school shooting came over the station’s teletype machine. The shooter was asked why she did it, and her reply was “I don’t like Mondays”, thus inspiring Geldof to write his most famous song.
- The Replacements’ song “Left of the Dial” was inspired by WRAS’s slogan, “left on the dial, right on the music”:
But now, it’s all in danger. A couple weeks ago – on the next to last day of finals, when the campus was nearly empty – GSU announced a “partnership deal” with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in which GPB will air talk radio from 5AM to 7PM. WRAS’s “regular” programming will air outside after those hours; during the day their music programming will be relegated to an HD subchannel and online streaming only.
This is a terrible deal. As I said, WRAS is a vital part of Atlanta’s culture; replacing it with talk radio is a huge mistake. But there’s more:
- In return for giving GPB its most important broadcasting hours, GSU gets $150,000 over two years. So yes, the station is being sold out for a measly $75,000 a year! (To be fair to GPB, this is the maximum amount allowed by the FCC and is mostly about “covering costs”, not about GSU making a profit.)
- Last year, the students approved replacing WRAS’s transmitter at a cost of around $750,000. GPB will now use this tower – that student fees paid for – for 14 hours a day. How is this not theft? Imagine if you worked for a company that had HUGE buildings..,. like Boeing. Imagine that the company provided a shuttle service to get around campus. Imagine that the busses were just OK – clean but old. Now imagine management going to the workers and saying “If you guys vote for it, we’ll take $20 out of your paycheck each pay period for six months and we’ll use that money to buy fancy new busses with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, leather seats, etc.”. Imagine if workers approved that, but within six months Boeing took the new busses and leased them out to the City of Seattle during working hours. Would you be pissed? You SHOULD be!
- GPB has said that they will use WRAS to do fund raising campaigns, potentially earning GPB millions of dollars. But the FCC license will be retained by GSU, meaning GSU gets all the liability for everything GBP broadcasts, but almost none of the benefit.
- Speaking of, GPB is not required to use the name “Album 88” at all, nor are they required to promote any WRAS programming during their 14 hour block. By law, GPB would be required to run public service announcements identifying GSU as the licensee, but they are not compelled to mention Album 88 or any such programming.
- GSU students will supposedly get access to “TV broadcasting facilities” (which they already have via GSU TV), and “intern programs at GPB” (which aren’t defined in the contract between GPB and GSU, and aren’t supposed go into effect for 11 months). But what’s better for a student’s résumé: “I interned at GPB” or “I actually ran a real, 100,000 watt radio station”?? Also, the contract allows GSU to hire an “Academic Coordinator” to oversee said internships, which would be the first time a university employee (and NOT a student) would be involved in WRAS’s operation… ever.
- The language of the contract states that it will auto-renew after two years, and after 2020 it will auto-renew in eight year cycles until 2064.
- It should be noted that although this contract was supposedly done “for the benefit of the students”, it was done in secret, with no input from the student body. In 2006, GPB approached WREK, the student station of nearby Georgia Tech, about a similar deal. But because WREK and its license are controlled by a governing body that includes students, their vote was “not just no, but HELL NO”. A deal was never reached.
- The contract states that GPB will air a 30 minute, student-produced program that will feature “a mix of music with background information and interviews that will feature performers, producers and business people in the music industry”. To get this wonderful deal, the students are giving up 100 hours of programming per week.
- If the contract is approved, the language allows GSU and GPB to negotiate with the FCC for joint ownership of the license. The implications are obvious: if GPB held half the license, they’d have far more power. It’s the difference between converting your house to a duplex and selling someone half, rather than renting half.
- Lastly, GPB won’t actually bring any new or innovative programming to WRAS. GPB has already posted their proposed weekend lineup, and it includes Car Talk (a show which ended two years ago!), This American Life (already available on WABE, Atlanta’s longtime NPR station, or as a podcast), Snap Judgement (already available on WABE or as a podcast), Weekend Edition (already available on WABE), Ask Me Another (already available on WABE), Weekend All Things Considered (yes, already available on WABE).
So…. how can you help save the Last Great Radio Station in Atlanta? First, you can sign this petition at Change.org. It’s over 10,000 signatures, and every additional one helps. You can also go to the SaveWRAS website or Facebook page for the latest information. Specifically, you can go to this page, which has contact information for GPB, GSU and state legislators; you can send them stern (but polite!) emails stating your opinion.
Folks, I can’t begin to tell you how strongly I feel about this. As I hinted earlier, I grew up listening to WRAS non-stop as a teen. I found my musical identity on the station. And the thought of future generations not having the same opportunity makes me sick to my stomach. We need to fight this. We need to let GPB know that they can get their own damn radio station, not steal one from Georgia State! We must keep up the pressure! So anything you can do to help would be GREATLY appreciated!
NOTE: This article was updated on June 4, 2014. I added additional information and – most importantly – I corrected a couple of major errors I’d made about the contract, especially the auto-renew provisions.