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College Radio Watch: WRAS-FM Changes Spark Protests

The big college radio news this week is of course the format changes coming to WRAS-FM. On Tuesday, WRAS-FM student staffers were surprised to hear that they would soon lose programming control over the station’s daytime FM broadcasts. Georgia State University entered into a deal with Georgia Public Broadcasting that will allow the public radio group the rights to air public radio news content over FM during the day. Students will continue to program WRAS-FM at night and will continue to utilize the station’s relatively new webstream.

This news sparked criticism immediately from WRAS-FM participants, alumni, listeners, and college radio supporters. Protests have begun, including the establishment of the SaveWRAS website, a Boycott GPB on 88.5 FM Facebook page (with more than 5,000 fans), the creation of an online petition (with more than 7,000 signatures), and plans for a protest at Georgia State University’s graduation ceremony tomorrow.

An announcement on the Save WRAS website states, “During what should be a week of celebration, the Georgia State community was shocked Tuesday to learn that the administration plans to sell the daytime broadcasting rights of WRAS in a secret deal with Georgia Public Broadcasting. To protest this decision, we’re asking that students graduating this Saturday decorate their caps in a stand of solidarity with WRAS.”

Reading through some of the comments on the petition against the changes at WRAS, there are some passionate reactions to this week’s news. Melissa Limina writes, “Working at WRAS was a huge motivator in my decision to attend GSU in the first place, and my time as a WRAS DJ gave a unique sense of deeper meaning to college life. Without this, I may never have made it to graduation. It would be a travesty to deny future generations the same opportunity or reduce the number of students to whom it would be made available. Not to mention the cultural benefits WRAS programming provides to Atlanta radio listeners.”

I was also fascinated by a clip of the audio of the first moments of WRAS from 1971. In that first broadcast, the Georgia State University Dean of Students announces that the station is “operated by and for the students” as he welcomes the station to the air. He also says, “There are people who distrust student expression. I am not one of those.”

In a press release the staff of WRAS responded to the announced changes, saying,

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.

In an interview with the Signal, Georgia State University President Mark Becker states that protests will not sway him into voiding the contract with Georgia Public Broadcasting. In the interview he says,

It’s not going to happen. This is a signed agreement. The agreement was signed, because even though its not being recognized by some people right now, it creates new opportunities for students. This contract, the reason it was entered in to, was because it’s good for the students. It is good for Georgia State University. It raises the university’s profile, while it raises WRAS’s profile, even though they don’t see it that way right now, it is an opportunity if they seize the opportunity; it will raise their profile…This was about creating opportunity. We’re not backing out on that.

In the same interview, Becker discusses the public service announcements for Georgia State that Georgia Public Broadcasting has agreed to air state-wide, saying, “those will be used to get the Georgia State message out on the GPB network.”

Although Becker stands behind his assertion that the changes at WRAS will be a huge opportunity for students (including WRAS volunteers, who will get a chance to produce a music program that will potentially be aired all over Georgia on the GPB network), a college radio station adviser at a nearby Atlanta station points out that students are losing even more. SCAD Atlanta Radio (which I visited on the same day that I toured WRAS in 2012) adviser Jessica Clary writes on her blog that “…the students behind WRAS will lose the sense of being totally responsible for their station.” She adds, “That’s the incredible learning experience student media delivers — 100 percent responsibility.”

Radio Survivor will continue to monitor the situation at WRAS. We also report on college radio news every Friday in our College Radio Watch column.

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One Response to College Radio Watch: WRAS-FM Changes Spark Protests

  1. Dennis May 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    This is a real travesty, WRAS is a cultural institution. You’d never thinks anyone was idiotic enough to mess with something like that. It’s like walking into the Louvre and pissing on the Mona Lisa.

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