Today, students at college radio station WRAS-FM at Georgia State University (GSU) announced that they have filed an appeal (PDF) against the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents, protesting the university’s decision last year to allow Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) to broadcast over WRAS-FM during daytime hours. The appeal argues that the school misused student organization funds, specifically mandatory student activity fees, which were used for WRAS expenditures that are now benefiting a local public broadcaster. According to the appeal,
The Agreement [with GPB] creates a new mission for WRASAlbum 88 and the students of WRASAlbum 88 were in no way informed or given an opportunity to comment on this change in mission and the redirection of fees that would follow. When implemented, student fees and facilities originally allocated for WRASAlbum 88 were used to purchase equipment, pay for employee time along with other expenses for the support of GPB…GSU administrators have simply altered the mission of this student organization without any input from those students affected or the CSC and spent funds intended for support of WRASAlbum 88 in a way that is inconsistent with the established mission of providing a terrestrial radio station operated and programed by students that has been in place for the past 44 years.”
Specifically, the appeal argues that student activity fees were used for large station expenditures that have provided benefits for an outside group (GPB):
Since 2013, the Administration of GSU has been using fees allocated for the operation of WRASAlbum 88, an established SO [Student Organization], in support of The Agreement. Without SAFC [Student Activity Fee Committee] approval or knowledge, fees have been used for the purchase of a new transmitter, other engineering purchases, employee hours for the station engineer, and numerous other costs. The expenditure of these funds in this manner represents a significant change in the purpose of student activity funds from supporting the terrestrial student broadcast to supporting the broadcast of a private statewide government broadcaster, Georgia Public Broadcasting.”
Additionally, the appeal alleges that GPB has violated FCC rules during the time in which it has been airing programming over WRAS’ FM signal:
…WRASFM (GSU) was issued a warning by the FCC in August 2014 due to GPB’s failure to comply with hourly station identification regulations. The Agreement exposes the university to FCC penalties should GPB fail to remain in compliance with FCC directives governing how broadcast outlets must operate…these instances of noncompliance place GSU at financial risk and, based on the policies governing student fees, place student activity fees at risk.”
Of most interest to me, are the allegations about the use of student activity fees to purchase a new transmitter. Ever since GPB’s takeover of WRAS’ daytime programming, I’d heard discussion about the transmitter purchase. According to the appeal, when seeking student funds for the transmitter purchase, GSU did not reveal that it was in talks with GPB and that GPB would benefit from the transmitter upgrade. The appeal states:
In April 2013, The Administration representatives Dr. Douglas Covey, vice president of student affairs, and Mr. Jeff Walker, WRASAlbum 88 faculty advisor, approached the SAFC to request funds to purchase a new transmitter to carry the WRASFM terrestrial signal. When approaching the SAFC with this request Dr. Covey and Mr. Walker pointed to several reasons for the purchase request. (1) The current transmitter was installed in 1985 and needed to be replaced due to age, (2) increased signal strength would increase access by students on campus as well as increase availability inside buildings, such as the Georgia Dome and the GSU Arena where GSU football and basketball games are respectively held, (3) improved market penetration into northern GA serving to increase the exposure of the university and would as a result have promoted student recruitment, (4) protect the terrestrial WRASFM signal against other stations encroaching on its bandwidth.
When making this request to the SAFC the Administration representatives failed to divulge that the Administration was well into negotiations with GPB over the use of the terrestrial WRASFM signal…It was discovered through Open Records Requests that in January 2013, senior GSU administrators and GPB representatives had already began discussion about the funding and operation of a new WRASFM transmitter. Given this information it is reasonable to assume that GSU and GPB had full intention to enter in to this contract and in doing so GPB would become the primary beneficiary of this new transmitter purchase. The Administration representatives had a responsibility to disclose that this transmitter purchase, which was estimated to total $676,000, would not go to solely supporting student organizations.
…the purchase of the new transmitter would provide the university with HD radio capability was a capability crucial to execution of the agreement, a fact that was not divulged to the SAFC and likely played a role in the timing of the request to purchase the new transmitter. The Administration had full intention at this time of allowing GPB on 14 hours of daytime terrestrial analog WRASFM broadcast time which encroaches on points (2), (3) and (4) as given by The Administration. Therefore when the SAFC was tasked by the Administration with approving the request it could not make an informed decision on the impact The Agreement would have on students, student organizations, or the University and if this request fell within the policies laid out by the University and the BoR. The Administration failed to provide complete information that would have allowed the SAFC to make an informed decision and in doing so renders the decision void.”
Additionally, the appeal argues that since the agreement with GPB went into effect, WRAS has lost listeners (even over FM), the station has become less influential in the music industry, and students have diminished opportunities to air sports programming. Sadly, WRAS has also seen a dip in station morale, a decrease in student engagement with the station, and diminishing awareness of the station on campus, according to the appeal. The appeal states,
The Agreement has caused a large drop in morale and the engagement of students continuing to work at WRASAlbum 88. The large loss in caller feedback and community support caused by the sharp decline in listenership to the station has caused fewer students to be willing to participate…While the station recently reached 76,300 listeners prior to the agreement , the stream students are delegated to during the day limits them to 250 concurrent listeners. This has significantly limited the input that the music department relies from.”
In its appeal, the student staff and management of WRAS are seeking redress from the Georgia Board of Regents. Specifically, they are asking for “full use of the WRASFM transmitter and the WRASFM terrestrial signal,” as well as a severing of the GSU/GPB agreement through its “exit clause.” They are also asking for GSU to “enter into mediated negotiations with the student staff and management of WRASAlbum 88 and their representatives concerning the creation of a binding operating agreement or charter for the organization to govern future operations and interactions between the University and WRASAlbum 88.” Finally, the appeal calls for a review of GSU processes regarding “the oversight of mandatory student fees” and a subsequent policy update “to insure proper and consistent oversight of student mandatory fees.”
To see the entire appeal, which includes an appendix full of supporting information, take a look at the PDF posted here. We will continue to monitor the situation at WRAS. See all of our WRAS coverage here (and take a look at my 2012 field trip to WRAS on Spinning Indie) and follow @SaveWRAS on Twitter for the most recent updates.
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