President Becker of Georgia State University signed a $150,000 contract with Teya Ryan to give Georgia Public Broadcasting a 14-hour daytime slot on Georgia State’s student-operated radio station (Blau). This decision by Becker shifted student de-jays from their usual broadcasting slot on WRAS 88.5 FM to online streaming during the day and a night-time broadcasting slot. The Atlanta community responded with strong objection and a fight for student-control by several protests, petitioning and forming a non-profit. Fuel for the fight comes from the difficulty faced by students who operated WRAS 88.5 FM, listeners of WRAS, and bands aired on WRAS. More than those directly involved in 88.5 FM were impacted, like the general student population and another radio station, WABE. When all of this is put in a bigger picture, it is clear that Georgia State is only following a trend among college radio stations, and there are some connected issues in the higher education system of Georgia.
The initial statements released by Teya Ryan and President Becker were vague, and the pair aimed to avoid spotlight by the public sector. The announcement was made on May 6, the last day of classes at Georgia State. DH, a student affairs professional at Kennesaw State University, said, “When making an unfavorable decision, officials seek not to solve the issue, but let it disperse over time” (Harvill). His opinion would suggest this strategic announcement on the last day of classes was planned with intent to avoid public attention, but the strong student dedication to the radio station began the public outcry. Graduates of 2014 illustrated their view on the takeover by painting the words “Save WRAS” in blue and white on their commencement caps to be displayed in front of the thousands who attended the graduation ceremony (Reimold). Whether or not this was the intention of university officials, the graduation ceremony was only the beginning of the public outcry displayed by the Atlanta community in response to GPB’s takeover of WRAS.
The public continued to display their concern after the graduation protest in May. A month after the initial announcement, Georgia Public Broadcasting released its programming schedule on June 29 and the community responded with objection. A dozen protestors were spotted at 10:30 am on Monday, June 30 at GPB’s headquarters. Fans sported “Save WRAS” signs, t-shirts, and even stickers which they placed over their mouths to demonstrate GPB’s silencing of their opinions (Ho).
Even three months after the initial announcement that split 88.5 FM, a group of WRAS volunteers were on GSU campus during August 25-27 to keep the public discourse going between students and community members regarding Georgia Public Broadcasting’s daytime takeover (Radford). Volunteers even organized a rally and benefit concert. One-hundred WRAS fans led an evening protest at Hurt Park on Thursday, August 28. After the rally, protestors marched to the Mammal Gallery where a benefit concert was held, and a two-dollar donation was taken at the door (Radford).
The objection was not limited to protests, but it was also depicted in other public areas such as social media. “Save WRAS,” a boycott page on Facebook, has more than 9,000 “likes.” There is also a petition found on change.org with over 12,000 signatures. The “likes,” signatures, and social media posts multiply daily, but are only some of the means of public objection to the merged radio station (Reimold). A group of Georgia State alumni have made a legal step past signing a petition—forming Album 88, an official non-profit organization to support the fight against Georgia Public Broadcasting’s takeover. “We want to give GSU students who work at WRAS the best possible opportunities to learn about radio, music production and broadcasting. But we believe giving most of the daily broadcast hours to GPB will reduce, not expand, the opportunities for students,” said Zachary Lancaster, Album 88 Alumni President (Blau).
Listeners do not have the same access to music, and musicians no longer receive daytime play. “Since 1971, WRAS has played a mix of new independent rock, hip-hop, experimental noise and electronic music that’s played by no other radio station in Atlanta,” said GM (Martin). Instead of students continuing to broadcast music in the day, GPB’s side of WRAS airs news programming. Students begin their broadcasting at night, and during the day they have to stream online. Listeners were accustomed to student broadcasting and music in the morning, and local bands relied on the opportunity of discovery the station gave their music. “WRAS is an emblem of Atlanta’s cultural legacy: past, present, and future. A world-renowned outlet for local voices, remarkably diverse music, and undiscovered talent,” reads the petition found on change.org (Reimold). The cultural significance of WRAS and love of music could account for part of the objection from the Atlanta community.
Not only are the musicians and listeners disappointed in the lack of student broadcasting, the student de-jays are burdened by lost experiences that shaped their radio personas, and students who are not directly involved with the radio station were ignored when they voiced concern. “The loss of day-time hours undermines the identity the students have developed working in radio, broadcasting, and music production,” said DH. Students were promised internships at GPB, but they do not make up for the lost air time and experiences that formed their identity as a student de-jay at Georgia State University (Harvill). DH continues in his interview concerning WRAS, “The decision was hastily made without any consideration to the opinions of the radio staff, student government or the general student population at Georgia State. The general student population who does not listen to WRAS was completely ignored.” DH is not the only person to have an opinion on this issue. “If students are not taught democracy where does our future stand?” proposed BF, a parent of a student attending Georgia State in her interview concerning WRAS. There is great concern not just for student de-jays, but for every student attending Georgia State University due to their voices not being heard.
Students at Georgia State lost their right to democracy, student de-jays lost air-time, listeners lost access to music, and musicians lost their daytime exposure, but 88.5 is not the only station moved by GPB’s National Public Radio broadcasting. Mike Savage, the general manager at Purdue University’s public radio station, said, “I believe this is a power play by GPB to potentially cripple WABE, with whom they have never had a very good relationship” (Ho). WABE, 90.1 FM, used to be the only NPR station to broadcast “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” and now GPB is duplicating the programs. WABE may also lose listeners during the time they play classical music to GPB’s full day of news broadcasting. (Ho).
Georgia State University is one of a dozen universities that has adjusted student-operated air time for financial gain. “WRAS isn’t the only college station to be transformed. Cash-strapped universities are discovering that their student stations are lucrative assets,” said KM in her article, “College Radio Changes Frequency” (Mehrotra). Rice University sold its frequency and tower for 9.5 million dollars, Vanderbilt University sold its station for 3.35 million dollars, and the University of San Francisco sold its license for 3.75 million dollars—all of which are currently operated by public-broadcasting networks (Mehrotra).
Georgia State University follows the trend of college radio states, but differs from Rice University and Vanderbilt University due to the fact that it is a public institution. Frank LoMonte, executive director of Student Press Law Center, addresses in a letter to President Becker the difference when dealing with the public sector. LoMonte says, “Your assertion that ‘anything with this level of benefit really is not the kind of thing you can play out in a public forum’ is exactly, 100 percent wrong” (LoMonte). That is not the only thing LoMonte proposes against President Becker; LoMonte points out that Becker’s comments ignore the First Amendment considerations that apply when making decisions about the content of student media. LoMonte claims that students at state institutions have the constitutionally protected right to choose what they publish or broadcast, free from institutional censorship (LoMonte). He does not stop with stating the decision was unconstitutional. LoMonte continues, “If secrecy breeds shortsighted government decisions, haste breeds disastrous ones. This decision was both secretive and hasty.” Whether it is viewed as favorable or unfavorable, the decision for GPB to take over airtime on 88.5 FM was rushed, and the First Amendment rights that apply to student broadcasting were ignored while two public institutions made a public decision in private.
In response to the hasty decision made by President Becker of GSU and Teya Ryan of Georgia Public Broadcasting, there has been a huge public outcry, and an on-going fight for student-control of WRAS. This seemingly small decision only exemplifies an overreach in higher education; officials do not want to face the outcome when making an unpopular decision, but let it disappear over time. There was no democracy or even a concern for those affected, and the higher education system of Georgia State University kept this decision in private in hopes that it would disappear.
Blau, Max. "GPB to Take over WRAS Daytime Programming, Student DJs Blast Unexpected Move." Creative Loafing Atlanta. N.p., 06 May 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
Blau, Max. "WRAS Alumni Form Nonprofit to Keep Station Student Run." Creative Loafing Atlanta. N.p., 2 June 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
Ford, Brenda. Personal Interview. 15 Sept. 2014.
Harvill, Drew. Personal interview. 15 Sept. 2014.
Ho, Rodney. "Changes at WRAS Will Benefit Public Radio News Fans." Things to Do in Atlanta from the AJC. N.p., 07 May 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
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Radford, Chad. "#SaveWRAS Rally and Benefit Takeover Hurt Park/Mammal Gallery This Thursday." Creative Loafing Atlanta. N.p., 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
Reimold, Dan. "Fight to Save WRAS Ramps Up: Benefit Concert, Graduation Protest, Petition & a Boycott Page." College Media Matters RSS. N.p., 14 May 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.