GPB coming to Atlanta airwaves with WRAS-FM deal

By Ben Mook

In a channel-sharing agreement announced Tuesday, Georgia Public Broadcasting will expand its public radio service into the Atlanta market starting June 1 via Georgia State University’s 88.5 WRAS-FM.

GPB Radio will program the station with a news format from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., providing Atlanta with its first public radio outlet to air news in midday hours. The city’s WABE, operated by Atlanta’s public school system, airs NPR’s newsmagazines but also schedules classical music from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.

“We wanted to bring something that is not currently in the market,” said Bert Huffman, v.p. of development for GPB. “We recognize that people can get classical music from WABE.”

Atlanta is big enough to handle another public radio station, Huffman said, especially considering that the programming will differ.

“There are plenty of markets that have more than one public radio station,” Huffman said. “We think that what we’re doing is offering an alternative, and that’s why we’re going with news and information.”

GSU students will continue to program WRAS during evenings and overnight hours. Student-programmed daytime shows will be webcast.

Under GPB’s two-year agreement with the university, the broadcaster will cover the station’s operating expenses, including electricity ($48,000 per year), a staff supervisor’s salary (about $49,000 annually) and a lease for office space.

GPB’s spending is capped at $50,000 for the first year of the agreement, with an increase to $100,000 in the second year. If the agreement is extended, GPB will pay full operating costs.

The deal took WRAS’s student programmers by surprise. “We as a staff and family are devastated by this decision that we had no say or part in,” management and staff wrote in a statement published by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “While we understand our programming will persist mostly via online streaming and HD FM, this completely disrupts our mission: to provide top-grade programming that allows our listeners to connect via discovering new music.”

A Boycott GPB on 88.5 Facebook page has more than 4,000 likes, and a petition opposing the deal has accumulated more than 4,700 signatures.

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