WRAS fans fighting GPB may have message for pubradio programmers

Commentary by Susanna Capelouto

A local business displays a Save WRAS sign

A local business displays a Save WRAS sign. (Photo: Susanna Capelouto)

I was a student DJ at WRAS, the college station that is about to be converted to a daytime NPR news/talk format by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

When I spun records there and learned to talk into a mic, the Indigo Girls still played free concerts on the Georgia State University plaza, before their big break. Later I went on to work as a reporter and news director for the 17-station GPB radio network, which serves every major city in the state except Atlanta.

I became an expert on rural Georgia during the 15 years that I spent there, but every day I lusted after an Atlanta signal. My colleagues and I knew that an Atlanta frequency would mean more underwriting and membership revenues for GPB and less dependence on state government funding.

When the people trying to #saveWRAS from a GPB news/talk format asked my opinion about the time-share agreement on Twitter, this was my honest answer.

The campaign that students and alumni are putting up to keep their eclectic, student-programmed music format at 88.5FM is fascinating to watch. There is a vicious social media campaign that takes cheap, unfair and angry pot shots at my friend Tanya Ott, GPB Radio v.p. and a veteran public radio news director, but it also shows wit, creativity and passion in posts that express betrayal and a fear of cultural loss. In the physical world of the streets and community gathering places, there are #saveWRAS stickers, T-shirts and benefit concerts. Local businesses are supporting the cause to save the station format.

Even Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s nightly programming stream, joined the fight by creating a 16-second video that it now runs as a bump between shows on its national broadcast.

Almost overnight it seems  #saveWRAS has turned into a brand, a call to arms against “the establishment,” a “stick it to the man” hipster cry with an Occupy Wall Street feel.

Who would have thought that millennial-generation adults cared so much about a terrestial signal? Doesn’t research show that the young don’t “do” radio anymore?  

Any professional programmer would agree that WRAS’s weekly cume of 65,000 listeners for a 100,000-watt signal in Atlanta is a waste of public airwaves. So what’s so wrong about providing a public service to Atlantans by airing high-quality midday news/talk programs that would attract more listeners to the station?   

When GPB put forth its formidable news/talk schedule for WRAS, I was waiting for core NPR listeners of Atlanta to join the social media conversation and proclaim, “I am glad we will finally get On Point and Here and Now on the FM dial,” or, “I can’t wait for Celeste Headlee’s new daily show! Finally, we Atlantans have a talk alternative to WSB Radio’s Herman Cain Show.”

Personally, I can’t wait to hear these public radio programs broadcast over the air! But there’s been no social media love expressed for the coming public radio news/talk format.

Granted, Atlanta has never had a full-time news station, so local listeners may not know what’s been missing. For public media professionals, I realize that it’s easy to dismiss the social media campaign as an echo chamber without consequences, but, having watched as it spread from online forums into the community, I’ve come to believe that public media can’t ignore the views that are being expressed.

If you strip away the vitriolic tweets, you’ll find a young audience that demands original content. Here are some reactions to the proposed format.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.30.02 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 12.32.04 PM

The perception among these young, media savvy WRAS supporters that quality public radio programs are canned, old or repetitive should send a warning signal to programmers and producers everywhere. These millennials, who are potential core listeners of the future, seem to believe that local noncommercial radio will only be relevant to them if it figures out how to be creative and original.

Maybe the GPB/WRAS channel-sharing agreement can become a real partnership that can blaze a new trail in public radio programming. One that looks around the podcast world for experimental programs instead of waiting for shows that are safely tested money makers, produced for public radio’s core audience. One that’s a little more PRX Remix and less predictably formated. One that allows the college radio creative vibe in to freshen up the sound and create a new brand of noncommerical radio.

I’m very cautiously optimistic, and will be listening with open ears.

Susanna Capelouto is a public radio journalist at heart and former editor at CNN-Radio.  She currently works at CNN.com as a writer and at CNN International as an assignment editor.
  • chipper

    Ms. Capelouto, thank you for your well expressed article. I would like you to reflect on a few points that you have overlooked / omitted.

    It’s more than just millennials that are WRAS Albumm88 listeners. I’ve talked with families whose children are listeners, seniors in their late 60’s that are still listeners, and many of my contemporaries ( i’m in my mid 50’s ) who are listeners. Many of us are NPR listeners as well and prior to this WERE GPB supporters. We are from many generations and We ARE WRAS ALBUM88!

    Maybe Atlanta has never had a full-time NPR news / talk radio station, but it is the home of CNN. And the AM dial is truly overwhelmed with that format. To say that ‘local listeners may not know what’s been missing’ seems disingenuous. We KNOW that format and the thought that it brings something new to this market is laughable.

    When you compare GPB’s 80% rebroadcast of NPR content already available on WABE, to the 96 hours weekly of musically and culturally diverse programming that it would replace on WRAS… many thousands of Atlantans recognize that for what it truly is, a LOSS to the GSU Students and the community. While there may be a place for a talk alternative to Herman Cain, it should not come at this price.

    A BIG problem we all have is the manner in which this ‘partnership’ was struck. You say that you long ‘lusted after an Atlanta signal’. Well, you weren’t alone. It’s common knowledge that the administration of GPB has lusted to insert itself into the Atlanta market for a long time. You show surprise that there has been no social media love expressed for the coming changes. I submit that the secretive way this ‘deal’ was done reflects badly on GPB and many wouldn’t want to be associated with that kind of non-ethical behavior.

    I would think it’s becoming obvious to GPB’s execs that when one strikes a back room deal, without involving the stakeholders, one likely starts out with a non-trivial cadre of opponents that will be hard to convert.

    You know, there wouldn’t be a WRAS Albumm88 for GPB to ‘partner’ with if it weren’t for 43 years of hard work and dedication by the students of GSU. While the University is the FCC license holder, the station was built and paid for by the Students. Subverting their efforts should be anathema to GPB’s ‘educational mission’.

    Finally, I think GPB would have engendered ALOT more respect if they had done what many of us have / had to do to pay for our path… save, scrimp, do without, be frugal AND buy our own! To me, it shows a major ethical and professional lapse to take from others what one lusts after.

    #SaveWRAS !!!

    • MarkJeffries

      But if this station is so great, why is it in last place in the ratings? Why should a 100,000 watt station have a minuscule audience? Do the majority of GSU stations listen to WRAS? I bet not.

      • chipper

        Mark Jeffries – It’s not just about how great you or anyone else thinks Album88 is. For over 43 years GSU students have built and paid for the station. For GPB to come in and usurp their efforts with a one-sided back room deal is ethically wrong. I would like to think you would be able to see that.

        Additionally, I’d like to point out that it takes GPB 17 plus stations spread across the state to have a better audience.

        With the exception of WABE, I doubt there are many who object to GPB radio coming to the Atlanta area. However, many do believe GPB should have approached this in a more professional manner and bought their own license / station, rather that prey on the little guy. The way this is playing out is causing a lot of people to lose respect for GPB.

        #SaveWRAS

        • Aaron Read

          You’re not wrong about how GSU students have funded (through student activity fees) and “built” WRAS…although one could make a legitimate argument about exactly what they’ve accomplished in that time.

          Regardless, the licensee is Georgia State University. Not the students. There is both an implicit and explicit contract between the administration and the student body that allows the administration to take actions regarding University properties as they see fit to provide maximum benefit to the overall University enterprise. In other words, the station does not and never has belonged solely to the students who work at WRAS.

          • Ray Redding

            Trollin’ Trollin’ Trollin………..

          • Brian Bannon

            The radio station is a University asset but the students are an afterthought?

            President Becker’s grandiose plans for the GSU campus, he hopes to get Turner Field when the Braves leave, may impress the movers and shakers but his students feel like bargaining chips in a sleazy power grab.

            As for what the students have accomplished over the years: The outpouring of affection for Album 88, even from much older veteran Georgia journalists:

            http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/05/demolition-of-album-88-another-sad-step-toward-sameness/

            and the indifference or disdain for GPB:

            http://www.gpb.org/blogs/best-of-public-radio/2014/05/24/weekend-programming-changes

            speak volumes.

            In the field of college radio WRAS is acclaimed as an industry leader. In the field of public broadcasters GBP is not. Who’s done the most with the airwaves, resources and missions they’ve been given?

            If GPB were a well-run, scandal-free organization this “Partnership” would be a lot easier to swallow. Instead, much of Atlanta wants to cough it back up.

          • Aaron Read

            “The radio station is a University asset but the students are an afterthought?”

            That’s not what I said. I said the station does not belong to the students WHO WORK AT WRAS…which I presume is somewhere between 50 and 150, maybe 200 students and/or community volunteers?

            Rather by definition, they represent a tiny fraction of the entire student body at GSU, which totals 32,000. Like any asset the University controls, the administration has to balance many competing needs in order to serve what they determine is the best use to achieve the institution’s mission. This is no different than the CEO and Board making strategic decisions at any major non-profit institution: they have a defined mission, and their actions are supposed to serve that mission.

            I can’t speak to GSU too specifically here since I don’t know their curriculum. But rarely does having a broadcast outlet that appeals to an off-campus audience have any relevance to a college’s core mission of educating its students (nor does it apply to the more cynical mission of “making money” – non-student/off-campus listeners don’t donate to the University, for the most part).

            This is not a critique of WRAS, per se, it’s more an analysis of paradigm that is quite pervasive across the college radio landscape. WRAS is by no means the first station to go through this process. They probably won’t be the last, either. But modern fiscal difficulties at many colleges mean college radio stations ignore these realities at their peril. Maintaining the status quo and sacrificing revenue at the altar of artistic freedom inherently makes your station vulnerable to deals like these.

          • Brian Bannon

            I invite any fair-minded public radio professional to look into this matter in depth: The partnership agreement and concerns raised by critics, the timing of its release, the rejection of similar deals by Georgia Tech’s radio station and WRAS under the previous University president, Teya Ryan’s troubled tenure as head of GPB, the proposed programming schedules compared to WABE, WRAS’s storied history and place in Atlanta’s cultural landscape, GPB’s history of political influence and cronyism, plus all the industry knowledge y’all might have about what’s best for non-commercial radio in the future. I have great respect for public radio but even the noblest professions have bad apples.

            WRAS supporters are not whining crybabies. They are very publicly-spirited lovers of music and radio that want what’s best for Atlanta and all concerned.

          • redape

            There is actually an EXPLICIT contract between the University and the students…that deals with the procedures to deal with the different student media. That contract is the University Code of Ethics that states that the Committee on Student Media that consists of a mix of faculty, students and administration officials (two that actually were aware of these negotiations over a year ago and kept it secret) is the group that is to handle student media policies, organization and funding. Essentially Becker violated the University’s own procedural system – the FCC mandated “community ascertainment” system – that had been established by the Regents through several prior University Presidents.

            This would be like establishing a student disciplinary procedure with statement of charges, hearings, the right of appeal, etc. and ignoring that but the President simply throwing the student out…with the rationale of L’Universitie? C’est Moi!”

            Regarding the licensee’s interest in providing maximum benefit to the “overall University enterprise”… FCC Regulations state “See Policy Statement, 90 FCC 2d at 907, ¶ 20; Reconsideration Order,97 FCC 2d at 264-65, ¶ 19. In the Reconsideration Order, the Commission addressed licensees’ concern “that the substitution of the term ‘licensee’ for that of ‘station’ [in the Policy Statement] extends the permissible area of suspended programming beyond those activities designed to raise support for the station’s operations to include activities designed to benefit the licensee’s other non-station institutional business or state operations.” The Commission acknowledged that the substitution of the term “licensee” for “station” had the unintended effect of expanding potential beneficiaries beyond that of the station itself.

          • Aaron Read

            I confess I’m not really understanding the third paragraph…can you elaborate on the relevance here?

            As for your first paragraph, taking that at face value I would agree 100% that the University violated its own internal procedures. That’s not really actionable with the FCC, though. You need a specific violation of *FCC* ownership rules (like with KUSF) to trigger their involvement, and even then they usually grant a lot of leeway for a license holder to fix the problem and try again. I wouldn’t put much stock in blocking the deal via the FCC on those grounds.

            However, it could be actionable within the University’s own procedures, or possibly within the state courts and/or legislature since this is a state school, no?

            The rub is that there’s probably language elsewhere in the governing documents of GSU that gives the administration wide leeway to “re-interpret” its own internal policies as they see fit. I can’t speak to GSU specifically, but such language is common at most colleges. (shrugs)

          • redape

            One of the main issue back in the 1984 Indecency issues by the FCC was when the University noted that it couldn’t regulate student expression in the media because of court cases protecting student expression. The FCC wanted the University to establish it had not abdicated control over the station. The University countered by showing that they had established a system of “delegated responsibility” backed by a Student Disciplinary Code that both protected student Constitutional rights as well as allowing Federal (FC), State, and Local laws and regulations to be enforced. The FCC eventually relented and accepted that “delegated responsibility” was an acceptable means of licensee control provided that such procedures were published (many stations were compelled to establish forma By-Laws at this time) and maintained by the licensee. So a licensee that doesn’t follow its own procedures can be investigated as to whether it has abdicated licensee control.

            The third paragraph. You stated that the licensee had an interest in promoting the totality of the University enterprise. Of course it does. But it also has a responsibility to avoid using the license it holds with the station as “currency” to promote those interests.

            For example, can a Non-Commercial licensee trade 14 hours of air-time a day on its station so that it can have the football team have broadcasts on a network of 17 stations on another Non-commrercial network?

            The quote I provided was a correction that the FCC made when they realized that they had mistakenly allowed licensees the right to use the station as a promotional machine for the licensees other interests. They quickly reversed themselves and stated that a licensee a) cannot receive consideration from an outside party except for the cost s of production related to that program, and b) cannot interrupt regular programming to fundraise for any entity other than the station itself. Thus the licensee cannot substantially (a brief PSA is acceptable for non-profits) interrupt programming to raise $$$ for the University Symphony, the Swimming Pool renovation, student scholarships, etc. Nor can they do this for any other external group barring an emergency authorization from the FCC.

            GPB is intending to interrupt programming to fundraise on WRAS. A document obtained by a FOIA request estimates, if they can draw of increasingly more supporters of WABE) that they will take in $200-$275K in pledges for each of the first four years and $1.2M-$1.7M in underwriting over that time (@ $7 Million). After subtracting their program origination, staff salaries, and other costs they offer GSU 25% of the pledge net and 50% of the Underwriting net. That amounts to a payment to GSU of $97,180 over 4 years. So, Pres. Becker is correct when he states “it’s not about the money” (although that is emphatically NOT true when it comes to GPB.

          • chipper

            Well, let’s see… where do you want to set the bar about accomplishments? I know of 2 nationally syndicated shows born out of WRAS Album88… Big Band Jump & Melodically Challenged. How about Public Radio in RI or GA?

            And while you are correct that the University is the licensee, you cannot dismiss the students as major stakeholders. I find it very telling that no one on the public media side is willing to acknowledge the lack of ethics and professionally of the manner in which this ‘partnership’ has been crafted. In a democracy, all voices are given a chance to be heard. Yet in this case, GPB stipulated that students not be brought into the conversation. They knew the likely outcome would be similar to what was encountered in 2007 when they tried to forge a similar deal at Georgia Tech. The Students Said NO!

            As much good as Public Media in general and GPB in Georgia does, in this case GPB is very much like the kid in terrestrial broadcast candy store crying “Mommy, I NEEEEEEEDDD it!”

      • Myke Johns

        In addition to what chipper said, the function of a university radio station is not to garner high ratings, it is an educational tool. There is a false equivalence being made between the cultural value of a thing and its exploitative value. Ratings have never been a priority for WRAS, and that is as it should be. As well, the station is listened to by Atlantans of all ages and demographics. Limiting focus to whether GSU students listen or not disregards the larger picture.

      • bryan heist

        Do you really think that ANY students are going to listen to the BORING regurgitated programing of GPB? I bet not. Go buy your own station, and quit stealing from the kids who built it.

        • MarkJeffries

          NPR programming has won almost 60 Peabody awards, the highest honor in broadcasting. How many Peabody awards has WRAS won? And why is playing music more important than the only serious and purposeful broadcast news organization left in America?

          • bryan heist

            WRAS has won numerous national awards for their content and programing. The UGA-Peabody committee has NEVER given an award to a college radio station as a whole. I used to respect NPR for their content but, based on the merit of their actions, they are better no better than the right-winged-military-industrial-complex who lie, cheat, and steal just to serve their own agenda.
            And music is VERY important. It is artistic expression of our culture, ideas, and change. I’m sorry you can’t appreciate the beauty and necessity of music in our culture.
            Again, go buy your own station. Quit STEALING from the students and community.

          • MarkJeffries

            On the merit of *what* actions? NPR doesn’t own GPB. They don’t own KUHF. They don’t own Nashville Public Radio. They don’t dictate to GPB anything–in fact, the *stations* own NPR as members, not affiliates. Documented proof that NPR is involved with the WRAS matter.

  • Brian Bannon

    I worked on a comment for awhile but chipper hit many of my points quite eloquently. But to reiterate: there’s more to this story than a generation gap. A lot of WRAS’s supporters are older and have listened for years. The way this deal was made, in secret and with no input from students, smacks of a culture of cronyism and corruption that’s all too common in Georgia.

    “Quality” news and talk programs still need to arrive on our airwaves in an honest and ethical way.

    Personal attacks are unwelcome but professional criticism is fair game. Tanya Ott’s recent interview with Creative Loafing, the first I’ve seen where someone from GPB answered serious questions about the “partnership,” is painful to read:
    http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2014/06/06/gpbs-tanya-ott-talks-wras-deal-stations-future-student-internships

    The turf battles between GPB and Atlanta’s independent public radio station WABE shouldn’t come at the expense of a vibrant and influential college station. WRAS is an important part of Atlanta’s music industry and has spawned many successful media careers and band successes. A duplicate airing of All Things Considered is not in the public interest.

    GPB’s integrity is already in tatters after hiring a former state legislature for $150,000 to host a radio show while he simultaneously “worked” a second full-time PR job for a trade association. The person at GPB who hired him is still in charge:
    http://intownwriter.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/georgians-deserve-teya-ryans-resignation/

    She was one of the principal officials involved in the GSU/GPB deal. The other was GSU’s a President Mark Becker who never even met with WRAS student leaders until he was shamed into doing so by public outrage. I might add that each makes multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars a year while WRAS student DJs are volunteers. Whose interests are they serving?

    The whole thing smells. Painting the controversy as Millennial disaffection is missing the point.

  • chipper

    Thanks Brian… I made a simple edit for clarity to my comment and now it appears to be stuck in mod limbo, hopefully it will be back soon.

  • mikey johnson

    For the record, the people running the Facebook and Twitter accounts aren’t millennials. That’s the idea that’s been tossed around as a way to quickly dismiss the arguments brought up by the #SaveWRAS movement. “Those are just a bunch of angry kids” couldn’t be further from the truth. And unlike the occupy wallstreet movement, this one actually has a central message and a team of lawyers.

    I never had a bad thing to say about GPB in the past. I’ve even had my band interviewed by them. But the fact that they refuse to have an open discussion about what most WRAS supporters feel like is a theft of their station, will only encourage more emotionally charged outcries and bitter sentiment towards GPB. They’ve done a horrible job of conveying what, if any, benefits there are to the students, listeners, bands, venues, stores and every other entity they’ve royally pissed off.

    If GPB goes down in a flaming mess, most Atlantans wouldn’t even care. And that is GPB’s biggest problem.

  • Aaron Read

    Has anyone complied a data-driven analysis that shows that WRAS is actually beneficial to musicians in the post-podcast age? There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but most of it is emotion-driven, not data-driven.

    I ask because I attended NonCommVention at XPN in 2009 and I recall being told by more than one label that only three, maybe four, non-commercial stations still mattered in the USA: KCRW in LA, WFMU in NYC, WXPN in Philly and maybe KEXP in Seattle. But that was it. And I specifically pressed them about college radio (not just public/non-comm) and came up dry.

    Knowing what I know of college radio, podcasting and marketing (which is a fair amount), I’m not sure how college radio can provide a lot of value to an up-and-coming band these days. The radio audiences are so small, that a solid band with a good web presence and some hustle on the local club circuit ought to be able to reach both more people and a more desirable demographic range than they can through most college radio outlets. Not all, of course, but most.

    This isn’t to say that college radio is useless. Not at all. But it’s nowhere near as important to “the biz” as it used to be, and I sense a lot of denial on that front.

    But, that’s why I’m asking. If there’s data out there to prove me wrong, I’d be very interested to see it.

    • Em Cee

      Aaron, I looked at your link posted earlier and you had some good thoughts to share there. Your comments here appear more argumentative. Frankly, any conversation at XPN is a little suspect — when I was in Philly students were lucky to serve coffee at “the radio station of the University of Pennsylvania.” The XPN model I remember is what we’d like WRAS to avoid. Were the labels you talked to, maybe, Triple A format? Why not ask the same question at CMJ? Or SXSW? WRAS is still influential, just not in XPN’s bailiwick.

      WRAS had not been competing for listeners. Part of that is the format that fosters diversity in programming. A LOT of diversity. Part of that are rules imposed on the student djs and managers that seem to prevent cross-promotion and community engagement. I’m not saying that the station should not re-evaluate the format. Perhaps the school should look at the rules that restrict the station from more community involvement. Maybe the students ought to consider listenership and watch statistics. What I’m saying is don’t hide the yardstick and tie the hands of the students and then call this a fair fight. It isn’t.

      • Aaron Read

        Well you’re right that NonCommVention is, by definition, biased towards “public radio” music stations like XPN since they make up the bulk of that new-ish “triple A” vanguard of station. So it stands to reason that the label reps going there will be biased towards such stations, too.

        FWIW, I haven’t been to CMJ in ages; too expensive to go on a whim and as an engineer I usually burn through my conference budget at NAB/PREC and College Broadcasters Inc. CBI doesn’t usually draw much in the way of label reps; they all go to CMJ and SXSW. And I’d LOVE to go SXSW but I’ll have to win the lottery first to afford it. :) Still, you make a fair point! I’ll ask my colleagues who DO go to such events to ask around about this point. It’d probably make for a fascinating case study.

        Also FWIW, you say it’s not a fair fight, and you’re 100% correct. But life isn’t fair, is it? :-/ People have been aware that colleges are selling off their licenses left and right since 2007, and aware of the reasons why: declining value of broadcasting to the core mission of the college, declining general revenues forcing hard budget choices, and the rise of (perceived) alternative media outlets. This is not a new phenomena anymore. There is no college radio station in the country that can keep operating as it did pre-Great Recession and not face the strong risk of what’s happened to WRAS, KTRU, WRVU, KUSF, WLIU, WNAZ, KCMP, WESU, and WRUR, just to name a few.

        If I seem a little combative, it’s only because I’ve been talking about this, extensively, for years to any student that’ll listen…and yet nobody believes it’ll happen to them until it’s already too late.

        • chipper

          Funny, GSU admin SWEARS it isn’t about the money… it’s about the exposure for the University and Students… 2 – 10 sec spots a day if I remember correctly… oh, and internships (which the students can already get BTW)… GPB should be jumping all over itself for the chance to provide these things as one state entity to another given their ‘educational mission’… What’s 20 seconds a day amongst friends?

          Not only is it not fair, it is NOT RIGHT!. Too bad you can’t see that,

          • redape

            Chipper…a station should certain be airing PSA’s and programming that it considers “in the public benefit” and have a system of selecting such programming/announcements. But that system for non-commercial stations has to be very careful to avoid a quid pro quo.

            Another no-no is that the licensee is supposed to avoid receiving “consideration” for it’s non-station operations (Departments, Sports, Orchestra, etc.) while using station air-time as an encouragement.

            That’s where the terms of this agreement get very shaky.

            The FCC uses the term “consideration received”…which can be cash, but can also be goods, services, and other benefits of value to the recipient. “Image Spots” on another station or network are consideration. When a non-commercial licensee receives consideration in exchange for broadcasting a program they are required to identify, in a non-promotional manner, the underwriter. The licensee cannot receive more than the actual cost to broadcast the program in consideration. This money from the program supplier can only cover those costs and no more. But the GPB money also goes to hire on a faculty/staff “internship advisor”. There’s also an arcane formula where GSU gets a cut of the underwriting and fundraiser moneys as part of that licensing fee, though how they find equivalency between the costs and the amount offered is obscure.

            Other “consideration” in the LMA (Local Management Agreement]-1) the GPB network of 17 stations will pre-empt their Saturday afternoon/evening programming [All Things Considered, Prairie Home Companion, Moth Radio Hour, Ask Me Another, On The Story, American Routes] to air Panther football. 2) The Communications Department and GSU-TV will be able to reserve 10 hours of airtime on GPB’s Sub-Channel TV service available on Comcast. 3) As part of the deal GPB is offering to air some GSU-related programming …a quarterly discussion by econ professors on the state of the economy; short interviews with faculty and administrators; and (perhaps the only one WRAS related, though this is ambiguous) a 30 minute “student”-produced [though GPB edited] program about “music” that will be aired on all 17 of the GPB stations.

            But you are completely right about the “public interest” aspect of these items…if they are so beneficial then they should not have to be in an LMA and should have been something offered up independent of any “consideration received” or “air-time” offered. But there they sit…packaged together in a quid pro quo agreement with a big red bow tied atop it!

        • Em Cee

          Aaron, I can see why you are frustrated. Can’t say that anyone did anything when the warning signs appeared, like Ga. Tech’s WREK fighting off GPB a couple years back. I’m not sure the students had anyone to ask for help, certainly not the GSU administrators. I like what’s going on now, with WRAS alumni organizing not just to oppose this deal, but to support the student run station when and if things get back to some sort of equilibrium. Hopefully it isn’t too late, there are some smart folks involved. Perhaps they’ll be willing to share their knowledge and experience with other college stations too if we can help them find the right combination of lawyers and business leaders to support the effort. Thanks for your enthusiasm and provocative comments!

  • Dejahthoris

    The fact the National Public Radio is taking over the airwaves of the College should be having a bigger inpact here in Georgia. Do we really need this state sponsored institution replacing the free and open airwaves and the voices of our best and brightest, our youth? I am really surprised Governor Deal has not said anything about this. The last thing we need is more NPR mouthpieces.

  • altfactor@hotmail.com

    Maybe there’s a noncommercial religious station with a big FM signal in or near Atlanta that GPB can actually purchase (as opposed to the proposed joint venture with WRAS) and run it as NPR news/information 24/7 while WRAS can continue as before.

    • bryan heist

      Yeah, good luck getting that for only $150K. And maybe they throw in some free labor from their alter boys guised as “internships”

  • Ray Redding

    Most of the SAVEWRAS supporters are NOT millennials or social media savvy young people. . Theyre lifelong fans of the station that were earned during its 40 year run. I tuned in religiously for new music s a teenager in the 80s, It became my reason for attending Georgia State in the 90s and is STILL locked on my radio dial tody at age 41. Some of us old folks can navigate social media just fine. Sening a Tweet or blogging doesn make you particularly internet savvy on the like it did in ’97, Susanna.

  • redape

    Actually a GPB takeover of WRAS…with essentially the same programming as Atlanta Public Radio (often at the same time)…is clearly an effort to undermine the latter. It’s duplicative programming that doesn’t serve the Atlanta community….is attempt to draw off APB’s audience (while supporting the WRAS takeover with the donations of those “franchises” outside of Atlanta). If that “Schadenfreude” technique sounds familiar, it’s how Starbucks and McDonalds push out local Mom and Pops. Last through the first years of losses then you can wear down the opposition and soon have the street corner to yourself.

    And the same argument that GPB makes to the students…that they can still be heard “on the net” is also true with “On Point” or Bill Nigut or Celeste Headlee. Why not encourage people to listen on the internet? After all, Atlantans really, really want Celeste Headlee and Bill Nigut!! Really!

    And to talk about “partnerships” when the one group that actually CREATED WRAS, Maintained the operations without a cadre of University paid staff, fundraised, promoted, programmed, who kept on the air 24-7-365 and FCC compliant…as part of the partnership is abhorrent. GSU is indeed the licensee, but that’s simply because the FCC in the 1950′s and 1960′s didn’t think students capable of running stations for 50 or more years. The FCC established the University as a steward to assist the students when absolutely necessary…not highway robbers.

    BTW Susanna…GPB is mandated by the FCC to offer internships as part of their EEO requirements…these should not be asserted to be only obtainable as part of this deal. And if giving Georgia State access to the TV Digital Subchannel is “in the public interest” then it should be done regardless…not as part of some “deal”. The same is true of the offer to broadcast GSU Panther sports on on the 17 GPB affiliated stations. Do you think that ALL the donors to the GPB affiliates (in Marrietta, Savannah, and Athens) will be happy to have their NPR programs pre-empted by Panther football, basketball and baseball? And all those “promotional” image spots that GSU will get in a quid pro quo for giving up nearly 60% of the broadcast hours…if promoting GSU is in the “public interest” then you should have been running these years ago.

    • Aaron Read

      “GPB is mandated by the FCC to offer internships as part of their EEO requirements”

      Not true. WRAS has fewer than five full-time employees, correct? Then they are exempt from EEO requirements. Which don’t cover internships anyways.

      • redape

        Aaron WRAS, being a student-run station with fewer that 5-FT Employees are exempt. But I specifically stated that GPB (Georgia Public Broadcasting) which certain DOES have more that 5 FT employees (my understanding is that they have over 200 FT staff, programmers, etc.) is mandated to offer internships or their equivalent as part of what’s often called the “four prongs” that are expected of larger stations or broadcasting groups.

        I quote from the FCC Policy manual regarding the EEO obligations of licensees.

        “The FCC’s EEO rules require broadcasters and MVPDs subject to the recruitment requirements to:
        1) widely distribute information concerning each full-time (30 hours or more) job vacancy, except for vacancies that need to be filled in demanding or special circumstances;
        2) provide notice of each full-time job vacancy to recruitment organizations that request notice; and
        3) complete two (for broadcast employment units with five to 10 full-time employees that are located in smaller markets) or four (for employment units with more than 10 full-time employees located in larger markets) longer-term recruitment initiatives within a two-year period. MVPDs must complete one (for units with 6 to 10 full-time employees in smaller markets) or two (for units with more than 10 full-time employees in larger markets) initiatives within a one-year period. These initiatives can include JOB FAIRS, SCHOLARSHIP and INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS and other community events designed to inform the public about employment opportunities in broadcasting.”

        So GPB actually should be offering internships to students regardless of this “agreement”, such activities are EXPECTED of them by the FCC as part of their FCC outreach.

        • Aaron Read

          Oh, I see what you mean now. My apologies, I thought you were talking that the GPB deal meant WRAS would now be subject to EEO rules; because this is a lease and not a sale (and thus GSU maintains ownership), they remain exempt from FCC EEO requirements.

          Yes, you are correct that GPB must meet the EEO requirements…although internships are just one of many ways they can accomplish that. They don’t HAVE to do internships. And absent the GPB/GSU deal, GPB isn’t obligated to offer internships to GSU students vs. students from other colleges.

          But that’s all the legal stuff. From an ethical and smart-business perspective, I agree with you 100% that entities like GPB should be offering structured internships to GSU students. It’s both the right thing to do and, politically, given GSU’s status as a major institution, the smart thing to do.

  • Em Cee

    Susanna Capelouto – glad you weighed in. Nice to see your thoughts as someone with loyalty to both organizations.
    From what I gather NPR stations have grabbing licensed bandwidth from their “weaker” cousins in college radio for several years, usually by cozying up with college administrators. Beats competing in the market when you can pick off the littler guy!
    The GPB grab is just business as usual, except that this time it is the country’s flagship student-run station. GSU has been known nationally as the home of great college radio for decades. Now its students will be left with a winless football team for a GSU identity, as GSU leadership tries to make “the concrete campus of Georgia State” look just like every public university. What a shame for the students, for Atlanta and for Georgia.

  • chipper

    That’s a nice wall of plaques. I believe that both WRAS and GPB have walls like that. You would have to direct that question to those parties, I can only speak from a listeners standpoint, hence the reference to the syndicated shows.

    I recognize that Universities may not be democracies, but they should strive, do their dead level best, to uphold the ideals of democracy.

    Unfortunately, you have it backwards regarding the ethics. GPB has been pursuing this kind of deal with GSU since around 2008. The previous GSU administration saw the inherent value in WRAS ALBUM88 and its terrestrial signal as part of the School brand. The current president does not. That is why we are here and why we are yelling at GPB as well. Regardless of your opinions, and those of public media in general, GPB needs to buy their own station in this market rather than ride in on the coattails of others.

    I would urge you to look into the questions posed to you and any other fair-minded public media professionals earlier by Mr Bannon.

  • Beth Healy Lee

    I will be 50 years old this year and vehemently support thie #saveWRAS cause. I was also once a contributor to GPB, but no longer am and will not become one again.

    Some might call me a millennial, but I assure you that it’s an entirely different millennium than the one most commenters may be thinking of.

  • Em Cee

    More fuel to the fire:

    http://www.11alive.com/story/news/local/2014/06/19/wras-savewras-gpb-georgia-state/10982051/

    WXIA’s Facebook page is blowing up right now with comments.

  • Em Cee

    The nation’s college radio stations band together in support of WRAS https://soundcloud.com/collegeradioday/wras-complete-final-final

  • bryan heist

    Look deeper into the method of the sampling done for these ratings. I just happened to be at my parents house when I answered the phone for a radio survey, their phone died after 15 mins so I didn’t count. There are tens of thousands who tune in AND listen but don’t have the white picket fence appeal of the pollers.

    • Aaron Read

      Nielsen ratings aren’t from telephone surveys, just PPM (portable people meter) results. They call people to interview them to decide whether or not to send them a PPM for a measurement period, of course, but I don’t think that’s what you’re referring to.

      Did the caller say they were from Nielsen? Or someone else? I’d be curious to know who’s doing surveys like that…frankly, if they’re legit I’d investigate them for our own station, since I have my issues with Nielsen in general.

      FWIW, there is a “black magic formula” that Nielsen (fyi, they bought out Arbitron several months ago) uses to determine who gets the PPM’s, and they regular cycle those people on a rolling basis to ensure gradual transitions. Supposedly this “formula” ensures a representative sample across all ages, genders, race, geography, socioeconomic status, etc etc etc.

      I readily confess myself skeptical about how effective that “formula” really is. I know for a fact the PPM system does not work accurately for signals that are too small to cover the entire measured metro; you frequently have to chug a lot of koolaid to interpret the results. Similarly, when you have a REALLY niche format, with a narrow but deep audience, the PPM has trouble measuring that.

      I don’t think…emphasis on “think”…that can explain away the situation with WRAS, though. First, their signal is huge; it covers the entire market and then some. Second, even a “niche” format, if successful, would be showing better ratings than WRAS does. For example, WCLK’s all-jazz format (jazz on the radio is the living example of “narrow but deep” audience) still gets nearly three times as many listeners.

      • fmdj1

        Aaron,
        I understand where you are coming from with concerns over ratings vs the signal and market, however, if that was truly a concern of the University, they should have worked from within. A coordinated marketing campaign and some on-air imaging could have gone a long way to increase those numbers, particularly when you consider Atlanta’s significant art scene. Using cume as an excuse without doing anything to address cume is a red herring. Saying that a station should gather a larger audience just because it exists and has good coverage of a large market doesn’t fly in commercial radio and shouldn’t in public radio. If the University had really cared about ratings, they would have drawn on their significant trust of professors and alumni to see if it could be fixed, maybe put together an advisory board, and put a little more effort into it rather than what they did. They clearly missed the boat on what they could have done with what they had and now are paying the negative press price.

        • Aaron Read

          No argument from me! I agree 100% that GSU *could* have put more resources into training, management, marketing, etc to increase WRAS’s audience reach and impact.

          The question, of course, is: who will pay for it? You’re talking about a sustained change of operations, and there would definitely be a cost. Likely the additional of FT staff, too (either admin or faculty), since if the students could’ve realistically done it on their own, they would’ve. I have almost never found a college radio station where students were lacking in enthusiasm and big ideas; but rarely have I found one where they had the ability to execute those ideas unless there was substantial institutional manpower helping them.

          So what pays for those costs?

          Will SA Fees support it? Maybe, but that’s a big expense. Just one entry-level FT position is probably $50k/yr for salary & benefits (those bennies add up!). An experienced professional could cost over $100k/yr. And you might need more than one person to do it right. Never mind the actual cost of buying print or TV ads, billboard rentals, etc. GSU students who aren’t involved with and/or don’t listen to the station would have a legit gripe about that money.

          Will the station be expected to raise its revenue to support it? Maybe it can, but that’s a massive shift in operations and programming approach. One that would likely cause its own protest from WRAS fans (see WERS, Emerson College).

          I’d like to think GSU’s administration did actually consider the cost/benefit of putting more money into the existing station paradigm. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the GPB deal offered far more ROI, both to the bottom line and to the educational mission of GSU.

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