Posted: 5:52 pm Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Q&A with GSU president Mark Becker about WRAS/GPB partnership 

By Rodney Ho

GSU president Mark Becker said the GPB partnership will give both film, TV and radio students greater opportunities for exposure. CREDIT: GSU

GSU president Mark Becker said the GPB partnership will give both film, TV and radio students greater opportunities for exposure. CREDIT: GSU

The surprise announcement of Georgia Public Broadcasting partnering up with 88.5/WRAS-FM has caused a maelstrom of controversy, kicked up heavily by angry RAS alumni on social media.

Mark Becker, president of GSU, was at the AJC coincidentally today to talk about their proposal to take over Turner Field and I got a few minutes with him to discuss the GPB deal. (You can read details of what is going to happen next month here.)

Here are some excerpts:

Ho: How long has this been in the works?

Becker: There’s been conversations on and off for years and years, well before I ever arrived.

Ho: Why now?

Becker: Everything has come together around this being an attractive opportunity for Georgia State University… First off, for the radio side, the WRAS component, the students continue to program 24/7 as they always have. The only difference is that it won’t be out on an analog antenna at all times. At times, it will be purely digital, at times, it will be both. On top of that, they get the opportunity to program a new show for a much larger audience and go statewide. That’s the music stories piece in the announcement. [It's a 30-minute weekly show created by the students that will be part of the block GPB controls.]

The way this works is RAS will continue to be a student-0perated radio station. GPB does not have editorial oversight over RAS.

Ho: People were talking about that online.

Becker: GPB only has editorial oversight on the music show because it’s produced for them. The rest of RAS is student run. What changes is at 5 a.m. in the morning until 7 p.m at night, it flips. Another opportunity for the students is pick up a new group of listeners above and beyond those they already have when the switch flips at 7 p.m. They continue to do a great job and have shows at 7, 8 and 9 where they could potentially grow their listenership.

Ho: A lot of students listen in the evenings.

Becker: If you look at it, the majority of listenership is a more mature audience, older than 30 years old and are not alums. There are many who are and many who are not… It’s a great, innovative station and will continue to be and will continue to have its own operating structure. But there’s the opportunity to pull in other folks who demographically are already listening to WRAS. Some emails I got say they listen to both WRAS and WABE.

Another component that made us more interested was a year and a half ago, our communications department that runs our film production program in a meeting said they were looking for an opportunity for an outlet for students to produce more film and TV. We have an internal GSU television studio that is not run by students. This provides the same opportunity for students on the film and video side have that radio students have. It expands student opportunities [by allowing them to work at GPB.].. It’s a big growing part of Georgia State University. You know what the film industry is doing here. We are a big player here in terms of our programs.

Ho: Some argue that this becomes less appealing for students because they won’t be on the analog signal during the day and decrease their influence with recording artists and labels.  Do you agree with that?

Becker: That’s only if people want it to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a lot of digital content out there that’s doing quite well that has listenership on par or greater than WRAS. Note that TV is all digital. Radio is going in that direction… With GPB as a partner, they can produce content if it’s picked up by this audience that flows over from GPB, they can grow not only the local audience but syndicate and potentially go nationwide throughout the NPR network. The opportunities for the students at RAS are opportunities they’ve never had before. Look. They are recognized nationally already. But they can up their game by growing their listenership and in this digital world, it doesn’t have to be within the 100,000 watt listening area.

Ho: A lot of students felt they were blindsided. They weren’t given advance notice or involvement.  Do you feel like that would have complicated things if you had?

Becker: There’s no way you could do something complicated like this in the way that some people would have liked to happen.

Ho: What would have happened if you offered a trial balloon?

Becker: That’s a hypothetical. I can’t tell you what would have happened. I can tell you that anything with this level of complexity and this level of benefit really is not the kind of thing you can play out in a public forum. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t happen that way.

Ho: Do you think social media would have gotten crazy?

Becker: Look at what happened over the past 24 hours.

Ho: But it’s a done deal.

Becker: But what’s happened in the past 24 hours is it’s gone on social media and there’s been a lot of misconceptions.

Ho: Like people saying the students will lose total control of the station.

Becker: Some of the emails said it’s about money. That’s patently false. If it was about money, we would have sold the license.

Ho: You’re not getting a lot of money from this.

Becker: Exactly.

 

 

22 comments
MrRadio
MrRadio

Fact is, WRAS will sound different than other college stations:It will sound professional and focused (at least in the daytime).


The philosophy at “Album 88” is to NOT sound like a commercial station.  So when these students get to the world of real broadcasting, they will sound like hacks and they won’t make it.   This has not always been the case, as some of Atlanta’s best-known broadcasters worked there in the 1970s and 80s, when WRAS was truly used as a training ground, and there were standards in place and a curriculum to back up the work.

The “alternative” brand is now as faded and dated as “disco.”  Nobody’s buying anymore.  It had a short life at commercial radio (99X), and then grew old and died.  The stations that played “alternative” music have had to change.  Not even WRAS is immune.

WRAS staff was never of the understanding that our ratings mattered.”  If you work for a radio station and you really don’t think your ratings matter, then you are stupid.  It’s all about getting the maximum number of ears on your frequency, regardless of whether you’re a commercial station or a college or not for profit.  Why is this?  Because whatever it is you’re doing on the air, you want people to hear it, and if anyone tells you anything different, they are either ignorant or they are lying to you. 

GSU wants people to listen, and they secured a smart deal to try and get more listeners.  This promotes GSU, and this is good for the school.

BlindOwl
BlindOwl

Man, the hipsters are ticked! How many people at WRAS became lifelong students so they could play "Radio DJ" over the years? WRAS programming on Saturday and Sunday has been littered like that for years. 


You want the station to be taken seriously? Stop stumbling through back-tracks of set lists. Train people to know what to really do in a studio instead of "just check the meters every two hours and call somebody if a tower light goes off." 


But hey, if you just want to a place to go play "Radio DJ" for 10-12 years while you act like you're getting a degree, I can see why you'd be ticked.

Manman
Manman

He sounds just like Comcast executives claiming their buyout of Time Warner is good for the customer.

JerryDrawhorn
JerryDrawhorn

It's really appalling that the very group that oversees the programming philosophy and business end at WRAS were not even informed about those "years of discussion". That's the Faculty-Staff-Student MEDIA BOARD that was actually given that role by the GSU Administration and Regents. This completely went around that committee. It was kept secret for years…no chance for input or and expression of desires and needs on how a partnership might work. The Media Board would have realized that the station was not "simply" the property of the University, but was originally a student-run organization that through gifts, decades of student "sweat-equity" (they were never EVER paid as employees of the University which is done in all other University owned enterprises and departments), and small contributions of STUDENT FEES that the station exists as the 100,000 Watt station that made it a "valuable property" today.


Maybe Becker should pay the back wages of all those students who he now seems to view as being employees at a University operation??? 


If digital is such the big thing that Becker thinks it is WHY was GPR so demanding and intent on getting an analog signal in Atlanta? If analog is so inferior then why do they want it (answer: It was a massive "gift" to them…they know the importance of having a real radio signal in Atlanta, and the $150,000 is far less than the cost of building a stand-alone broadcast station…costing tens of millions of dollars. This is about the cost of a a small in-fill really that might cover a few city blocks in downtown Atlanta. 


In exchange, Becker and his Administrators get to use GPR as a Public Relations tool to cement their status as movers and shakers in Atlanta. I foresee a political run, or perhaps a Federal appointment in this mans future.


Digital is complementary to an analog broadcast signal…but there is no digital radio source that has the reach of broadcast signals in terms of audience or recognition. TV is all digital? Yeah…but it is not restricted to the internet. Does Becker even understand the distinction between digital signals and the means of transmission???


Beckers logic: Students give up 14 hours of broadcast time each day in exchange for a 30 minute once a week program. 98 hours for 30 minutes…seems fair. Oh…and plus, the product of whatever the students put out can be censored, edited, or dropped. Becker :" GPB only has editorial oversight on the music show because it’s produced for them."


And contrary to Becker there is no guarantee in the contract that the TV students will have the access to studios or broadcast capability. It is by no means equitable to the situation at WRAS where they have their own studios, transmitter,production facility, control what is produced and broadcast, and have a student management team that gains "real world" experience in running a complex operation. 

MrRadio
MrRadio

WRAS is not a “training tool,” it is just a college radio station with a monster signal that was being underutilized.  As correctly stated in another post, there is no “radio curriculum” at Georgia State.  And it’s also true that these kids have no interest in GPB.   It’s just a bunch of college kids goofing around on the radio and playing silly college music (which they can still do from 7pm to 5am). Now GSU has found a way to leverage their brand via a deal with GPB.  Good for them.  It makes sense.


Still don’t believe me that WRAS isn’t a “training tool?”  The WRAS student management statement from Tuesday says, “…[U]p until the announcement was made this morning, WRAS staff was never of the understanding that our ratings mattered.”  In real radio, ratings matter.  So, again, this is not a “training tool.” 


I remember when WRAS raised heck about getting a 100,000-watt signal.  Well, they got it, and that made the station’s license more valuable.  So if WRAS is supposed to be a “training tool” for future radio broadcasters, then this is lesson 1:  Format changes can occur at any time and are at the sole discretion of management.   


I wish WRAS lots of success in their new format.

Baghead
Baghead

"GPB has editiorial oversight on the music show".  So, when  you say the only difference is the analog to digital output is dead wrong.  You are now changing the music format, so bye bye listeners.

Jokerman64
Jokerman64

Students are being sold down the river by the Governor and his cronies. I will be voting for someone other than Nathan Deal this Fall. He is now orchestrating a state buyout of Turner field by GSU. Its all related.

Dismuke
Dismuke

As one might expect these days, yet another unversity president makes a unilateral decision without considering the impact on the students and the community at large.  WRAS has been a vital training tool for GSU students, and a vital voice for music in metro Atlanta, for over 40 years now.  It's obvious to me Becker cares nothing about that. 

suj
suj

Becker: If you look at it, the majority of listenership is a more mature audience, older than 30 years old and are not alums.

You're right! There ARE a lot of us over 30 out here, and WE think what you've done is abhorrent. There's a reason that WREK turned GPB down. GSU should have done the same. You want my alumni support, GSU? Guess what -- you're not getting it. 

CarltonWood
CarltonWood

All due respect to President Mark Becker, but the idea that this decision would be made without including key stakeholders like the students and alumni is just ridiculous. He has greatly misunderstood how important WRAS is to the culture of Georgia State and to the city of Atlanta. GSU Journalism, Film and Video students could have been provided countless other internship opportunities with a variety of broadcast stations and the entire Turner cable system if that was their main goal.


It makes no sense that GSU gets in the middle of the competitive feud between GPB and WABE. This is a really bad decision and I hope Georgia State leadership is big enough to realize they made a mistake and reverse course.

LHardingDawg
LHardingDawg

Sounds like he's speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Atlanta might as well face it, the station will be completely GPB in a year or two.

MrRadio
MrRadio

After reading some of the entries on the "Save WRAS" petition, I think GSU should take the station completely offline and put that money into the English department.

MrRadio
MrRadio

@BlindOwl  Brilliant and absolutely true.  If WRAS is a "training tool," then the training is seriously lacking.

"Hi.  I'm...ummmm...Doug....and I'm...like...on the radio and stuff..."

DeeClaborn
DeeClaborn

@MrRadio  - All college radio stations at their core are the very definition of training tools. What is the purpose of the biology lab? What is the purpose of the photography lab? Mr Radio- Go back and look at the statements that were undoubtedly made by GA State when WRAS was founded and I am sure you will see that it was formed to help train college students for careers in broadcast journalism - not to acquire ratings or to become a commercial radio station. All college radio should be student run and student programmed. That is the very essence of college radio.  

BelieveinATL
BelieveinATL

@CarltonWood  GSU already has HD equipment and facilities. GPB is not offering to build out additional infrastructure at GSU,  GSU students in the Communication Dept. are not interested in GPB or they'd already be there.  Not to mention they traded Radio for TV.  BTW- There is no Radio Program (curriculum) at GSU. WRAS is it. GPB is the only one who benefits in this equation. 480i 2 Mbps SD channel. please. students know about this thing called the internet, where there are no geographical or political boundaries.  shameful

MrRadio
MrRadio

@LHardingDawg  If NPR programming draws more listeners than the music format, I am sure it will.  Why wouldn't it?

MrRadio
MrRadio

@DeeClaborn  If it's supposed to be a training ground, then perhaps sounding somewhat professional might be a good idea.  

I know someone who worked at WRAS because he wanted a career in music radio.  He was told that he sounded "like someone on 96 Rock" and to knock it off.  So, no, it's not a training ground when you're told to do the opposite of what real radio stations want.

GSU has Photography and Biology courses and labs that support those courses.  There are no Radio courses at GSU.  There used to be, but not anymore.

NPR will sound great on a 100,000-watt city grade signal.  You just wait.


Sandik2129
Sandik2129

@MrRadio  I think a lot of real radio stations want to set themselves apart from other radio stations, and that is what WRAS strives for as well (and they are very good at it).  They encourage the DJs to simply talk like they would in a normal conversation.  And the music might be silly to you, but that is subjective (have you considered that some may prefer listening to music over NPR programing?).  A lot of people love the music being played on WRAS, and regardless of what you may think, a lot of time and effort goes into picking the music.  I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that the students are "goofing off" on the radio, but I have done several sit-ins at WRAS and I can assure you they work very hard and take their jobs very seriously.  People are complaining about a decision that was made without input from the community or students.  Maybe there could have been a reasonable compromise had they not sprung this huge (non-negotiable) change on everyone involved.  It seems very oppressive to me.


Maybe GSU should have brought back the radio curriculum instead of tarnishing Album 88's legacy.  It is obviously something the students are interested in. Oh wait, that doesn't matter does it?  

MrRadio
MrRadio

The programs on the new WRAS will be NPR programs that WABE doesn't currently air.

Manman
Manman

@MrRadio Because we like WABE and we don't want GPB encroaching on their turf?

MrRadio
MrRadio

It amazes me that people are complaining about a decision that allows Atlantans to have more access to NPR programming.