Posted: 11:42 am Monday, May 12th, 2014

WRAS students, alums fight GPB partnership – but will it work? 

By Rodney Ho

Ana Zimitravich, outgoing GM for WRAS, holds the hashtag students are trying to use to get the word out. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Ana Zimitravich, outgoing GM for WRAS, holds the hashtag students are trying to use to get the word out. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Georgia State University knew if they revealed their plans to give 98 hours a week of 88.5/WRAS-FM’s airtime to Georgia Public Broadcasting before the deal was signed, the outrage might have made it difficult for them to pull it off. So instead, they did it in secret and announced the deal to students and the public at large after the fact.

The students who work at WRAS were in shell shock the first day. But now that reality has set in, they are fighting back the best way they can, even though they know the train is already out of the station and GSU president Mark Becker is not exactly open to changing his mind.

To make matters worse, they see the timing as deliberate. Most students have left campus now that finals are over. And this is the time when WRAS has just changed student management. Their key advisor, Jeff Walker, who has been the station’s rock for more than three decades, is coincidentally (or not) retiring in July and keeping his mouth shut, caught in the middle of a controversy not of his making.

The students are not going rogue on the radio. They have followed management’s request to keep things neutral on the air. But that isn’t’ stopping them from trying other means to kick up a fuss.

Hashtag? Check. (#SaveWRAS)

Facebook page? Of course. (https://www.facebook.com/savemywras?fref=photo, which now has 5,273 followers)

Website? Check. (savewras.com)

Petition? Check. (Sign up here. There are 8,300-plus names)

Special logo? Got it!

wras protest

They encouraged graduates to place #saveWRAS logos on their caps Saturday. Several reportedly tried to hand out stickers at graduation at the Georgia Dome and the university shuttle but were booted out. So they retreated to the Georgia Dome MARTA station.

They are now on a full-court media press, courting sympathetic journalists for coverage, before the change is set to happen sometime early next month.

Ana Zimitravich, the outgoing general manager for WRAS who plans to stay through the summer, has spoken out the most. I stopped by the station for a couple of hours last Thursday and the students are trying their best to be optimistic.

“We’re trying to facilitate our listeners and students and alumni,” Zimitravich said.

They are calling WRAS alumni to get them energized and hope they can cause enough headaches with GSU management to at least delay or possibly change the arrangement. (Several alum are meeting Monday night to see what they can do to bring pressure on GSU.) If they can convince some heavy hitters to withhold donations, that might have an impact. (The contract enables GSU to end the deal at any time over the two years, with 30 days notice.) They are reading the contract and the charter for the station trying to find loopholes for possible legal action.

“They’ve been talking about it as a trial period,” said Josh Martin, outgoing program director, in a follow-up interview Monday. “But the legal wording allows it to be instantly renewed until 2020.” He said the contract also makes it possible for GPB to eventually share the radio license with GSU.

“We’re resilient,” he said. “We’re in a lot better place than we were organization wise than we were last Friday. We’re working with alumni. We’re talking to people in the music industry.”

“There is  a larger termination clause in the contract,” he added. “We’re doing everything we can to make that happen.”

They are requesting a meeting with Becker and are organizing a benefit concert.

Ziggy (left) earlier this week made calls to alums. He consults with Ana (right) CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Ziggy (left), the incoming assistant promotions director,  earlier this week made calls to alums. He consults with Ana (right) CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

The clock is ticking and the impact of this change, students believe, will be severe.

By losing the analog channel, they believe they will lose virtually anyone listening in the car or on their home alarm clocks, where FM radio is mostly easily accessed. They will now have to rely on folks to seek them out on smartphones, tablets, laptops and the like or the small number of folks who have a special HD radio.

(The station, in its current incarnation, draws about 65,000 listeners a week vs. 400,000 for WABE-FM, according to Nielsen Audio. Its ratings are around 0.2 or 0.3 compared to a 3 share for WABE.)

Currently, the station gives away tickets to concerts all over town. Will those venues even bother anymore? Will record labels want to still to send them new music? How will their schedules look now? Which specialty shows may have to be sacrificed?

What should they air at 7 p.m. now that the president says they are given this great opportunity to draw bigger audiences?

“It has to be something nonabrasive,” Zimitravich said. “It also has to be consistent programming at 7. Right now, it’s something different every day.”

Zimitravich said GSU management broached ratings and demographics to her last week in a way she had never heard before.

To date, the students have approached college radio as a learning tool and a way to expose listeners to music they wouldn’t hear on commercial radio. Zimitravich said ratings and demographics were never a primary concern – or much of a concern at all – until the GSU brass brought it up last week with this partnership announcement.  They were given no warning whatsoever about such issues.

Now it appears they are going to have to care to some degree.

The students feel that trading 98 hours a week of 100,000 watt listening time for a promised 30-minute music show isn’t a worthy trade off. If anything, it proves the FM dial still has value in this day and age of Spotify and Pandora.

“If it didn’t have value, they would have given GPB the HD channel,” Zimitravich said.

They are skeptical about opportunities GPB is promising them (though they know management is painting them as ingrates, as a result.) They feel the university sacrificed the radio station students for the film students, who will have access to a GPB digital studio to create original programming.

“It’s sacrificing the radio in favor of TV,” Zimitravich said.

They feel betrayed by GSU management and railroaded because they were given zero input into this change. Vice President of Student Affairs Doug Covey, said Martin, had said nothing but supportive things about WRAS before this announcement but is now touting it as a win-win for everyone. (Covey told Doug Richards at 11 Alive: ” I feel confident that over time, once we start realizing the benefits of this collaboration, I think people will look back in a few years and say this was really a good move.”)

Zimitravich said it’s likely GPB programming will draw more listeners than what they had been airing. As a result, she believes the station will ultimately go 24/7 GPB after the two-year deal is up. ‘They’ve been trying to buy us out for years,” she said.

WRAS will not ostensibly change in terms of how it operates day to day. It will keep its space the GSU University Center. GPB won’t be taking over any of its studios. It’s just the impact to the outside world that will change.

The studio itself is a rock and roll museum with original vinyl going back decades filling one room, stickers of bands long forgotten all along the cabinets and posters and commemorative gold records lining the walls:  Van Halen. The B-52s. The Go Go’s. Weezer. Soundgarden. The Indigo Girls. Arrested Development. Chris Isaak. INXS. Cracker.

The WRAS office wall features records from the Go Go's and the B-52s that go back decades. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

The WRAS office wall features records from the Go Go’s and the B-52s that go back decades. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

New WRAS GM Alayna Fabricius faces a very different world than her predecessor. And this schedule will change quite a bit. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

New WRAS GM Alayna Fabricius faces a very different world than her predecessor. She was the first student told about the new partnership last Tuesday. This schedule, she said, will change quite a bit. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

The WRAS vinyl room packed with classic vinyl going back to the 1970s. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

The WRAS vinyl room packed with classic vinyl going back to the 1970s. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

On Thursday afternoon, May 9, a dozen students were rallying the troops via phone and social media. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

On Thursday afternoon, May 9, a dozen students were rallying the troops via phone and social media. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

GSU student and DJ Cubah Dougsiyeh.

GSU student and DJ Cubah Dougsiyeh.

Arrested Development, the Atlanta group, got plenty of love from WRAS during its heyday. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Arrested Development, the Atlanta group, got plenty of love from WRAS during its heyday. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Singer Chris Isaak was once alternative enough to get love from WRAS. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Singer Chris Isaak was once alternative enough to get love from WRAS. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Past stories about this situation:

5/7/14: Q&A with GSU president Mark Becker

5/7/14: Public radio talk fans will benefit from new partnership

5/6/14: GSU/GPB deal over WRAS catches community by surprise

 

29 comments
MrRadio
MrRadio

Only 7 days until the unsellable stink-music format goes part-time and WRAS steps into the world of professional radio.  

Time for the kiddies to learn something about real, big-boy radio.  Y'all listen up now.


If WRAS isn't full-time NPR by Christmas, I'll be surprised.

JerryDrawhorn
JerryDrawhorn

I'm more than a bit appalled by Jeff Martin's role in all of this. Just last Spring he told the GSU Student government that WRAS needed a new transmitted to replace their outdated one. He got them to give $750,000 to acquire a new one, but need mentioned…"oh by the way, we'll be giving over half the broadcasting time over to GPR and taking that air-time from the students". 



Could this be coincidence?



It's pretty clear he knew that the broad structure of the deal had already been struck as the documents published in the Sentinal shows a timeline set for implementation of the plan that dates back to that time. They were laying the fibre-optic links and putting in the interfaces long before the actual signing of the deal early this month. Martin is the one that suggests means of keeping the  actions of GPR and GSU Administration secret from the students. He's the one that indicates that the old transmitter should be able to, for the time being, to handle the switchover.


He was the one that is now telling the student managers how critical it will be for them to improve ratings if they are to maintain their evening hours. Whatever happened to the concept that non-commercial stations are not supposed to be "ratings driven" but to serve "communities underserved by programming on other stations"?


Supposedly he's retiring from his role as Operations Director at WRAS this summer. One wonders if he will move into GPB? Or up the Administration ladder? Taking his 50 pieces of silver.

DanLynn
DanLynn

Well,I guess we should have stayed at 19,500 watts and not be such a plum to pick. Jeff Walker worked hard to get us to 100,000 watts as were losing our tower and had to make adjustment. What is being lost by all the negative talk here are all the jobs and careers that have come out of WRAS- not just on air, but in the music industry for the program and music directors. Confidence was built and students migrated to real easte and insurance industries, as well. I did TV sports for 8 years and won Associated  Press Awards. Later, I sold $14.8M in broadcast equipment. Kill the station and you will kill careers.


Stand up to cronies.
Stand up to cronies.

MrRadio,


The outrage students feel isn't sentimental nostalgia; it's that their being cheated. 43 years of student fees and volunteer hours have created something very valuable that their president wants to piss away. Teya Ryan is a corrupt public official. Mark Becker is a coward unwilling to meet the students in person. This is not the painful but inevitable evolution of radio; this is theft.

MrRadio
MrRadio

Let me tell you something:  WRAS belongs to Georgia State.  The students are ALLOWED to program it, and they haven't been able to generate enough traction in the ratings to justify a 100,000-watt signal.  So university administration has had to come in and they have leveraged a deal to bring professionally-produced programming to the station.  


I doubt you could find 30 minutes of anything that sounds remotely professional in those 98 hours they're losing.   And you can bet that the programming that follows NPR at 7pm will be professional going forward, or it won't get on the air.


Gone are the days where playing obscure music on the radio is an acceptable course of action.    Those artists whose gold records hang on the wall?  Van Halen. The B-52s. The Go Go’s. Weezer. Soundgarden. The Indigo Girls. Arrested Development. Chris Isaak. INXS. Cracker?  WRAS would never play those records, because they are popular acts.  


The "Album 88" ship has sailed.

Stand up to cronies.
Stand up to cronies.

Don't get used to it; fight back!

Georgia's public institutions are not private enterprises to be run at the whims of their executives.

Mark Becker and Teya Ryan need to go live on 88.5 and answer questions from students. Their decision shows no regard for the public good. How can they claim it serves the interest of the students when they never even asked any of the students?


It more likely serves their own interests in making the cover of Georgia Trend.


This is Georgia's culture of corruption and cronyism seeping into even our most treasured institutions. And now their stealing from college kids. It has to be stood up to.  Are their no honest men and women left at GSU and GPB?

Do not let this stand. Fight back!

ZBIRD
ZBIRD

I'm sorry this had to happen this way but 100,000 FM radio stations are highly coveted in today's marketplace. Welcome to big boy and big girl radio. To gain some further insight just read the book - Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio. 

RK_
RK_

Consolidation.  The same thing that is happening to radio around the country.  Get used to it.

The_SAWB
The_SAWB

There are only two things that would cause GSU/GPB to rethink this change and I suspect neither will happen.


First, if people simply do not listen to the channel during the GPB hours this would send a clear message. However, we all know that many WABE listeners have long asked for more talk programs during the day, so it’s difficult to believe they won’t tune in.


Secondly, the withholding of contributions to GPB in protest would get their attention. I also doubt this will happen in any large number since most donate to support the TV side not the radio.


Alas, I fear WRAS as we knew it is gone for good.


A lyric from George Strait/Alan Jackson and their lament for the death of traditional country music seems fitting.


The almight dollar
And the lust for worldwide fame
Slowly killed tradition
And for that, someone should hang
They all say "Not Guilty!"
But the evidence will show
That murder was committed
Down on music row



MrRadio
MrRadio

@DanLynn  More careers will come from the WRAS/GPB arrangement than would come from WRAS alone these days, because there is no radio curriculum at GSU anymore.  So I think this is a positive move that will give WRAS some direction that could potentially steer students into real, lasting careers in communication.  I hope so.  WRAS alone isn't enough.  As it is, WRAS is just a student activity.  Going forward, wit will benefit the students interested in careers in communications, whether it be radio or television.  

Back in the 1980s, when there were Radio classes at GSU, WRAS Was a huge training tool.  And a lot of Atlanta-area broadcasters got their start there.  Not so anymore, I'm afraid.  

MrRadio
MrRadio

@Stand up to cronies.  It doesn't matter what the format presently is.  If they were playing Top 40 or Country and got a 0.3 rating, the format would be flipped.  There just simply aren't enough listeners at present for a signal that powerful.  Someone has to lead and someone has to make sure that the cost of keeping WRAS on the air is justified by the number of listeners.   That's where the administration comes in.


If NPR pulls a 0.3 also, then more changes will be made. 

DanLynn
DanLynn

@MrRadio  I was there when WRAS played some of the acts and they were played because they were new and cutting edge. U2 thanked college radio for many years because we gave them exposure when commercial radio did not. You, sir, have no knowledge to form such an opinion. An example that I CAN give is " what I like about you" by the Romantics took 8 years to be a full hit thanks to Budweiser when it was used in an ad. This is all documented. We played  it when it came out in the early 80's. I worked at WSB-TV while working at WRAS for 3 years and I tried to get WSB-FM to play Roxy Music. The program Director told me it was her fav album of the summer. WHAT? GREAT! I said Well we must wait for other stations to pick it up, I was told. Really....

We had commercial DJs listen  to us, they partied with us. We filled a void. Oh and later, 10 years later, I heard Roxy Music at Applbees. I got a TV job in Columbus, Ga. and gave a cassette tape to a local DJ to play, He never did. Too bad. It had a song that went #1 8 months later" Hungry like a wolf By Duran Duran. True story. 

Stand up to cronies.
Stand up to cronies.

@MrRadio


"Gone are the days where playing obscure music on the radio is an acceptable course of action."--Then what the hell is college radio for? Herman Cain is an acceptable course of action? His speech patterns are difficult to understand. Should have done college radio first. 

Mr.Amazing.
Mr.Amazing.

@MrRadio You are a sell-out. You seem to be comfortable with that. But do not expect the rest of us to adopt your weak, spineless, garbage, complacent reality. Loud voices change things all the time.

Mr.Amazing.
Mr.Amazing.

@Stand up to cronies. Exactly. Anyone who is not against the WRAS switch-up is too stupid to read between the lines of what is really going on with that administration.

MrRadio
MrRadio

@ZBIRD  Exactly.  And getting a sixth of their 65,000-strong listening audience to sign a petition on a decision that has already been analyzed and signed off on isn't going to change a thing.  This is the way real radio works. 

DanLynn
DanLynn

@MrRadio @DanLynn  you really do not know what you are talking about. I graduated in 1982. There were no classes at WRAS. I got 2 letters of rec from my WRAS News director and sports director, got a job in the WSB TV News room for 3 years, interned at CNN. YOU NEED TO DROP YOUR GARBAGE TITLE, Mr.Radio. I have more experience than you will ever have. I was a TV sports anchor for 8 years, had an accident and back surgery from a drunk driver, moved back home to Atlanta  and have freelanced for major networks for the past 20+ years-- all because of WRAS. SO TAKE A HIKE BUB, YOU ARE A WASTE OF SPACE-- Oh ya-- I won Associated Press awards too

JerryDrawhorn
JerryDrawhorn

@MrRadio @DanLynn  Collaboration, Mr. Radio?


The students are only "guaranteed" a thirty minute program…under heavy editorial control of GPB…on the music industry/artists…per week. How many people can actually be trained in any significant manner for that small bit of air-time.


 In exchange, the students gave up 100 hours of air-time per week in which they had to prepare copy, manage the programming, and perform to a clock. Essentially this means that 50 some student DJ's will not have programs. 


Most of the programming will be syndicated, and brought in by hi-speed cable, from outside sources…even the Georgia programming will be from outside studios. Do you really think that the students will get a spot on "Morning Edition" or "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me"? 


When the campus that I'm at made a similar move in the 1980's (although the same spiel was made about the wonderful opportunities that would open up)the only student internships offered were during the fundraiser…taking phone calls. It took three decades  for students to eventually get an internet-only station again.I think the evidence is pretty clear that such "promised" collaborations and benefits simply don't pan out…there are hundreds of student-managed college stations nation-wide that have become NPR-affiliates. I can't think of a single example where student access was given in any significant degree.

Mr.Amazing.
Mr.Amazing.

@MrRadio @DanLynn 

Mr Radio, you are such a B.S. artist. Students involved with GPB will be be fetching coffee and making copies at best. I'm starting to think you are either involved with this switch-up or on the payroll of someone involved. 

JerryDrawhorn
JerryDrawhorn

@MrRadio @Stand up to cronies.  Students (yes the student government) just put up $750,000 to purchase a new transmitter to replace WRAS' aging one….so it is the student body that is, without their knowledge or agreement, funding this format change. 


Not the administration. And even if it was…they'd simply take the students money by increasing tuition. 


Interesting coincidence…the man who requested the money for the transmitter replacement (in April 2013) is the same one who ordered that the process of taking over the daytime hours by GPR be kept secret from the students, staff, faculty and alumni of Georgia State. That's a HUGE conflict of interest.



Mr.Amazing.
Mr.Amazing.

@MrRadio @Stand up to cronies. "There just simply aren't enough listeners at present for a signal that powerful" 

Hey! While we're at it, let's pave over the national parks and building condos! Why are we leaving that much land out there not being used? In fact, let's shut down all museums as well. Just for kicks. I bet you could fit 8 Wal-Marts in a museum.

Stand up to cronies.
Stand up to cronies.

Leading students and alumni down a path of bitterness and acrimony is not effective leadership.

I hope the GSU secretaries are getting combat pay.

Ultraman8
Ultraman8

@DanLynn @MrRadio I hope that DJ in Columbus is washing floors. Duran Duran made some great songs in the 80's. They have a large dedicated following.

MrRadio
MrRadio

Sell-out is such an "alternative" word.  LOL  


The crash and burn of "Album 88" after its glory days in the 1980s is a sad thing, and its conversion to a viable format will be successful.  There is no reason to believe that 88.5's NPR programming will expand until midnight by year's end.  The research is done, the contracts are signed.  And if by some reason the change to NPR fails, no one is going to bring back "Album 88."  That goose is cooked.

Complacency is accepting the status quo, which would be the silly college music format currently in place.  I am all for change.  Bring on "The New Sound of Georgia State University!"


After reading some of the entries on that "Save WRAS" petition, maybe GSU should shut WRAS down entirely and put that money into the English department.

MrRadio
MrRadio

@gabesvoice I know!  I know!  The same 65,000 people who are already listening.

MrRadio
MrRadio

@Stand up to cronies.  Nah, let's use the golf courses first.  But seriously, are you comparing a college radio station to a national park or a museum?  Really??    

MrRadio
MrRadio

@Stand up to cronies.  Now, that I agree with.  And I also think that Mark Becker should come forward and agree to a meeting or forum to further explain the rationale and research that went into the administration's decision.

Mr.Amazing.
Mr.Amazing.

@MrRadio  

Wow, what was I thinking before? Being like you is the clearly way to be. How foolish I was to hope, dream, and strive for what I believed in! Now, I want to live my whole life, every countable year until I die, just like you. I hope there is room for two of us on that bench you're keeping warm.