Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

WRAS alumni offer alternative proposal to current GPB/GSU deal

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GPB, in talks with GSU since 2012, announced the partnership last month in a move that shocked WRAS students who were not given any notice about the move. After vehement protests from station fans and alumni, GSU and GPB delayed the launch a month, from June 1 to June 29.

In exchange for giving up the FM airwaves 98 hours a week, GSU students were promised unspecified internships, a 30-minute weekly music show on the GPB"s statewide radio network and access to GPB's TV studios. Many students found the tradeoff inadequate.

As of Thursday morning, GPB has yet to release a final schedule though management has said it will include many programs already heard on 90.1/WABE-FM. WABE is operated  by Public Broadcasting Atlanta, which has no affiliation with GPB, WABE airs classical music from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, a time period when WRAS-FM will air news/talk programming, some of which is not heard locally.

UPDATE: 1:37 p.m. Thursday, June 26: I was informed by Mandy Wilson at GPB they will NOT be releasing a schedule until Monday - a day after the station begins airing. She provided no explanation for this delay.

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WRAS alumni, in an effort to stave off what seemed like a done deal, have created a non-profit and met with Georgia State President Mark Becker. This week, it  released to the public an alternative proposal to keep the FM dials 24/7 with the students, offering a more robust set of internships, a mentorship and networking program, expanded use of GSU's existing TV studios and an alternative low-power FM translator signal for GPB.

Would such a translator work? Is that even a realistic option? (Streetz 94.5 and True Oldies 98.9 are on translators.)

Vic Jester, chief radio engineer for Radio One, told my AJC colleague Janel Davis that the idea of using a translator is reasonable, but the proposal has problems, such as the limited availability of a frequency for such a translator.

“The FM dial in Atlanta is pretty full,” Jester said. “Unless they have an agreement with someone who already owns a translator — which may be the case — (the proposal) may not be possible.”

Another issue would be the strength of a translator station. WRAS currently operates a coveted 100,000-watt signal, the maximum allowed by law and what makes the deal so valuable to GPB.  Translator stations are limited to 250 watts, Jester said.

“It limits the coverage area and would never be what the 100,000-watt station is,” he said. “Inside the Perimeter it could be a decent signal. If you live in Lawrenceville, you’re not likely to hear it.”

GSU declined to comment on the proposal.

Zach Lancaster, who runs the WRAS alumni group, said he has not gotten any feedback related to the proposal but GSU has acknowledged receiving it.

While GSU has rebuffed similar GPB entreaties in the past, Becker said the ability to help out GSU's TV broadcasting and film students made GPB's offer more appealing this time.

Lancaster thinks the WRAS alumni could provide deeper and greater opportunities for GSU's TV and film students than GPB, negating the need for GSU to relinquish WRAS 98 hours a week for $150,000 over two years.

"GSU never went to the alumni association," Lancaster said. "They never looked outside the GPB option."

The WRAS station will technically still be heard as a streaming option. But Lancaster said only 216 people can stream it at any one time. Also, the HD channel option, he hears, is not ready yet.

He is "cautiously optimistic" that GSU will again delay the implementation of this deal as alternatives are sorted out.

Today, in support of WRAS, more than 50 college and high school radio stations simulcast the station for one hour starting at 1:30 p.m. EST. It was a public-affairs program highlighting the history of WRAS.  WREK over at Georgia Tech and WUOG at UGA aired the program as well. They played interviews with WRAS alum who credited their careers to their experience at the station and long-time advisor Jeff Walker, using an interview he did in 2011 for WRAS's 40th anniversary. Many agree that if the station was taken off the FM dial, its impact and the ability of the students to influence music would be greatly diminished.

At 2:19 p.m., WRAS played the Replacements song "Left of the Dial," which may have been inspired by WRAS but probably not. Still, it does reference Georgia.

UPDATE: 5:35 p.m. I was just checking the May Nielsen ratings and noticed that WRAS's ratings among 18-34 year olds took a noticable leap from earlier this year. In January, it was generating a mere 0.1 rating in that demo to a 0.4 last month. In mornings, it drew a not insignificant 0.6 rating. All the publicity, I presume drew some more listeners than normal. Or we might call it the "going out of business" effect that restaurants and retailers sometimes receive when people find out they are going to shut down. It's a way to say goodbye.

List of Atlanta radio stations.

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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