WRAS students say GSU violated student funding rules with GPB takeover

Alums and GSU students have not been thrilled by GSU ceding 100 hours a week to 88.5 FM/WRAS-FM. Here they are protesting outside of GPB offices in Midtown last year. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, March 16, 2015

Ten months ago, Georgia State University administration handed over 100 hours of weekly FM airtime to Georgia Public Broadcasting, blindsiding the students at 88.5/WRAS-FM.

The students and outraged alums and fans of the station couldn't stop the launch in July but have tried to blunt its impact. So far, ratings at WRAS under GPB have been modest (around a 0.4 share), a small fraction of what existing NPR station 90.1/WABE-FM has pulled in (usually a 3 share or better).

And last week, the GSU students finally fought back in a legal capacity, filing a complaint with the GSU Board of Regents.

Their argument:

GSU administrators knew that the GPB deal was forthcoming when students that oversee student funds agreed to purchase a new $670,000 transmitter and pass an operating budget. The complaint alleges GSU misappropriated students funds, giving that money budgeted for the student-run station to a third party: GPB.

"When implemented, student fees and facilities originally allocated for WRAS­/Album 88 were used to purchase equipment, pay for employee time along with other expenses for the support of GPB," the complaint noted.

The students groups that oversee WRAS were kept in the dark about the GPB agreement until it was already a done deal.

They say these moves were in violation of University System of Georgia policies.

The Board of Regents does not have the power to end the contract but it could say GSU is not following proper procedures and have them draw up another contract with student input, said Lynn Medcalf, part of a fan/alumni group Save WRAS that provided support to the students. That could potentially put the entire arrangement in jeopardy since many of the students don't agree with giving up the airtime to GPB.

The students want the FM signal back 24/7 if possible. GSU could rescind its deal with GPB at any time.

You can read the full 59-page appeal here.

As for promises of internships and a weekly student-run 30-minute show for the statewide GPB affiliates? None of the WRAS students want to intern at GPB and the 30-minute show has not come to pass.

If anything, the GPB move was a factor facilitating WABE's long-planned change to all news/talk during the day in January.

While GPB has control of WRAS's FM signal (5 a.m. to 7 p.m.), the students continue an online-only station but it's heard by only a small percentage of listeners who used to access their music on the traditional FM dial.

GSU has not responded to an inquiry about the appeal.

Previous stories about the dispute:

3/4/15: WRAS students confronts GPB executive

10/16/14: Celeste Headlee to debut "On Second Thought" at GPB

7/11 GPB responds to salvo by WABE

7/3 Bill Nigut discusses two new WRAS programs

7/2: WABE chairman blasts GSU/GPB partnership with WRAS

6/30: GPB releases WRAS schedule, faces protests

6/27: GSU seeking another FM signal for WRAS, gives students 8 hours back

6/26: WRAS alumni offer alternative to GPB deal

6/7: What does the GPB/GSU radio deal mean for Atlanta?

6/6: GPB release preliminary schedule

5/30: GPB delays GSU deal by a month

5/12: Will protests of GPB/GSU deal work?

5/7: GSU president Mark Becker justifies GPB deal

5/6 GSU announces deal with GPB over WRAS

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About the Author

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