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Friday, May 16, 2014

WRAS student staffers meet with GSU officials over station's future

Members of WRAS student leadership fielded questions from reporters about their meeting with GSU staff.
  • Max Blau
  • Members of WRAS student leadership fielded questions from reporters about their meeting with GSU staff. "Hopefully they'll continue to work with us to try and make WRAS a partner and not just a bargaining chip," outgoing WRAS General Manager Ana Zimitravich said.
Members of WRAS 88.5 FM today met with Georgia State University officials to discuss the school's new partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting - and whether the station will be able to continue operating as a student-run organization.

For the first time since the deal was announced, administrators and faculty sat down with WRAS' student management to discuss their growing concerns over the partnership. The two-year, $150,000 deal, which allows the state media network to enter Atlanta's radio market, has drawn major criticism from current students, alumni, and listeners over the past two weeks.

Ten days ago, Becker announced that WRAS would split into two distinct programming blocks. GPB will soon broadcast a mix of local news and nationally syndicated content from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. GSU student DJs will program music for the remaining 10 hours and retain complete control over the university's online streaming radio station.

In a press conference, four WRAS staffers debriefed reporters about the closed-door talks. Outgoing General Manager Ana Zimitravich, outgoing Program Director Josh Martin, current General Manager Alayna Fabricius, and current Urban Music Director Jenny Nesvetailova expressed an overall satisfaction with their reception. They were encouraged by the administration's response and received assurances that future conversations would be scheduled to continue the conversations.

"It was promising," Zimitravich told reporters. "We're glad we were finally able to open a dialogue. We feel as if we've been included in this. We feel there's been more of a effort to make this a partnership and less of a takeover."

"We had a highly positive and productive meeting and agreed to work with them to explore options," Becker added in a statement. "We are committed to addressing the concerns that have been expressed so we can move forward together to pursue what is best for Georgia State and our community."

The WRAS management presented to Becker a 10-year strategic plans that outlines several ways the station could grow its listenership, remain a student-run organization, and increase its value to the university. Martin says the station could renew its relationships with local partners such as IndieATL and CL, increase its education and research-based programming, and raise its national profile.

Zimitravich points to Seattle-based public radio station KEXP 90.3 FM, which is partially-run by students at the University of Washington, as a model for how the station could be operated.

Despite a "very cordial and professional" meeting, Douglass Covey, GSU's senior vice president of student affairs, tells CL the university "certainly intends to honor our contractual obligations under the new agreement." But he added that the university would consider alternatives that could to help accommodate WRAS student DJs. He declined to elaborate on what specifically might be done to help those students.

Following the meeting, a group of more than 40 WRAS alumni wrote Becker a joint letter that said they would stop contribution donations to their alma mater "until such time that the administration completely and irrevocably terminates its contract with GPB with respect to any WRAS interference whatsoever." Among the signees were Turner Classic Movies Programming Manager Millie DeChirico, Stomp and Stammer Editor Jeff Clark, and 1690 AM Senior Producer Matt Steadman.

"[W]e believe that there is merit in asking GPB to re-negotiate the details of the agreement, with student involvement in the process," the letter says. "We believe that while GPB may play an important role as a partner of GSU, its involvement at WRAS must be tempered with the need to prioritize the students' control of the airwaves 24/7 and the students' self-determination with respect to any hours of programming that may be allocated periodically to GPB as a partner."

WRAS and GSU leaders were uncertain when the next meeting would take place. Covey added that he'd like to see another conversation happen "as soon as we can," but couldn't commitment yet to an exact time frame.

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