Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Album 88 alumni propose alternative WRAS plan to GSU officials

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 10:04 AM

In four days, WRAS 88.5 FM, the 100,000-watt student voice of Georgia State University, could say goodbye to its longstanding 43-year-old tradition of independent student-run radio. But a group of former WRAS staffers have asked college officials to consider a different course of action.

Album 88 Alumni, a nonprofit devoted to preserving WRAS as a student-run station, has revealed the details of an alternative proposal presented last week to GSU President Mark Becker and Vice President of Student Affairs Douglass Covey that they argue would benefit the school's students more than a current proposal with Georgia Public Broadcasting. The new plan would allow students to continue running the station 24 hours per day, connect more students with additional internships, and establish networking and mentoring programs.

"It is clear that WRAS/Album 88 is an invaluable asset to the GSU brand," Album 88 Alumni's proposal says. "The exchange proposed with GPB at present is not an apples-to-apples trade, and therefore does disservice to GSU's students."

On May 6, Becker and GPB CEO Teya Ryan unveiled a multi-year, $150,000 agreement that would give the state media network control of a 14-hour block of daytime programming. From 5 a.m to 7 p.m. daily, GPB would broadcast an assortment local and national news shows, including ones that WABE 90.1 FM already airs in the metro Atlanta area. WRAS students DJ would keep control of the remaining 10 hours in the evening and early morning, plus access to its streaming Internet radio.

The GSU-GPB partnership, which had been negotiated in secret dating back to 2012, would provide the state media network an opportunity to broadcast in metro Atlanta for the first time in its 54-year history. In return, GSU students would have received "unprecedented access" to GPB's television studios as well as the chance to intern at the station, officials said.

Since news broke about the agreement, WRAS student DJs, alumni, and supporters have adamantly opposed the deal. They raised awareness and rallied against the change through fundraisers, petitions, silent protests, and threats to withhold alumni donations. In late May, GSU and GPB decided to push back the WRAS format switch from June 2 to June 29. At the time, university spokeswoman Andrea Jones said the postponement would allow university officials to "work on resolving issues" with WRAS student leadership and let the state media network "finalize production plans" for local programming.

Album 88 Alumni President Zachary Lancaster tells CL that the group reached out to former station staffers and drummed up potential internships for current DJs. He says the group's plan would offer "up to 100" paid and unpaid internships with media outlets such as Turner, Cox, and WSB-TV. Those opportunities, the proposal notes, would provide students with access to more equipment and provide exposure in front of a wider audience than GPB.

The group decided to give university one week to respond to the plan before making it available to the public. Becker, who recently spoke with Lancaster about the format switch, has previously said that the internship component was one of the major reasons he stands behind the WRAS deal. Lancaster notes, however, that GPB has provided few details about the potential internships available to GSU students as part of the agreement.

"Our goal is to save the radio station and support it in the future," Lancaster tells CL, adding that "in a week, we came out with a better proposal than GPB created in a year."

According to Lancaster, Album 88 Alumni's proposal also calls for dozens of mentorship and networking opportunities to help students learn about, and even break into, media industries. The alternative plan calls for accompanying "seminars, workshops, and continuous online coaching" to help students achieve their career aspirations.

To help bolster GSU's TV broadcasting program, another key point made by Becker in supporting the GSU-GPB deal, Lancaster says that the university underutilizes its current assets. Rather than trading WRAS programming access for additional TV resources, the proposal would focus on tapping into GSTV, the school's student-run TV station, and its Digital Arts and Entertainment Laboratory, or DAEL, as valuable resources. GSU could partner with IndieATL, which partners with Comcast's "Get Local" Video on Demand channel to reach 2.3 million metro Atlanta homes, to help gain exposure for student-created programming.

"The existing facilities at GSU, coupled with access to additional facilities through A88A's internship programs, would allow students to increase their productivity while using state-of-the-art equipment," the proposal says.

Lancaster also dismissed rumors that Big Boi had made a $200,000 donation to WRAS. He says discussions took place between Album 88 Alumni and one of the rapper's associates, but neither side entered a binding agreement.

"This idea that Big Boi is bailing out the radio station is completely bogus," Lancaster says. "No money [was] ever obligated, pledged, changed hands, or was promised to change hands."

The Album 88 Alumni proposal does not address how the WRAS would replace the $150,000 the university would receive from GPB. Lancaster says that no financial arrangement should be made right now outside of a potential shared-time arrangement.

Right now, he simply hopes that Becker takes the group's proposal seriously.

"We're going to reach out again, if they refuse to show that they're actively engaged in reaching a student-focused option, then we'll walk away and pursue other options," Lancaster says.

But what if Becker doesn't address WRAS supporters' concerns and the GPB takeover goes into effect this weekend as planned? A source close to the negotiations tell us that a potential option could happen through the courts or the Federal Communication Commission.

We've reached out to GSU for comment. If we hear back, we'll post an update.

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