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Friday, June 27, 2014

GSU looks into restoring Album 88 student programming; WRAS supporters to protest GPB takeover

Georgia Public Broadcasting is expected to begin broadcasting daytime news programming on WRAS 88.5 FM, the 100,000-watt voice of Georgia State University, starting this Sunday. But amid major opposition to the move, school officials today pledged to help students get back on the air during those hours. However, that might take a while.

Don Hale, GSU's vice president of public relations and marketing communications, tells CL that the university intends to explore options to "secure daytime broadcast time" for Album 88 programming after the GPB takeover takes place on June 29. As part of those efforts, GSU officials have hired engineers and media consultants to look into purchasing an alternate transmitter for 88.5 FM to allow both the state media network and its students to have on-air programming through different FM frequencies.

"Georgia State has remained committed to the partnership and GPB will begin broadcasting on 88.5 on the morning of June 29," Hale said in a statement. "The university will continue to pursue opportunities to restore Album 88 to its FM analog presence in Atlanta."

If WRAS flips formats as planned, GPB would start broadcasting local and national news programming from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, plus 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. GSU student DJs would be in control of the remaining evening and early morning airtime, plus retain 24-hour programming rights to the station's online radio stream. WRAS student DJs, who formally asked GPB CEO Teya Ryan to let them broadcast between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. during afternoon drive time, were instead given eight additional hours of weekend airtime.

GSU's announcement followed a meeting that took place this morning between Douglass Covey, vice president for student affairs, and WRAS student staffers. Outgoing WRAS Program Director Josh Martin tells CL that the station's leaders support the university's search for an alternate transmitter. He says there are some complications involved in obtaining the equipment, including finding an available transmitter - the Federal Communications Commission limits the number in use at any given time - at the right price.

"[GSU officials] are going full force and looking into that option," Martin says. "We believe if [GSU] could obtain one of those transmitters and obtain a strong enough signal, GPB could build their own brand. If GSU obtains a transmitter, as the people who have built up the 88.5 brand for 43 years, we would want to stay on 88. GPB could move over to the alternate frequency."

Hale says GSU officials aren't sure how long it'll take to acquire the technology needed to get Album 88 back on the air during daytime hours. "There is no timeline, but there is a sense of urgency," he adds.

The latest news has hardly satisfied all WRAS staffers, alumni, and listeners. Album 88 Alumni President Zachary Lancaster has concerns about the station's streaming Internet radio capabilities. At the moment, he says, only 216 people can simultaneously stream programming. He also questions whether the HD channel is currently up and running. Earlier this week, the nonprofit group of former station DJs submitted an alternate proposal to GSU President Mark Becker that would have enabled students to retain programming control along with greater numbers of internship, mentor, and networking opportunities. But GSU officials have not responded to the plan yet.

If GPB's takeover happens, WRAS supporters will hold a protest at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday in Hurt Park. A statement promoting the demonstration says that more than 300 students, alumni, and other activists are expected to attend the rally.

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