Thursday, July 17, 2014

Album 88 students to GPB: 'We are pursuing every route possible to ensure that this deal does not last'

Posted By on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 9:37 AM

It's been more than two weeks since Georgia Public Broadcasting began to broadcast local and national news programming on WRAS 88.5 FM throughout metro Atlanta. During that time, board members of longtime Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE 90.1 FM and GPB have traded open letters over the controversial takeover of the longtime college radio station that's been cherished by Georgia State University students, alumni, and supporters for more than four decades.

This morning, Album 88's student staff members penned their own response to GPB board chairman Michael McDougald. On July 8, McDougald replied to an open letter from WABE 90.1 FM's board members that blasted the state media network's WRAS agreement for being a "waste of Georgia's tax dollars." McDougald disagreed with the WABE's board letter and said GPB was simply "responding to the high demand we have heard for years." Album 88 has now decided to refute some of the state media network's claims.

"The support of our listeners since this announcement was made has driven us to continue fighting the deal, while the outpouring from those in the Atlanta and national music scenes along with those involved in politics in Georgia beginning to speak out have catalyzed our resolve to continue this fight," Album 88 staffers write in their response to GPB. "We encourage GPB to salvage what's left of its reputation for listening to its public and rescind the contract with GSU, for the sake of GSU students and the Atlanta community."

Album 88's letter comes one day after GPB CEO Teya Ryan, who was met by several student statements and protesters at a board meeting, agreed to meet in person with WRAS student leadership.

Read Album 88's full letter to GPB after the jump:

It has come to our attention that you recently penned a response to an open letter from Dr. Louis Sullivan, chairman of PBA, in regards to the GPB takeover of WRAS daytime programming. In Dr. Sullivan's initial letter, he points out some key issues with the entrance of GPB into the Atlanta radio market via the airwaves of WRAS and subsequently calls for a reconsideration of the deal. Though your letter in response is directly addressed to Dr. Sullivan, we - the student staff of WRAS - feel the need to join the conversation and address a few assertions made in your letter.

As you are probably aware, WRAS has been completely student-run and funded since its inception in 1971. Over the span of 43 years, WRAS Album 88 has gained not only a large following in the Atlanta community but also a national reputation that includes the recording and broadcasting industries. During this time we have provided completely student- programmed content that has broken out new music artists and served as a model for other college radio stations - all while providing a countless number of students the educational opportunity of running a 100,000-watt radio station in the ninth-largest market in the US.

WRAS has introduced its audience to a wide range of artists throughout its history, many of which - Outkast, Deerhunter, Indigo Girls, R.E.M. - have gone on to achieve mainstream success. Not only has this allowed us to be recognized by College Music Journal as one of a handful of US stations considered top-tier in terms of impact on charts; but it has also afforded our staff countless opportunities in their post-graduation careers. As Dr. Sullivan points out in his letter, many in the Atlanta media community got their start by working at WRAS. Our first General Manager, Richard Belcher of WSB-TV, has even come out in opposition of this deal, as he believes that it removes opportunities for students.

While the long-term impacts are yet to be felt, this intrusion into WRAS's daytime analog signal has had short-term consequences on the morale of the staff as well as our impact on national charts. Not only is this a bad deal for students, especially since we were completely left out of the negotiations, but it's also bad for the entire Atlanta area. GPB on WRAS duplicates 64% (in real-time) of the programming that can already be heard on Atlanta's NPR Station (WABE-FM); it also duplicates 96% of overall WABE programming that is available via their FM and HD signals. We stand with Dr. Sullivan and the PBA Board of Directors in their assertion that this duplication by GPB, a state agency with almost half its funding coming from taxpayers, is a 'wasteful intrusion' into the Atlanta market - all at the expense of student opportunity.

Though your letter begins by addressing concerns brought up in Dr. Sullivan's letter, it spins off into a red herring by focusing on issues that do not concern WRAS nor are brought up by Dr. Sullivan. Near the beginning of your letter you state that Atlanta residents should enjoy "multiple options for public radio" which you then suggest this GSU-GPB deal will allow. We WRAS staff members take issue with this as we (along with WABE) are a public radio station and have been for the past 43 years. Along with providing a diverse music lineup, we also work with the community and GSU students to produce educational programming that exceeds the requirement set by our non-commercial educational license. In fact, over the past year we have more than doubled the size of our news department and tripled the amount of educational programming aired - over 70% of which is completely student created. If this does not meet the standards of "original programming" that you called for, then please clarify what you mean.

We agree with you when you stress the importance of public radio in "driving a healthy democracy," though it does seem ironic since this decision was made in a completely undemocratic fashion. Because our station been built and supported 100% by student activity fees since the beginning, it seems that an individual stressing the importance of a healthy democracy would encourage allowing all stakeholders to have a seat at the table. Such a failure to include students in the negotiations of this deal is not only a bad reflection on GSU but also on GPB and is even more of an insult when considering that the new WRAS transmitter that GPB will be using (notably for more hours per week than students) was paid for in full with $313,098 in student activity fees. The committee that allocated these fees had no knowledge of your future intended use since GPB along with GSU did not include students in this decision.

Further, you assert that this partnership will not be paid for at all with Georgia taxpayer dollars; yet we have a hard time believing that statement since such a large amount of your budget is being used for your staff's efforts in creating program content for GPB on WRAS, along with paying licensing fees to NPR and other content providers. This doesn't change the fact that the station GPB is taking over, and will be allowed to use for fundraising millions of dollars, is in fact fully funded by student money. Though we understand that this deal serves as the first time your organization will be operating radio in a major media market, the students of WRAS have been doing so in a professional and consistent manner for over four decades.

In regards to other markets, your comments depict the assumption that all other top- ten markets have a simulcast of public radio stations. By doing this, you not only conflate a city of license with the availability of a station in an area but are also incorrect in assuming that such stations program the same things in real-time, as you do with WABE. For example, take NYC where there exist seven NPR member stations in the metro area. NYC as a city alone is home to only three NPR member stations, of which two play miniscule amounts of news programming. However, since you conflate the metro area with a city, it seems as though there are multiple all news NPR stations when in fact the other four NPR stations in the NYC metro are licensed in Connecticut and New Jersey. The same goes for 90% of top- ten markets: LA (one NPR station in the city of LA), Chicago (one NPR station in the city of Chicago), Philadelphia (one all news NPR station in the city of Philadelphia), Dallas (one NPR station in the city of Dallas), Boston (one all news NPR station in the city of Boston), Washington, DC (one all news NPR station in DC), and Houston (one all news NPR station in the city of Houston). Atlanta currently has WABE as its NPR station with a GPB affiliate

(WJSP) licensed in Warm Springs, GA currently serving a large part of the southern metro area including the City of Atlanta and already playing news format for most of the day. According to the FCC, non-commercial FM licensees must serve the 'public interest', which is defined as "[airing] programming that is responsive to the needs and problems of its local community of license." The existence of two NPR member stations that cover Atlanta and play 64% of the same programming in real-time characterizes GPB on WRAS as far from in the 'public interest.'

Although you note that partnerships GPB has with other universities in Georgia are "different from the other," you fail to discuss said distinctions. First, while you in fact do have a partnership with UGA, it is so different than what you have done with GSU that we feel it is unfair to compare, even marginally, the two situations. GPB operates completely separately from students in its partnership with UGA by utilizing a completely separate frequency (WUGA) from that which our friends at student-run WUOG use. Why is it that you did not seek a similar partnership with GSU, choosing instead to kick students off the airwaves that they have funded for over four decades? Second, it's also not realistic to compare the deal with GSU to those with Georgia Tech/Georgia Regents University/Chattahoochee Technical College since none of these 'partnerships' involve radio at all. In fact, a similar deal as the GSU-GPB deal was offered to WREK at Georgia Tech in 2007, but because Tech students were allowed a seat at the table, they were able to decline the offer. Finally, the deals between GPB and AASU/Mercer offer no student opportunities on the respective radio stations and the deal that GPB has with University of West Georgia came in 2004 at the expense of WUWG being completely student-run. Since the students of UWG were removed from their station they have had to resort to an online-only format.

What baffles us the most about your letter is that, beginning on page 2, you start to discuss GPB-generated educational opportunities for K-12 (among other things) that have nothing to do with the WRAS situation or with anything mentioned in Dr. Sullivan's letter. You go on to criticize PBA for having programming on TV (WPBA) that is "duplicative" of GPB's TV outlet (WGTV). What you fail to mention is that, though PBA does play some of the same programming as GTV, none of the "top-rated programs" you mention are broadcast at the same time on both stations. This is in stark contrast to the actuality that GPB broadcasts real- time duplication of 64% of the same programming on WRAS in Atlanta as on WABE. Though you mention you are puzzled that Dr. Sullivan seems to indicate a double standard between your organization and WABE, we are puzzled at how you fail to see this double standard at all. It seems that since GPB claims to be an organization where education is the main mission, you would be able to understand simple statistics.

We applaud Dr. Sullivan and the PBA Board of Directors for publicly characterizing this deal for what it is: an attempt to draw from the WABE fundraising base at the expense of a student-funded and nationally renowned college radio station. This is evident not only in the tone of your letter and the fact that over half of it ignores the situation at hand, but further in that your former employee (and WRAS alumni) Susanna Capelouto blatantly stated in a piece for Current.org in June that "[GPB] knew that an Atlanta frequency would mean more underwriting and membership revenues for GPB." This reality is exacerbated by the fact that you fail to communicate at all with the students whom you say this deal benefits the most. So far, there have been no attempts by GPB to talk with students about the dozens of internships and program content creation opportunities that were mentioned in vague terms in the contract with GSU.

While the GSU administration has heard our concerns and is actively trying to salvage student airtime during the day, our fight is not over. We are pursuing every route possible to ensure that this deal does not last, though things would end much cleaner for both GSU and GPB if one party stepped up to the table and gave back to students what is rightfully theirs. The support of our listeners since this announcement was made has driven us to continue fighting the deal, while the outpouring from those in the Atlanta and national music scenes along with those involved in politics in Georgia beginning to speak out have catalyzed our resolve to continue this fight. We encourage GPB to salvage what's left of its reputation for listening to its public and rescind the contract with GSU, for the sake of GSU students and the Atlanta community. If not GPB, we encourage any party with some voice to end this back door deal and speak up for the students that have funded and learned from this cultural icon over the past 43 years.

Sincerely,
WRAS Atlanta Album 88 Staff

CC: Ms. Teya Ryan, President and CEO of Georgia Public Broadcasting Dr. Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University
Dr. Louis Sullivan, Chairman of Public Broadcasting Atlanta
Mr. Milton Clipper, CEO of WABE/WPBA
Mr. John Weatherford, COO of WABE/WPBA
Gov. Nathan Deal, Governor of State of Georgia
Mr. Henry Huckaby, Chancellor of University System of Georgia
Mr. Joshua McKoon, Vice Chairman of Georgia Senate Higher Education Committee Mr. Carl Rodgers, Chairman of Georgia House Higher Education Committee

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