Friday, June 27, 2014

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

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 4:49 PM

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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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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Friday, June 6, 2014

GPB's Tanya Ott talks WRAS deal, station's future, student internships

Posted By on Fri, Jun 6, 2014 at 1:05 PM

Tanya Ott, Georgia Public Broadcasting's vice president of radio, is in charge of programming decisions for the state media network's radio stations. That includes the 14-hour block of WRAS 88.5 FM programming that GPB is expected to take over on June 29. Although she wasn't involved in the negotiations Georgia State University, her job makes her a crucial player in the future of WRAS. Other than a Twitter account that's remained silent since May 24, she hasn't discussed the deal or what it means for WRAS programming with the public or the press, until we interviewed her on the day before the deal was delayed.

How long have you been at GPB?

I started with GPB the end of May of last year.

When did you know that GPB was negotiating with GSU?

A couple months after I started.

Did you have any role in those negotiations?

I did not.

Who handled those?

I really don't know who was in the room during the negotiations. All I know is I was brought in in the fall.

Did GPB know at the time that [GSU Vice President of Student Affairs] Dr. Douglass Covey sat on WABE 90.1 FM's board?

I have no idea.

Why is getting the 88.5 FM frequency such a good deal for GPB?

We look at it as being a good deal for listeners in the Atlanta market who've been clamoring for [National Public Radio] news [and] talk service during the day. GPB has a long history of partnering with educational institutions around the state. We have a great collaboration going at Mercer [University] with the Center for Collaborative Journalism. We've got a really good collaboration going in Augusta with Georgia Regents University and their students working with our station there. The same thing down in Savannah, with students at [Savannah College of Art and Design] and Armstrong University and Savannah State [University]. And of course Athens with WUGA. We just saw this as another opportunity to really enhance the educational mission of GPB.

You mention Atlanta listeners clamoring for news during the day. I know WABE plays classical music for a few hours each day, but they do play some of the major syndicated NPR programming. What will GPB offer Atlanta that we don't already have from WABE?

As you pointed out, WABE flips to classical music during the day. So they run classical music from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. ... The weekday schedule for 88.5 FM here in Atlanta - we'll be running Morning Edition through 10 a.m. until the fall, and then in the fall when we launch the new talk show that will be hosted by [former WNYC host] Celeste Headlee. We'll roll back that 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. hour of Morning Edition and insert the local talk show there. From 10 a.m. until noon, we're running On Point with Tom Ashbrook. At noon, we have the Takeaway from noon to 1 p.m., that's a program we've been running for almost a year on our statewide service. From 1 p.m. until 3 p.m., we'll have Here and Now. Then we go to Fresh Air at 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and then Science Friday on Friday, and then All Things Considered and Marketplace in the evening block from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. until it switches back to Album 88 programming.

You asked what we offer that isn't being offered by WABE. I don't know if it isn't being offered, but I think we do local news differently than what they do, because we have the resources of bureaus around the state. We'll be able to not only provide Atlanta-specific news but also news from Savannah, news from Macon, we also have contributors from Augusta and, on occasion, from Athens and Demorest as well. That allows us to give Atlanta listeners a broader perspective of what's going on in their state. If you really want to know what's happening with the Savannah Port, you're going to get it from a Savannah-based reporter.

Looking at that schedule, WABE airs a lot of this programming at the same time. How will GPB impact their deals with NPR?

From a contractual standpoint, there is no conflict at all. There are plenty of markets that have Morning Edition and All Things Considered and other programs.

But how does that benefit Atlanta to have two FM stations playing that same programming and not the locally oriented, student-produced programming that WRAS would normally play in those time slots?

I can't speak for how it compares to what WRAS would normally play. What I can say is that you have multiple markets, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, and other [markets], where there are more than one public radio station airing Morning Editon and All Things Considered. And they both do it successfully.

How is less listener choice good for the audience in Atlanta, though?

Garrett, that's not something I can answer.

What can GPB offer to the Atlanta communities that are losing their terrestrial voice when WRAS goes away, i.e., the local music and arts communities? What sort of outreach will GPB make toward the people in those communities who are worried or angry about this deal?

Continue reading »

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Monday, June 2, 2014

WRAS alumni form nonprofit to keep station student run, force cancellation of GPB-GSU contract

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 12:02 PM

A group of Georgia State University alumni are ramping up their fight to keep WRAS 88.5 FM's tradition of independent, student-run programming intact by demanding the cancellation of the station's controversial format switch.

As part of growing opposition against GSU's deal with Georgia Public Broadcasting, several graduates have formed a new organization called "Album 88 Alumni" that plans to fund select station initiatives, help preserve WRAS' history, promote awareness about the #SaveWRAS movement, and better connect past and present station DJs though a series of events.

"Our main goal is the same as GSU President Mark Becker's," Album 88 Alumni President Zachary Lancaster said in a statement. "We want to give GSU students who work at WRAS the best possible opportunities to learn about radio, music production and broadcasting. But we believe giving most of the daily broadcast hours to GPB will reduce, not expand, the opportunities for students to learn. For 43 years, Album 88 has represented a unique format in Atlanta, which GSU's contract with GPB would silence and replace with talk radio content in a market already saturated with such programming."

Last month, GSU President Mark Becker and GPB CEO Teya Ryan announced a multi-year, $150,000 partnership that would give the state media network control of a 14-hour daily programming block from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. The format switch, which last week was postponed until June 29, would replace a variety of student programming with a mix of local and national news shows. WRAS student DJs would be left to broadcast each evening and early morning for the remaining 10 hours, plus have 24-hour control over the station's Internet radio stream. In exchange, GPB has offered GSU students "unprecedented access" to its television studios and expanded internship opportunities.

"The small number of GPB internships mentioned in the contract should have been offered to GSU students with no strings attached, and not in exchange for access to WRAS's broadcast signal," Lancaster said.

Album 88 Alumni says it's filing to become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That IRS designation would allow people to make tax-deductible contributions to help fund their efforts. The nonprofit's board includes Lancaster, Lee Morin, Victoria Rey, Jez de Wolff, Gail Harris, and Reid Laurens.

The group's members hope to meet with Becker to express their opposition to the contract and seek its cancellation. If that doesn't happen, Album 88 Alumni will pursue "alternate means" to force the end of the agreement.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

GSU, GPB push back WRAS format switch date to June 29

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2014 at 10:25 AM

RIGHT ON THE MUSIC: WRAS student DJs helped grow the station into one of Atlanta's most beloved independent radio stations.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • RIGHT ON THE MUSIC: WRAS student DJs helped grow the station into one of Atlanta's most beloved independent radio stations.
WRAS 88.5 FM, the 100,000-watt student voice of Georgia State University, will remain student operated for just a bit longer. GSU officials and Georgia Public Broadcasting execs have postponed plans to flip the station's daytime format following a barrage of student and alumni opposition. The format change would have effectively ended 43 years of student management of the school's independent radio station.

Earlier this morning, GSU Vice President of Student Affairs Douglass Covey and Jeff Walker, a former DJ and current WRAS operations manager, informed Album 88's student management that the university and state media network will delay the station's format flip from June 2 until June 29.

"The date is being moved back to allow the university to continue to work on resolving issues raised by the WRAS leadership in a May 16 meeting with President Mark P. Becker and university leaders, and for GPB to finalize production plans for new local programming," GSU spokeswoman Andrea Jones tells CL in an email.

On May 6, Becker and GPB CEO Teya Ryan announced a two-year, $150,000 partnership that would have given the state media network control of a 14-hour programming block of local and national news shows from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. Students DJs would have retained control of the remaining 10 hours of evening and early morning, plus 24-hour access to streaming Internet radio.

The partnership, which has been secretly discussed since 2012, would have allow the state media network to enter Atlanta's radio market for the first time in its 54-year-history. In exchange, GPB had planned to give GSU students "unprecedented access" to its television studio and expanded internship opportunities.

GPB Communications Manager Mandy Wilson issued a similar statement confirming the format switch's postponement. She says the delay will allow GPB to continue developing local programming and finalize a schedule that "best serves the city."

"Both Georgia State University and GPB remain fully committed to this radio partnership, and are excited to come together in an effort to provide students with a beneficial learning opportunity and increased public radio in Atlanta," Wilson says.

Since the announcement, WRAS student DJs, alumni, and supporters have strongly voiced opposition to the deal. That pushback has included fundraisers, petitions, and silent protests. Alumni and supporters have also threatened to withhold donations and boycott GPB programming and pledge drives.

At the request of WRAS staff through GSU's student government, Becker met with WRAS' student management on May 16 to discuss the station's future. Until today's announcement, GSU and GPB have kept relatively quiet about what would happen next.

At today's meeting, Covey told outgoing General Manager Ana Zimitravich, outgoing Program Director Josh Martin, current General Manager Alayna Fabricius, and current Urban Music Director Jenny Nesvetailova that the university would review its options to appease all parties involved and promised another meeting sometime in the next few weeks.

Zimitravich tells CL that WRAS student leadership was informed last night about the meeting and had prepared to negotiate new contract terms. When Covey told her "GPB was willing without any kind of apprehension" to push back the current deal, they ended up not discussing future plans. Moving forward, she says the station's leaders are still hoping to restore a full 24 hours of student-run programming and get the current contract terminated.

"We hope people will continue to be concerned about the status of the station," she says. "It's great they're willing to meet with us. Our trust has been broken. We're still skeptical and cautious."

NOTE: The original post has been updated to include additional information as the story has developed.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

GPB announces 'Real World' internship program for GSU students, WRAS DJs

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 11:21 AM

As part of Georgia Public Broadcasting's controversial entry into Atlanta's radio market, the state media network is required to provide educational opportunities and internships to Georgia State University students in exchange for taking the reins of a 14-hour daytime programming block each day on WRAS 88.5 FM.

Both GPB and GSU have portrayed the two-year, $150,000 deal as one that ultimately benefits students. But since the WRAS partnership was announced, student DJs and station alumni have remained critical of that claim, pointing out that such internships can't replace the value of 14 hours worth of daytime student programming that will be lost starting on June 2.

Until last night, GPB had remained relatively quiet, aside from what's broadly outlined in the WRAS contract, about how it would provide students with those opportunities. In a press release titled "The GPB/GSU Partnership: Expanding Real World Education," the state media network describes some of the options that will be available to students. We've included the full description below:

Our partnership with Georgia State University helps Georgia State students open the door to their future. Now, internships in a professional media operation will be available to provide practical on the job experience that matters to potential employers.

Each year, interns play a vital role throughout GPB's operations working alongside professionals in areas including television production, news, new media and beyond. Whether you're part of a television production crew for live broadcasts of the GHSA Football Championships, honing your journalism skills with some of the state's most respected reporters, or learning how to produce digital content for, students interested in working in the media industry have multiple opportunities at GPB. Our interns also learn about media management operations, including content development and marketing by helping to craft promotional campaigns for GPB Original productions like "Georgia Traveler" and "Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel."

As part of the recently announced educational partnership, we look forward to welcoming Georgia State students to GPB's internship program. Communications students will continue to have a diverse experience that offers the opportunity to produce radio programming for 88.5 that will be broadcast digitally 24 hours 7 days a week. GPB plans to provide a permanent link to the stream on our website, From 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. student-produced programming will still be available over the air on 88.5. In addition, students will also produce a 30-minute music program that will air as part of GPB's new programming schedule from 5 a.m. - 7 p.m. on 88.5. And, Georgia State students will have unprecedented access to our television studios culminating in the student programming of the GPB statewide Knowledge channel between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily (including the primetime hours of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

This partnership provides another way for GPB to fulfill its educational mission.

It's worth noting that nearly 200 responses to GPB's Facebook post about the internship program is, well, not exactly the most positive feedback. Head on over to the broadcaster's message to see the comments.

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

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

GPB's weekend programming in Atlanta looks a lot like WABE's weekend programming

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 3:42 PM

Georgia Public Broadcasting is less than a week away from making its Atlanta debut on WRAS 88.5 FM. On June 2, the state media network will begin broadcasting a combination of local and national news from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day throughout metro Atlanta. While we've yet to see the new weekday schedule, GPB revealed its weekend programming right before the holiday weekend.

Aside from a few unique shows, GPB's Atlanta programming looks extremely similar to what's already on WABE 90.1 FM's weekend schedule. That's notably highlighted by an infographic making the rounds on Twitter comparing the two station schedules. Twitter user @SoQuoted points out the state media network will broadcast three hours of reruns and only one hour of local programming. On Saturdays, 64 percent of daytime shows being aired can already be heard on WABE:

Former WRAS General Manager Jez de Wolff, a marketing manager with Adult Swim, points out to CL what Album 88 programming from Georgia State University students will no longer be heard on the analog signal once the station flips formats:

6-8 AM - Rotation (new music)
8-10AM - Reeling In The Years (retrospective of college radio past)
10-12PM - Adventures in Paradise (Bosa Nova, Exotica, Lounge, Tropicalia etc)
12-2PM - Deviltown (indie-folk, freak folk, acoustic punk and lo-fi)
2-4PM - Charm Academy 88 (pop music, girl groups etc)
4-6PM - Quintessential College Show (college rock throughout history)
6-8PM - Urban Flava (neo-soul, underground R&B etc)

6-8 AM - Opus 88 (classical and opera)
8-10AM - 88 News Hour / Easy Fyah (news followed by reggae)
10-12PM - Easy Fyah / Big Band Jump (much loved 27 year run syndicated show from Don Kennedy)
12-2PM - The Blue Note (assorted jazz, big band, swing, vocalists, ensembles)
2-4PM - Melodically Challenged (poetry)
4-6PM - Freeform (each week a unquie themed once-only-broadcasted show)
6-8PM - Multiple Choice (each week something different ranging from instrumental hip hop, afrobeat, witch house and coldwave, j-pop)

We've reached out to GPB for comment about the station's upcoming daytime programming. If we hear back, we'll post an update.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Annual survey of WABE listeners' opinions comes at one helluva time

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 4:51 PM

INTELLIGENT RADIO: Inside the studio at WABE.
Atlanta's NPR affiliate WABE 90.1 FM has appeared, at least publicly, relatively unfazed by Georgia Public Broadcasting's entry into the local radio market. The station's official response last week was that it would "stay the course" despite having a direct competitor for the first time in, well, ever.

But that's not stopping them from asking for new ideas. Earlier today, Public Broadcasting Atlanta CEO John Weatherford sent a mass email to select WABE listeners. As Weatherford notes, it's an annual media and technology survey sent to listeners to gauge their interests and listening patterns. But the timing is quite interesting given the recent shakeup in Atlanta's public radio market.

We've included an excerpt of Weatherford's request below (read the full email after the jump):

As a WABE listener, you're probably aware that we've been working hard for the past several years to stay ahead of rapid changes in the radio landscape.

I'm writing now to ask for your opinion. Our goal is to continue to provide the news, information, arts & cultural programming you want and in the way that you want it, so I'm inviting you to share your feelings about technology in our annual survey.

You are among a select group of listeners invited to participate and tell us how you use the radio, along with Facebook, iPods, smartphones, tablets, streaming and the web to stay connected to news, entertainment and updates from WABE and other sources. Whether you use all of these things or not, we really need your opinion.

Continue reading »

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GSU VP involved in GPB deal previously served on WABE board; denies conflict of interest

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 10:13 AM

LEFT OFF THE DIAL: WRAS DJ Vanessa Vonland is one of many students involved with the station that stands to lose airtime once Georgia Public Broadcasting begins its daytime programming.
  • Joeff Davis
  • LEFT OFF THE DIAL: WRAS DJ Vanessa Vonland is one of many students involved with the station that stands to lose airtime once Georgia Public Broadcasting begins its daytime programming.
An alleged conflict of interest regarding a top Georgia State University administrator's role in the school's Georgia Public Broadcasting partnership and his past position on WABE's board of directors has raised concerns from WRAS supporters.

Vice President of Student Affairs Douglass Covey, who's tasked with overseeing the university's programs and services, has recently worked with President Mark Becker to broker the multi-year, $150,000 partnership between GPB and GSU. The move gives the state media network 14 hours of daytime new programming from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on a daily basis. According to emails obtained by the Signal, GSU's student-run newspaper, conversations about the partnership started as early as last September.

Until last month, Covey served on the Atlanta Educational Telecommunications Collaborative board of directors, which oversees WABE and Public Broadcasting Atlanta. Some GSU students and alumni see that role as a conflict of interest, given that he was working with two competing media outlets. They question how that factored into the controversial WRAS format switch.

"This is a classic example of conflict of interest," says Zach Lancaster, a GSU alumnus and former WRAS production director. "[Covey] was working in the best interest of two organizations. He entered into a position with one organization's interest that's mutually exclusive [from the other]."

Covey first joined the board, which reserves a seat for GSU's president or an appointed designee, in early 2008. On April 22, two weeks before the GPB deal was publicly announced, Covey submitted a resignation letter to PBA President and CEO Milton Clipper. In a copy obtained by CL through an open records request, he wrote that his GSU administrative duties stopped him from being "actively involved" with the board. Because of those responsibilities and various schedule conflicts, Covey wrote, he decided to step down.

"Truly there was no conflict of interest," Covey tells CL. "For one thing, WABE was not privy to this agreement between Georgia State and GPB. Also, I did not negotiate the agreement. I was uninvolved with negotiations with GPB. So there isn't a conflict of interest."

According to PBA policy, a conflict of interest occurs when "when an officer, employee, or Board member has a direct or fiduciary interest individually or in an entity...which directly completes against the [Atlanta Educational Telecommunications Collaborative]." Covey agreed to the terms in March 2011.

Lancaster thinks that Covey's decision to stay on the board (one that's working to maximize donations and increase listenership) when GSU was simultaneously negotiating another deal with GPB (a state media network that will enter Atlanta's radio market due to the agreement) raises serious ethical issues. Even if he wasn't directly involved in GPB talks, the alum says, that decision still required Covey's approval as someone who reports directly to GSU's president on matters involving student affairs.

"A large portion of his job is ensuring that students are taken care of and involved in student life. WRAS is a unique beast," Lancaster says. "It's a radio station owned and operated by the college, but the college lets the students run. It falls directly under his purview. If he never sat at the table, you're talking about the voice of students being completely removed and cut out. If he [was involved the GPB deal], that's even more concerning than ethics violations."

Many WRAS supporters have spoken out against what they think is a one-sided deal in favor of the state media network. And it's an agreement, Lancaster says, that clearly defines GPB's benefits, but doesn't specifically spell out what students get in return for losing daytime radio programming. Because of that, he hopes that the administration can "come to the table in good faith and renegotiate with students, alumni, and GPB" to find an operating model that benefits all parties involved.

Covey says the current partnership, which includes access to GPB studios and staff, will help TV production students receive up to 12 hours of airtime each day that could be seen by many of metro Atlanta's Comcast subscribers. Right now, the school TV programming operates on a closed circuit and can only be viewed on campus. Those additional benefits will better serve students in the long run, he says.

"The agreement with GPB has benefits for the university," Covey says. "I don't perceive this as meaning that the institution cannot continue to have a positive relationship with Atlanta Public Broadcasting. This was not a matter of taking sides. An arrangement with GPB uniquely offers the university some desirable outcomes because they're a broadcast network. They're in a position to collaborate with us in invaluable ways that are different from the benefits of continuing good relationship with Atlanta Public Broadcast. I don't see the two as being mutually exclusive."

Covey says that Becker will likely appoint his replacement to WABE's board later this summer. A WABE spokeswoman declined to comment on Covey's alleged conflict of interest.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

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

Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2014 at 5:39 PM

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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