After students protest, Georgia State University pushes back start date for deal giving broadcasting network daytime programming hours on WRAS-FM

GEORGIA — Georgia State University has postponed the start of a deal that will switch WRAS-FM daytime broadcasting to Georgia Public Broadcasting after a nearly month-long protest by student and alumni deejays and supporters.

Originally, GPB broadcasters were to take over programming of the FM station today. But last week, the university announced in a Facebook message that it was pushing back the start date to June 29 – a decision that came as a surprise to top student and professional staff at the student-run radio station, who weren’t told of the decision before its announcement.

Douglass Covey, the university’s vice president for student affairs, said the concerns raised by students were part of the reason Georgia State moved to delay the switch. The delay is also so that the university has time to explore more options. Covey declined to elaborate on what is being discussed.

WRAS leaders met with GSU President Mark Becker May 16 to share their concerns about the agreement with GPB and to talk about the strategic plan that WRAS created for the next 10 years of broadcasting. Covey said that the postponement resulted from the meeting with Becker.

WRAS General Manager Alayna Fabricius said the decision to postpone has boosted the morale of the students in the station.

“We were not expecting that,” Fabricius said. “We’re happy and we’re just cautious.”

Students have reacted strongly to news of the partnership, which was announced last month as a done deal without student input. The deal provides GPB with daily airtime between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m., leaving GSU students to broadcast on their online and HD-2 streams during those hours.

As part of the deal: GPB will air public service announcements promoting GSU during their allotted airtime. GSU students will continue to program between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. The deal also includes a weekly student-produced half-hour radio program about music. Also, GSU students will have “unprecedented access” to showcase their content on GPB’s digital television stations every day from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to a press release from GSU.

GPB officials have not returned calls seeking further information about the deal itself or the postponement. In a statement, Teya Ryan, the network’s CEO, said the partnership “will provide students with the chance to learn about the growing emphasis on multi-platform journalism and collaborate with our award-winning reporters and producers.”

GSU administrators say the deal, which lets GSU students control analog programming only during late-night and overnight hours, is a tradeoff for getting students access to GPB’s production facilities and TV internship opportunities. Fabricius argued that the students can best learn about broadcasting through hands-on experience in their own broadcast station.

“I think it’s unnecessary and not really a benefit for the staff at WRAS because we’re already working in a professional environment,” Fabricius said. “So to kind of pick a company and have someone watching over us is not beneficial.”

Fabricius said that alumni have succeeded in the broadcasting field without the help of an outside organization. Since the announcement, WRAS alumni formed a group called Album 88 Alumni, a non-profit organization that “seeks to cancel the recently-announced contract giving Georgia Public Broadcasting the right to air talk radio programs for 14 hours each day during WRAS’s signal,” according to the group’s description.

Zachary Lancaster, president of Album 88 Alumni, delivered a letter to Becker today requesting a meeting with him and representatives from GPB to discuss the arrangement. The organization also issued a statement describing their objections to the agreement.

“We request that you meet with us this week so that we might hear what steps the university is taking to right the wrongs that have been inflicted on the staff of the radio station and how you are working to regain their trust,” the statement reads.

Lancaster said that while Becker has been responsive to students, he hasn’t answered questions in emails Lancaster has sent.

“We wish he would engage in conversation about this,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster’s goal is to convince Becker to cancel the agreement with GPB. He also plans to raise the issue with the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in August to discuss the the deal between GSU and GPB. Lancaster said that the university made the contract public 14 days before the May 20 Board of Regents meeting, which did not leave Lancaster enough time to request to speak at that meeting. The Board of Regents does not typically hold meetings in June and July.

Despite the efforts by the students and alumni, Covey said that the agreement with GPB is still in place. Fabricius hopes that the postponement will give WRAS more time to get back analog airtime for their drive-time and weekend programming.

Fabricius said that she wants to meet with GSU administrators again before the new implementation date. The meeting date is up in the air, but she said it will probably be next week or closer to June 29.

Contact Spoont by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.