Surprise Takeover of Georgia State Student Radio Station Spurs Criticism, Calls for Boycott

It’s a college radio riddle: What do you get when you mix a 100,000 watt FM station, 14 hours of daily programming and a $150,000 secret contract? The answer: Screwed students.

In a move critics are calling more duplicitous than a morning radio DJ prank, Georgia State University officials have struck a deal to place Georgia Public Broadcasting content onto the GSU student-run radio station WRAS (88.5 FM) from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

What this means from a college media perspective: Instead of running an around-the-clock operation enjoyed by listeners tuning into a powerful terrestrial station in greater Atlanta, GSU student radioheads will stream their content online during the day and only reclaim their analog kingdom at night (7 p.m. to 5 a.m.). And even that programming may change, as there will possibly be “pressure on WRAS to hold onto [the new public radio] listeners into the evening.” (GSU officials deny this.)

Announced yesterday, the planned two-year contract with GPB will apparently net GSU $150,000 — and may eventually lead to a more permanent, expansive takeover of all 24 hours of station programming.

WRAS staffers and supporters have no reason to be anything but bleak in their outlooks given the lack of input they had in the shift. No one — not even the station’s outgoing general manager Anastasia Zimitravich — was given the slightest heads-up prior to the announcement. Yowza.

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As college radio guru Jennifer Waits reports for Radio Survivor, “School is out for the semester at Georgia State University and Zimitravich’s term as general manager actually concluded on May 1st. With the changeover in staff and with students leaving campus for summer break, she told me that the timing of the announcement seemed to be designed to ‘keep things under wraps’ in order to have less ‘backlash from students.'”

Zimitravich tells Waits simply, “It’s really heartbreaking that college radio is not important to our university.”

1Jessica Clary, the assistant director of student media at Savannah College of Art and Design, expresses similar heartache about what the loss of the WRAS college radio identity actually signifies.

As she writes in a post on her personal blog headlined “Why I’m Sad About WRAS”: “I’m sad the Atlanta community will lose 98 hours a week that used to belong to students. … But mostly, I’m sad the students behind WRAS will lose the sense of being totally responsible for their station. … They are being denied the chance to do a difficult, underappreciated and frustrating job, and being denied the chance to become extraordinary at it, to thrive and enjoy every second of it because it is 100 percent their responsibility. They are being shorted on the chance to learn what they’re actually capable of.”

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The WRAS management and staff have also released an official statement on the station’s Facebook page addressing the school’s takeover shenanigans. It reads, in part:

“While we regret the decision greatly, know that neither WRAS staff nor management had any part of this change. Acting unilaterally as the FCC licensee, Georgia State University administration has chosen this route with stated goals of increasing listenership and generating a positive partnership between the institution and GPB. The staff of WRAS was met with surprise by this announcement for two reasons. First, up until the announcement was made this morning, WRAS staff was never of the understanding that our ratings mattered. As a college radio station, the mission of our station has never been to make the rich richer or to give airtime to mainstream music. This being true, we have never been concerned about ratings nor were we aware that the administration was until this morning. Our interests, instead, were delivering quality and diverse music to our listeners and supplying an alternative to mainstream radio.”

A separate boycott page already sports more than 1,000 Likes. As it explains, “GPB is set to ruin WRAS 88.5. We will not let this happen without a fight. Boycott GPB and refuse to support their takeover of 88.5.”

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Supporters have also been damning GSU and GPB and praising the station’s legacy on Twitter using the hashtag #SaveWRAS. A few sample tweets:

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