ATLANTA ― The staff at Georgia State University’s student-run radio station has a go-to April Fool’s joke. They dream up a buyer for the university’s FCC license—a New Age station or maybe talk radio.
On May 6, the joke didn’t seem as funny.
Joint statements from GSU and Georgia Public Broadcasting announced a deal replacing student shows on 88.5 FM with GPB programs from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and moving the student DJs online. Student shows would broadcast on the FM channel overnight, and Georgia State would still own the license.
Both entities said the change would be good for everyone involved, giving students opportunities for internships and GPB a coveted spot on metro Atlanta airwaves. Students, alumni and supporters reacted quickly and loudly, upset they hadn’t been informed until the deal was done.
Fray DeVore, the station’s outgoing music director who graduated this spring from GSU, flashed back to those April Fool’s jokes when he learned about the changes. The outcry was validation for a group of students passionate about WRAS but never certain whether anyone else cared, DeVore said.
“Having complete strangers come to our aid makes it feel like more than a fun thing we do,” he said.
GSU announced Friday that it would push the launch back to June 29 instead of Monday. But backers of the station remain uncertain about its future, and fear losing an outlet they say is part of Atlanta’s music culture and an icon in college radio.
Douglass Covey, GSU’s vice president of student affairs, said postponing the start date will give the university more time to consider students’ concerns and decide how to respond. He didn’t provide specifics but said their main concern is losing all airtime during the day.
GSU officials will meet with students again with more details, but the university doesn’t plan to renegotiate its contract with GPB, he said. The deal gives students the chance to produce a weekly show airing on the statewide GPB network, with public service announcements and other publicity for the University on both radio and television, Covey said.
Alayna Fabricius, a junior at GSU and general manager of the station, said she’s optimistic but still nervous about WRAS’ future. GSU administrators seem receptive to their concerns but students feel the partnership isn’t equal without access to the FM station during afternoon rush hour and weekends, she said.
The GSU-GPB proposal shocked the broader college radio community. Rob Quicke, founder of national College Radio Day, said WRAS’ strong signal – at 100,000 watts lets it reach most of north Georgia – and its variety are worth protecting.
College radio “is the last remaining place you can find things that will surprise you, make you think, challenge you, that can move you,” Quicke said.
The postponed start date didn’t reassure everyone working on the station’s behalf.
“Just remember that a stay of execution for WRAS is still a plan to execute WRAS,” Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center working on the issue, tweeted just after the announcement.