ATLANTA -- Georgia State University Vice President of Student Affairs Doug Covey talked with 11Alive's Doug Richards about the partnership announced this week between GSU's student-operated FM radio station, WRAS, and Georgia Public Broadcasting. The partnership has sparked protests and petitions among WRAS listeners and GSU students.
Richards is a fan of the radio station -- and of GPB -- and disclosed that to GSU officials before they agreed to the interview.
Richards: What was the compelling reason to do this?
Covey: The compelling reason for entering into this at this time is the university perceived it to be in our long term best interest, in terms of both the station itself, but also the university generally. Because by partnering with public broadcasting as a network, we have an opportunity to have a much bigger footprint. We have a chance to showcase our students' talents statewide. For instance, part of the agreement is we'll be developing a weekly student-produced radio program that will go out over the Georgia Public Broadcasting network for all of their affiliates. And that will be produced by our students at our station. And that's an unprecedented opportunity for us. On the television side, also in collaboration with GPB, we'll have a chance to produce student produced television programming through their auspices. I believe they have something called the Knowledge Channel, for Comcast subscribers. And that will give us a great opportunity to get student produced programming out into the general audience which we could never do before.
And we also view it as a pretty exciting potential to grow listenership for our station too. Because we know a lot of our listeners will be coming to 88.5 in daytime for the GPB programming may not be people who typically listen to Album 88. And at the time we make the transition at 7 o'clock in the evening, we're hopeful that some of that audience will linger and continue with the student programming in the evening.
Q: Part of the charm of album 88 was that it didn't appear to be seeking an (expanded) audience.
A: And a lot of people make that observation and that is not atypical for a college student station...
We're not losing the flavor and the character of what Album 88 has been. This will still be student driven programming that they will be producing. They'll still be doing it under their own auspices with their own talent. They'll still be broadcasting 24 hours a day. The difference being we'll carry GPB's stream during daylight hours, and our live broadcast during the day will be on the HD channel over the air, or accessible via the web.
Q: So twelve hours of it on the main channel will be syndicated basically.
Well I think that's a bit of an overstatement. The GPB stream will certainly include some things from National Public Radio, I'm sure. But they're also planning to do some independent productions themselves. What they will be doing as I understand it is GPB is going to be doing an information and talk format all day.
Q: Which will not be student produced.
A: No, the GPB programming will not be student produced. But simultaneously the students will be doing their own production, their own broadcasting through the HD channel and streaming on line. They'll be in the studio 24 hours a day.
Q: Every college in America has an online radio station. This radio station was unique because it's an over the air product with a huge signal, and a huge influence (on music charts). Do you have any regrets about eroding that?
A: Well I think the station will continue in many ways to be what it has been when you consider the other twelve hours of the day, we're broadcasting analog as we always have. We'll continue to have independent student programming. We will have student broadcasters continue to work 24 hours a day seven days a week, as they always have. ... Album 88 is not lost to the public. In daylight hours, they'll have to access it a different way. But the content is not going to change, unless the students choose to change the content.
Q But the students have no control over half of the programming -- over the daytime programming anymore. On the main channel.
A: I'm not trying to be difficult here, but it's a fine distinction. The students do have as much programming independence as they have ever had. The difference is over our analog air. From our transmitter, the analog signal will be Georgia Public Broadcasting's during the day. And our programming, which is available independent of that, will be available either by the web or over the air through our HD channel.
Q: One of the charms of album 88 is that it has been a student run station.
A: It is. And it will continue to be.
Q: Were the students involved in the decision?
A: The students were informed of the decision as practically as they could be made aware of it. We didn't actually finalize the decision until Monday of this week and we informed the students on Tuesday... we did not involve the students in the discussions until the discussions were finalized.
Q: Would it have been reasonable to involve the managers of the student run station in the future of their station?
A: Well, you have to look at it from the standpoint that the station is a university asset. The university values that asset very much... The university has to be a steward of all its resources and the university has to be empowered to make decisions that that are in the institutional best interest for the long term and we ultimately believe that this is in the students' best interest as well. This greatly expands their opportunities, and we believe that over time, WRAS has the potential to be a much stronger presence in terms of it having a much larger listenership than it's ever had before.
Q: You indicated earlier that it will help broaden Georgia State University's reach. It sounds like you're interested in it broadly to help market the university.
A: I think that's a benefit. It certainly is. I mean when we have student produced programming going across the entire GPB network statewide, that increases our visibility. We will have Georgia State University-focused public service announcements every day on the network as a whole. There are a lot of ways in which, even during the hours we're carrying their programming, the station identification breaks and all that, there will be hourly mentions that this is coming to you through the facilities of Georgia State University and WRAS.
Q: And Georgia State University is already this, sort of juggernaut downtown, and its student body has expanded enormously over the last fifteen years.
A: We have had very healthy growth. We are a bit of a juggernaut. We're a large university. But we have a statewide mission too. We're more than just a big metro school. We are a university that has programs that we hope to interest Georgians throughout the state.
Q: We've touched on this a little bit. WRAS has this tradition, not only of student run programming but also of breaking new music. Do you feel like that mission is being compromised?
A: I wouldn't think so. I wouldn't think so. I mean we still – in all evening hours, we are what we've ever been. There will be no change after seven o'clock at night to five the next morning. We still have access to a large listenership, over the air analog in addition to the digital one streaming. It's certainly a significant change that we're not carrying our programming on the analog broadcast during the day. It's a significant change. But it certainly doesn't preclude WRAS from continuing to be an important community resource and continuing its tradition of being sort of avant garde and on the cutting edge of new music. I'm very confident that the students' interest in that music is not going to wane.
Q: Can you see why students and fans of the radio station would be upset?
A: I absolutely understand. When you make a change this significant and given the passions that go with radio listenership – we all have favorite stations – and we all would be very curious and concerned if we thought there was some fundamental shift in something we valued. It makes a great deal of sense people would be concerned. And that people would want to know more about it. But I feel confident that over time, once we start realizing the benefits of this collaboration, I think people will look back in a few years and say this was really a good move.