CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Things Not Too Peachy in Atlanta

Joel Kaplan

August 29, 2014

A number of people have been complaining about the takeover of Georgia State University's public radio station, WRAS, by Georgia Public Radio.

The central gist of the complaints is that Atlanta is already served by NPR programming through Public Broadcasting Atlanta's WABE. In addition, WRAS has long been considered an excellent student-run radio station that played cutting edge music.

"I feel that Georgia Public Broadcasting is egregiously wasting taxpayer money by creating duplicate public radio broadcasting in Atlanta," says Steve Whitlock. "GPB has taken over daytime broadcasting on WRAS, Georgia State University's student run radio station and is duplicating programming that is already heard in Atlanta on WABE. WRAS has been an independent voice for new music for over 40 years and operates totally within the spirit of public radio broadcasting.

"I think all supporters of CPB, which is all taxpayers, should be outraged at this waste of CPB dollars at the expense of unique, independent programming."

Mr. Whitlock's complaint was echoed by Brian Bannon, who says, "Georgia is being ill-served by the corrupt practices of Georgia Public Broadcasting. And now Atlanta's ethical and independent public radio station is being threatened and an acclaimed college station is being silenced by GPB's underhanded back room hijacking of Georgia State University's student-financed 100,000 watt signal for duplicate airings of All Things Considered and Morning Edition."

"What can CPB do to ensure the integrity of public media and encourage independent college radio rather than squelch it? Your profession is being forever tarnished here in Atlanta as self-serving and elitist with no concern for individual communities and their longstanding broadcast icons."

The takeover of WRAS by GPB has become a political controversy in Atlanta with Louis Sullivan, the chair of Public Broadcasting Atlanta's board of directors, decrying the move and charging that Georgia Public Broadcasting is attempting to cut into PBA's fundraising base.

"One public broadcasting service using its Georgia taxpayer funded position to undermine the Atlanta community support of another public broadcasting service is irresponsible," Dr. Sullivan wrote.

In response, Michael H. McDougald, chairman of GPB, said that prior to GPB's partnership with WRAS, Atlanta was the only top 10 radio market in the United States that did not have an all-news public radio station since WABE plays music for part of the day.

"We have enormous respect for WABE's efforts, but we firmly believe we should do everything possible to encourage more original reporting and an overall increase in public radio listening," he wrote.

In an interview with the ombudsman, Teya Ryan, president and chief executive officer of GPB, said it was a well-thought out and logical partnership with Georgia State University.

"Nothing was done illegally," she said. "These are fundamentally the (Georgia State University) alumni who are very upset."

"WRAS is not going away. The students get it back at 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day and they will have a live stream where they can hear the music at any time. It's disingenuous to say that WRAS is going away."

This controversy appears to be heating up and with the GSU students returning to classes this week; the music-loving constituency is likely to continue to protest this decision. Students have been particularly upset that they were left in the dark about the decision.

In a Q&A prepared by GPB about the decision, spokesmen for the public broadcasting entity answered the question about why students weren't informed earlier about the agreement:

"Students and GPB employees were informed the day after the agreement was finalized. While students are entrusted to run the station, WRAS is ultimately a university asset. This opens the door for long-term opportunities between GPB and Georgia State. Terms of the contract evolved over time, and the university shared the decision as soon as it was signed."

Georgia State President Mark P. Becker also defended the decision:

"This new partnership is a proverbial win-win and opens the door for future collaboration. Our students will have new and exciting opportunities in the changing media landscape, and this partnership allows both GPB and Georgia State to better serve the metro Atlanta region as well as the state."

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