The last day of finals at Georgia State University was Tuesday, May 6.
Most on-campus students had already gone home for the summer. The student newspaper, The Signal, had printed its last issue of the semester. The only students remaining on campus that morning were on their way to take an exam.
That morning -- when the campus was all but deserted -- is when Georgia State University's administration made two announcements. The first was a $300-million proposal to buy Turner Field and turn it into a football stadium.
The second announcement was pocket change by comparison: for about $150,000, the Georgia State University administration had given away most of the student airtime (from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day) on the student-run radio station, WRAS 88.5 FM, also known as Album 88. (You can read the contract here.)And if you know anything about Album 88, you know why the Georgia State University administration waited until the morning of Tuesday, May 6, to announce that, like thieves in the dead of night, they had stolen more than half of one of the most important voices in radio and sold it for pennies.
— ＢＲＥＡ music (@brea_z) May 8, 2014
I Don't Like Tuesdays
While WRAS has been around since 1971, it took the name Album 88 a little later in the decade to emphasize it would play multiple songs from an album, rather than just the hits. Because it's non-commercial, it doesn't have to pander, and can take a chance on music you haven't heard yet.
And because it's student-run, it has a huge role in discovering new music and bringing it to the masses. It was the first station to play Outkast on the radio. The Boomtown Rats' new wave hit "I Don't Like Mondays" was written in the WRAS offices when Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers were there for an interview.
But Album 88 isn't just a legendary station -- it's a living legend, pushing the future of music, too.
The music played on Album 88 spans every genre of music you've ever heard -- punk, post-punk, alternative country, lounge, freakbeat, chillwave -- and some they haven't named yet. You don't get on WRAS because the label put your face on a Best Buy end-cap. You get there by a student hearing the song and wanting to share it with the world.
They're doing that right now. Even since last Tuesday, when the student volunteers on the station were informed -- for the first time -- that the administration had decided to give away forty years of history to get $150,000 and the vague promise that maybe, sometime, students would get to use the purchaser's digital cable system.
"It's happening. It's not going to be reversed."
-- Georgia State University president Mark P. Becker to NPR affiliate WABE
Georgia Public Broadcasting
The other participant in what is probably best described as a cultural assassination is Georgia Public Broadcasting, a group that operates NPR and PBS stations. Georgia State's Vice President of Student Affairs acknowledged that the administration had been negotiating for months with GPB.
Months, during which time not a single student was invited to participate. And then, the parties announced the result on the morning of the last day of finals, when no one on campus had time to care, and no one who had time to care would be on campus.
So what does Georgia Public Broadcasting offer to Georgia State in exchange for most of the airtime on the station? Well, $150,000, and the Vice President's speculation that the Public Broadcasting station's larger audience will stick around for the evening programming.
But Album 88 was never about trying to amass the largest possible audience -- nearly every other station already exists for that purpose. And you have to question the intelligence of someone who sells the time on a non-commercial station in the entirely speculative hope that, maybe, it'll be more popular in the remaining hours.
(Spoiler: most people listen to radio in the car or at work. In point of fact, GSU sold the heart of the audience to obtain a nearly non-existent evening audience. Something which any of the students on the radio station could have told the administration, if they'd bothered to include a single student in the process.)
So, in essence, Georgia Public Broadcasting is Leatherface, and it has conspired with Georgia State University to perform a Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the student radio station. They're insisting it's the same station, but it's been gutted and filled with... well, filled with syndicated talk radio that's already available on other stations in the market.
Oh, but there are plans to possibly develop some kind of sports programming for Georgia State.
— Chris Shattuck (@ChrisShattuck) May 9, 2014
How to Help
Saturday, May 11 is the graduation ceremony for Georgia State University. Unlike the cowards in their administration, supporters of Album 88 are openly organizing, decorating their graduation caps to show support for student control of student radio.
There's a petition with over 7,000 signatures. And a proposed boycott of Georgia Public Broadcasting after the switch. ("But where will I listen to my classical music?" said an empty bathroom stall in the DMV.) Alumni have been asked to withhold donations or request their return.
— track13 (@track13) May 10, 2014
To that, I would like to add the following:
Georgia State University President Mark P. Becker ought to be fired.
If he didn't recognize the value of Album 88 in its existing form, he's not that bright. If he recognized it and didn't care, he's not that bright. If he thought that sneaking this in on the last day of finals was going to make it go away, he's not that bright. If he thought going on a media blitz after the fact just to tell students there's nothing they can do, he's not that bright.
Becker defends this deal by talking about what a great opportunity it is for Georgia State students. But if you step back and look at the actual deal, it's just a great opportunity for him to raise his profile.
Students already had a high profile thanks to Album 88. And he's just promised to give away most of their audience in exchange for hypothetical internships (which were already available anyway) and advertising on public radio to remind everyone that Georgia State University exists.
In short, Becker traded four decades of student blood, sweat, and tears for a bunch of 10-second plugs of his university. And if the Regents don't fire him, they're not that bright, because it'll be a sub-zero day in Hotlanta before any student who can read social media signs up to be abused by Becker.