Demolition of Album 88 another sad step toward sameness

By Tom Baxter

My response to last week’s announcement that the coolest college station in the universe is about to be replaced in the daytime by another broad slather of upscale national chat has been tinged with a degree of geezer guilt.

I’ve always considered WRAS, Album 88, a point of civic pride. It used to strike me, fiddling around the dial as I drove around the country following one story or another, that no college station matched it for attitude and energy, and few stations of any kind equaled its studied sense of cool.

So the deal in which Georgia Public Broadcasting will take over the Georgia State University station’s airtime from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. left me indignant, but also with the sinking realization that the Album 88 of my imagination is still playing Bananarama and Fun Boy Three.

Nothing against triphop or lounge, but I don’t drive as much, and one of the cars has Syrius. People do get older. The change in my listening habits isn’t a factor in this revolting development, but I still have a faint feeling of responsibility, and a wistful awareness that I won’t be leading the protest march to save it.

The WRAS story is really about the kids, anyway, and they weren’t informed until the deal, which Georgia State president Mark Becker described as a “proverbial win-win” for the school, was done. The deal comes with internship opportunities for students and other perks, but the $150,000 GPB is paying for two years of air time on a 100,000-watt, major-market station, sounds at first wink like a bargain.

“It’s happening. It’s not going to be reversed,” Becker said later, after a flurry of social media activity protesting the move. That may be so, but the protest seems already to have generated a few letters to the FCC, and when it comes to broadcasting rights, it’s best to speak with caution.

It’s hard to figure why the school administration handled its announcement in the peremptory way it did. This was going to be a tough sell anyway — “Change is hard,” GPB CEO Teya Ryan commented — but there seems to have been a notable lack of appreciation for the station’s four-decade tradition or the loyalty of fans who heard OutKast or REM for the first time on 88.5. There was no recognition of the fact that before Georgia State had a competitive law school, before there was an Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, before GSU became a dominant presence in downtown Atlanta, there was Album 88.

This is, in many ways, a classic Atlanta story, except that we’re used to the demolition of old buildings and wooded areas, and not sonic demolition. Whoever the win-winners are in this deal, the result will be a radio dial that is less distinctive than it used to be, so that if you’re driving through it will be more like everywhere else. The less publicized but also troubling smooth jazzification of WCLK is another step in the same direction.

The suggestion that this could have been warded off had WABE Radio, with which GPB will now compete directly, relented and allowed its classical music-and-news format to be curtailed to allow for more national public radio call-in shows, is also somewhat guilt-inducing, since I’m decidedly in the classical camp on that issue. I have heard smarter people than ever talk on the radio talk about politics, and everything they said is not the equal of one movement of a Beethoven sonata.

Having a direct competitor with access to the NPR news shows isn’t going to make things any easier for WABE, which, we are reminded every pledge drive, gets by gingerly already. So the end result is likely to be even less musical diversity.

The choice really isn’t between ambient and baroque. It’s between music and what isn’t music. And on that issue, I know what side I’m on. This is a radio town, a place where many important innovations have happened, a place where a lot of artists got their first air time. And in that grand tradition, “Left on the dial, right on the music,” has just as proud a place as “Welcome South, Brother.”

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

11 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Acquisition of WRAS by GPB is the latest battle in a war begun in the mid-1990s when Zell Miller was governor. GPB had a hole in its coverage map – metro Atlanta. Acquiring use of WRAS allows them to fill the hole and expand their war with Atlanta Public Schools/WABE-WPBA/Atlanta Educational Telecommunications Collaborative. Now GPB will attempt to subdue their competition by reducing their fundraising income and corporate gifts.
    Why must taxpayers be forced to subsidize two competing public broadcasting entities in Atlanta?Report

    Reply
  2. Friend of TB says:

    We needed another, more news-oriented public radio station — he’ll, Cincinnati, one quarter Atlanta’s size, has four — but it should not come at the expense of one of the only worthwhile points in Atlanta’s radio wasteland.Report

    Reply
  3. urban gardener says:

    A number of blog posters on Creative Loafing have really combed thru the contract, and it is by no means a benefit for student broadcasters. If you’re interested in what will not fall their way, take 30-odd minutes to crawl thru the various articles’ postings. The students really got jipped.
    As far as geezer guilt goes – i’m pushing decade #5, and find college radio keeps me much more in tune with where the country is going… and WRAS has a number of interesting talk programs, such as ‘With Good Reason’ which i listened to today (had a segment on child rearing in the 1500s and 1600s) and then the ever-bombshell ‘Commonwealth Club’ broadcasts. Some of their other programs don’t float my boat as much, how it goes.
    There has to be a greater end-game of GPB for this Chip Rogers dejavualloveragain debacle. $150k for a multimillion dollar prize? Yeah, right… even WREK was going to be pimped out for a bigger sum if memory serves. At least GaTech didn’t caveReport

    Reply
  4. dejahthoris22 says:

    This breaks my heart. I will fight it to the end. WRAS is the sound track to my life. Our family has been listening for 20 years and we have learned so much about music. We have bought many albums and cds from small and international artists because we heard the on WRAS. And the DJs have come into our homes on the radio and because familiar voices to us. This is a horrible disservice to the students at GSU, also to listeners young and old, and to the arts culture, what there is of it, in Atlanta.Report

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  5. PriscillaPadron says:

    I cut back on my contribution to GPB over the Chip Rogers debacle; then picked it up again when he was fired.  Now I regret it.  
    GPB’s acquisition of WRAS is a big mistake — especially for the students in communication and media, who had a chance to work, manage and redact in a real-time broadcasting situation. The benefit to the Atlanta community is that WRAS offers a different perspective on the pulse of the nation.  Shame.Report

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  6. DanielTravieso says:

    “Change is hard,” GPB CEO Teya Ryan commented … especially when it involves destroying our cherished Album 88, this must stop!Report

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  7. comicart says:

    The students and the community are adversely affected by this bad (criminal!) decision by GSU and GPB.  Becker should be ashamed. Someone needs to follow the money on this deal who is really benefiting.  
    #saveWRAS #recallBeckerReport

    Reply

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