Mabra: I’m amazed

Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville)

Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-Fayetteville)

Ronnie Mabra is my new poster child for botched media relations.  This is unfortunate.  Mabra, a Democratic state representative from Fayetteville, doesn’t appear to be a villain.  His backers say he is talented and genuinely public-spirited.  He has enough brainpower to have completed law school and passed the Georgia bar exam.

But good sense is a whole ‘nother thing, as exhibited in two similar encounters over the last year and a half.  We’ll start at the beginning.

In early 2013, Mabra was among many legislators I had approached to ask about gifts they’d gotten from lobbyists.  Disclosure forms showed Mabra had gotten Falcons playoff tickets from the Georgia World Congress Center.   The newly-elected freshman lawmaker had taken the freebies before he’d taken the oath of office.

In his state office across from the Capitol, Mabra told me he’d be happy to talk with me about it — but with this caveat:  You have to ask my caucus leader if it’s OK for me to do the interview. 

This was a first.  I have seen elected officials defer to other elected officials on issues, in order to preserve the leadership role of somebody with a pet piece of legislation.  But my question for Mabra was about his personal decision to accept valuable freebies from people who, at that time, were seeking state help to fund a new football stadium.

I told Mabra his caveat was absurd.  He stuck by it.  Later that day, I saw him outside the Capitol and ambushed him with a camera, asking about the tickets.  He looked surprised, defensive, evasive, sketchy.  It was not a good look for him, but it was good theater for my story.1406236966000-ronnie-mabra

Fast forward to this summer: Driving up Atlanta’s downtown connector, I noticed a billboard above 14th Street.  It featured Mabra’s smiling face, and text that said Lawyer and Lawmaker / State Rep. Ronnie Mabra.  It was advertising his law firm.

Over the next few days, while covering other stories, I’d asked politicos about the billboard, wherein Mabra was clearly using his public title as a way to market his private business.  Most asked:  Can he do that?  Is that legal?  The answer was yes, it’s legal and yes he can do that.

It was not a huge, breaking story, but it was worth a mention on the news.  So I approached it pretty casually. I called Mabra.  He answered.  He seemed to think the billboard was a great idea and expressed willingness to do an interview.  He remembered our previous encounter.

Our second awkward, unscheduled interview

Our second awkward, unscheduled interview

I told him I wanted to avoid another awkward, unscheduled interview.  I suggested a civilized, adult visit.  I gave him some leeway to put me on his schedule.  He said he’d get back to me.

In subsequent days, his tone changed.  He stalled.  Then he fell back into the old excuse:  I can’t talk to you unless you get permission from my caucus leader.

Seriously?! I said.  Do you not remember what happened last time?  

Rep. Mabra hadn’t used our previous encounter as a teachable moment.  Nonetheless — for reasons I can’t fully understand myself — I wanted to bend over backwards to avoid being a dick to this guy.  The story wasn’t that big a deal.  The billboard was even, arguably, defensible.  He wasn’t using his public office to promote his law practice, only his title / resume.  Legislators make crappy money passing laws.  If he could make a case for doing what he’d done, I’d have let him.

In my inexplicable spirit of generosity, I actually texted Rep. Stacy Abrams, the House Democratic caucus leader, to seek her blessing to chat with Rep. Mabra.  I didn’t hear back from her.  Days passed.  Other stories happened.  Vacation happened.

One day in late July, after another story blew apart, I pitched the billboard story and my bossfolk bought it. I set out to put it on TV that night.  I’d given Mabra ‘way more opportunities to comment than is typical.  We went to his office.  Photog Dan Reilly and I entered the lobby, and I asked to see him.  Reilly’s camera was powered up.

Within minutes, Mabra appeared in the lobby — explaining, yet again, that he wouldn’t talk to me without approval of his leadership.

Rep. Mabra adjusts his tie

Rep. Mabra adjusts his tie

“That’s like asking your mommy’s permission,” I said at one point.  “This isn’t about policy. This is about you.  You’re a grown man, and I know you’ve got a side to this story I want to hear.”  I even tried to coach him on how he would look on the news if he just stood there being evasive — for the second time.  His response:  “I look good all the time.”  He even mugged for the camera and adjusted his tie, taking it from bad to worse.

By the way, coaching an interview subject is a taboo taught in Journalism 101.  If an interviewee insists on saying or doing something unsuitable to the story, it’s not cool to direct him to say something else.  I came very close to doing this by urging him to answer my questions, recalling his previous explanation by phone, and appealing to his sense of self-image.  It didn’t work.

We argued for seven minutes.  Reilly rolled the whole time.  Had Mabra told us to leave the property, we would have been obliged to do so.  But he never did.

Instead he wore me out.  We exited the lobby, a bit exhausted, with Mabra still talking about why he couldn’t talk.  With Reilly’s camera recording his evasions, we’d gotten sufficient material to produce a watchable story.  Once again, Rep. Mabra was not at his best– despite my best efforts.

It didn’t have to be that way.





Holsteins and the helipad

Wednesday was a classic, a humbling day in the life of your friendly neighborhood TV reporter.  It was humbling for two reasons:  I spent part of it awkwardly stalking the governor of Georgia; and was doing so in pursuit of a story broken two days earlier by another TV station.TV-ad-4001

Monday, WAGA ballyhooed a big interview with Holly LaBerge, the embattled director of Georgia’s ethics commission.  Mrs. LAF and I actually cranked up the TV set and sat on the couch, 1950s style, to watch the report on their 10pm news.  I actually gasped when I saw the revelation of the memo LaBerge wrote documenting what she described as an intimidating phone call from the governor’s staff.  Good story, Dale Russell, I thought.  Damn your eyes.

Tuesday, the AJC appeared in my driveway with an “AJC exclusive” that had the same info as Russell’s story.  The “exclusive” also cited Russell’s exclusive interview with LaBerge, thus broadening the already-overused word to include exclusive coverage of your competitor’s exclusive material.

Tuesday, I followed Russell’s story with no pretense to exclusivity.  An Open Records Act request for the LaBerge memo was fruitful, as was my request to interview her attorney. (“I said my piece to Dale Russell” LaBerge answered when I phoned her, politely referring me to the lawyer.  Damn your eyes, Russell.)

By Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal still hadn’t talked at any length about the memo and the allegation his office had intimidated his hand-picked ethics director.  His spokesman gave me a vague “maybe, maybe not” response to my request for an interview.

So photog Steven Boissy and I wandered to the Capitol Wednesday morning.  I’ve never really staked out the Capitol with the hope of having an unscheduled encounter with the Governor.

Swiped from

Swiped from

But that’s how Wednesday began.  I believed that Gov. Deal was at an event but returning to the Capitol.  I didn’t know whether he was traveling by car or helicopter.  His SUV was absent from its usual parking space, leading me to believe he was probably in it.

Boissy and I hung around outside the Capitol, a building whose grounds have surprisingly little space for comfortable and inconspicuous loitering.  We found a spot that might have allowed us to see Gov. Deal arrive by car, and waited.

There was no place to sit.  The sun was shining and getting hotter.  Our stakeout spot was out of eyeshot of windows to the Governor’s office, and away from Capitol police perches.  One security guard walked past us but said nothing except “good morning.” We waited, maybe, thirty minutes.  I felt ridiculous and conspicuous and spent much of the time figuring out a) what to say when somebody questioned why we were hanging around there, and b) what to do after this gambit failed.

Boissy and I read obscure historic inscriptions, noted the surrounding flora and observed the increasing intensity of the sunshine. We discussed varying breeds of cattle, a subject in which we both share a surprising interest.

Our smalltalk dwindled rapidly.

And then we heard a helicopter.

It bore down on the new helipad built atop the new parking garage across from the Capitol’s southeast corner.  Boissy and I scurried over, and saw the governor’s SUV parked outside the garage at a door.  His usual driver was behind the wheel.

The stakeout concludes

The stakeout concludes

The Governor exited the building.  I didn’t bum-rush him, but called from a respectful distance and asked if he would stop to chat.  “What about?” he asked, as if he didn’t already know.

“Our office has already issued a statement about that,” he said.  I said I’d like to clarify some of what the statement said.  “OK, sure,” he answered.

What followed was a four minute chat wherein he challenged the accuracy of my first question, then proceeded to interlace his answers with questions for me that seemed to challenge the veracity of LaBerge’s memo.  He was lively and a bit more contentious than we usually see him.  He obviously wanted to talk.  The unedited interview is here.

Midway into our  Q&A, I saw a WSB mic flag pop into view alongside mine.  Richard Elliott had popped up, seemingly out of nowhere.

Elliott got what he needed without the indignity of the awkward stakeout. 

Damn your eyes.

Here and away

This is a transitional time in Atlanta TV news.  Here are some notes. 

Paul Crawley with an admirer

Paul Crawley with an admirer

Paul Crawley.  The WXIA reporter is retiring at the end of this month.  I’ve been a fan of this guy since I first started competing with him in 1986.  As a coworker since 2009, I’ve seen Crawley consistently be the most prepared reporter in the morning editorial meeting, with the best array of story ideas.  His anecdotes from our industry, told during slow moments at trials, stakeouts, legislative hearings and in the newsroom, nearly always came with wry insight or a belly laugh or both.  His execution and professionalism are top-drawer.  Plus, Crawley is the king of screwball comedy.  I will be very sorry to see him leave.

Angel Eyes

Angel Eyes

Cook with Ken Rodriguez

Cook with Ken Rodriguez

Ken Cook.  WAGA’s chief meteorologist was arguably the best in town — level headed and charismatic, with the ever-present mustache that evoked Lee Van Cleef’s “Angel Eyes” character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Cook’s career in Atlanta TV weather set a durability record that may never be eclipsed.  Cook was always fun to be around, a guy who welcomed the intrusions of reporters seeking personal forecasts.  He was also very good at deflating the weather-coverage ambitions of excitable news managers who overanalyzed the gravity of upcoming storms.  But when Cook looked at the charts and said “yeah, it’s gonna be bad,” you knew the threat was credible.  WXIA’s Chesley McNeil is cut from Cook’s mold.  So is…

Chris Holcomb

Chris Holcomb

Chris Holcomb.  The WXIA meteorologist emerged from the fringe schedule to become the station’s chief meteorologist last week.  Among the staff’s chattering classes, it was a no-brainer.  When the decision was announced, the raucous cheering exceeded any I’ve ever heard in a newsroom.  He’s that good, and that good a guy.

Blayne Alexander

Blayne Alexander

Blayne Alexander.  The one-woman-band reporter has quietly elevated to WXIA’s fill-in anchor rotation.  If there had been a big announcement a la Holcomb, it might have gotten a similar cheer.  Our industry is a brighter place with Bleezey in it.

The implausible partnership

Sunday, Georgia State University consummated its bewildering decision to transfer control of most of the programming on WRAS-FM to Georgia Public Broadcasting.

GPB has expanded its audience with the flip of a switch and a negligible transfer of cash.  Broadcasters dream of such stuff.  It is probably the crowning career achievement of GPB’s president and CEO, Teya Ryan.

Teya Ryan

Teya Ryan

Somehow, Ryan sweet-talked GSU president Mark Becker into handing over GSU’s most unique and nationally-recognized asset, its 100,000 watt FM station, in exchange for vague promises of internships at GPB and TV programming opportunities.  Becker is in the thrall of Georgia’s new film industry presence, and justifies the gutting of WRAS as a way to get an unspecified number of GSU students “experiential” TV and film opportunities.

GPB was cunning and opportunistic.  But Becker is the guy who gave it away.

Here’s my favorite part of the GSU press release issued last week:  Through the partnership, Georgia State students will be involved in producing 12 hours of daily programming every day of the year on GPB’s digital television network. 

It sounds great in a press release, but raises an obvious question:  Is GPB and / or GSU anywhere close to being staffed and equipped to produce 12 hours of daily TV programming?

By comparison, WAGA produces ten and a half hours of local news programming every weekday.  WAGA has scores of overworked professionals making pretty good money grinding out all that content, under deadline, every day.

Does GPB / GSU even have a plan for those twelve hours of daily TV programming?  Or a clue as to how to use college students to produce it?

Given my first-hand experience as a GSU communications instructor, it seems a bit implausible.  Here’s the thumbnail:

In the spring of 2009, I was tasked to teach broadcast writing and production, “JOURN 4740 News for Telecommunications.”  The class would include a video component.  Midway into the semester, I would assign stories.  Students would shoot and edit them on GSU equipment.

GSU charged students an extra $100 fee for use of GSU video cameras.  And then — I learned that GSU had failed to allocate cameras to my class.  Nobody told the equipment guy about my class.  The students got no cameras.  But GSU refused to refund the fee to the students!  I was horrified.

GSU justified taking the fee because the students still had access to a video editing lab — to edit video they couldn’t shoot.

Most of my 17 students were not nearly as surprised as I was.  Most were due to graduate that spring.  They’d viewed it as more of the same at GSU.

From last week’s press release:  With its strong and growing connections to the dynamic Atlanta film industry, Georgia State is the premier institution in Georgia for film and broadcast study. Its film and journalism programs are among the largest of their kind in the nation, with more than 2,000 undergraduate students. 

Wow!  What an awesome school GSU has become in the five years since my pathetic experience there as a communications instructor.  It is all undoubtedly due to the amazing work of Dr. Becker, who showed up as president the same year.

I interviewed Dr. Becker this spring, and it took a very weird turn.

Dr. Mark Becker

Dr. Mark Becker

I had set up an interview with him about GSU’s property expansion downtown, and the school’s potential interest in available property at Turner Field, Underground and elsewhere.  When publicist Andrea Jones put me on his schedule the morning of April 8, I noted that the date coincided with the Braves’ home opener.  I told her that if Becker said anything interesting about GSU’s interest in the Turner Field property, it would be especially timely.

That morning, Becker affably told me that yes, GSU was interested in Turner Field’s potential as student housing and a mixed-use development space.  In response to a question, he also mused that he could see repurposing Turner Field into a football stadium for GSU.  In person, Becker seemed down-to-earth, likeable and forthcoming.

Good story, right?  It was the first time GSU’s president had confirmed interest in developing that area after the Braves leave for Cobb County in 2017.

The next day, GSU’s online publication The Signal tried to verify the story.  Becker, through Jones, told The Signal that I had “manufactured” the story.

For whatever reason, Becker had decided to backpedal on the tentative interest he’d expressed to me about Turner Field.  The obfuscation to The Signal was laughable, though, given that 11Alive’s web site and video showed the actual words coming from Dr. Becker’s actual mouth.

Image of GSU's Turner Field plan

Image of GSU’s Turner Field plan

I didn’t take it personally (I didn’t learn about The Signal piece until several weeks later).  But it delivered an odd snapshot of a doctorate-holding man who, despite advance notice of the subject of our interview, had apparently given little forethought to what he might say.

A month later, GSU revealed its official offer for the Turner Field property.  GSU produced artwork of a mixed-use development, and a stadium retrofitted for football — verifying what Becker had told me in my “manufactured” story.

And on the same day, GSU announced its stunning giveaway of WRAS.

BnEM5z3CcAAmUYbStudents, alumni and listeners of WRAS raised a shitstorm that seemed to catch Becker by surprise.  Somewhat paralleling his experience with me, he began backpedaling his decision — first, by delaying the takeover; then, by issuing last week’s press release saying “The university is pursuing options to secure daytime broadcast time for WRAS after the [GPB] partnership is initiated…”

The same press release describes WRAS as GSU’s  “heralded student-run radio station,” a too-late acknowledgement that this radio station is more than merely another university “asset.”

Sunday, WRAS played NPR programming that duplicated WABE’s programming.  This week, it will play drive-time programming that will largely duplicate WABE’s NPR programming.  Except for nighttime and graveyard shifts, the original, groundbreaking, community-based, student-produced content will be gone.

The “heralded” student run station — the one that Becker now knows had a groundbreaking 43-year history —  is now dead on radio most of the day.  The student-programmed HD signal GSU promised doesn’t exist yet.  The student-programmed daytime web stream barely exists.  The apps to hear the daytime student programming sometimes work, sometimes don’t.  The GPB internships don’t start til 2015.

Sorry, kids.

That’s the GSU I experienced in 2009.

And Becker?  He appears to be trying to show students that he didn’t really mean to screw them out of their student-run radio station.  Kinda like he didn’t really mean to tell me about his designs on Turner Field — but then jumped in and did it anyway, embracing it weeks later.
It suggests the fix is in for GSU to fully embrace its new GPB “partnership” — once both parties think GSU students and WRAS backers have stopped paying attention.



The daily grovel

Tough crowd: Lisa, Marcita and Molly.

Tough crowd: Lisa, Marcita and Molly.

“You look very nice today, Molly.”

“Pft” was her response, followed by a sharp look that let me know I was wasting my breath.  Molly Baker, WXIA’s 7pm producer, always looks nice. It was no secret I needed a decision that would seal my fate for the day.  My initial approach was hamhanded and pathetic.

“What about me?”  Marcita’s desk adjoins Molly’s.  She saw an opportunity to exploit my growing embarrassment, and took it.  “Don’t I look nice too?”  Marcita Thomas produces the 6pm newscast.

Rarely does a day pass when I don’t end up at the cubicle pod dominated, during daylight hours, by Molly and Marcita.  I am nearly always there with hat in hand, hoping to sweet talk a few extra seconds out of them for whatever awesome TV story I’m producing for that night’s newscast.

The grovel begins:  Doug at Marcita's desk

The grovel begins: Doug at Marcita’s desk

Although I will typically approach a specific producer about a specific newscast, all ears in the pod will perk up.  Judgments are made, not only about the outrageousness of my request for fifteen extra seconds of time, but also for the logic offered.  Style points are added and subtracted, depending on my level of humility and / or humor. But the response to any request for additional time is almost always a cold calculation, regardless of how charming I try to be and how flawless my logic is.

Lisa Turner, who produces weekend newscasts and often steps in for nightly newscasts as needed, is the most Type A of the three.  When I approach her for extra time, the initial answer is often an incredulous outburst, high in volume and pitch.  I’ve learned to wait for the eruption to subside as she starts to do the math in her head.

Like Molly and Marcita, Lisa strives to be agreeable.  Problem is that every knucklehead assigned to a 1:20 slot in a newscast seems to want / need more time within the finite confines of the thirty-minute broadcast.

Molly is the towering upper Midwesterner who betrays an occasional Fargo-type accent.  Marcita has deeper Atlanta roots and is the only producer in the room who predates my 2009 arrival at WXIA.  Both retain an admirable, evenhanded Zen quality about them even as some of their excitable co-workers are pronouncing stories to be “huge” while the details are only beginning to dribble out.

Eighty percent of the time, they say “yes” when I’ve offered a proper grovel.  When they say “no,” they mean business.

Producers have only a measure of control over the time slots allotted in their newscasts.  Loquacious anchors and weathercasters will ramble on sometimes, buoyed by the certainty of their own cleverness; reporters doing live shots will go long out of a sense of if you’re gonna make me stand out here, then by gosh, you’ll get an earful. 

Bottom line is, if a producer wants me to stay within an allotted time, I’ll try to bust my hump (and even gut my story) to do it.  Because she’ll remember if I don’t.  And next time, I want her to say “yes” when I come groveling.


Paradise lost

Update: On May 30, GSU announced it would postpone the GPB takeover of WRAS to June 29.

When you get up Saturday morning, consider finding a way to listen to WRAS from 10am to noon.  Most of us listen to it via FM radio at 88.5, but there are apps and streams and such that also make it available.

This will be the final Saturday that WRAS will play a brilliant program called Adventures in Paradise, which calls itself “your weekly source of classic Exotica, Tropicalia, Calypso, Surf Rock, Lounge Singers, Rhumba, Mambo, Samba, Bossa Nova, and other Sunshine Music.”  It’s a madcap, inspiring and very entertaining way to start a weekend.

A week from Saturday, Georgia Public Broadcasting promises to replace Adventures in Paradise with reruns of Car Talk, the syndicated show featuring two auto mechanics.  10325140_480072262126543_7708899296937720419_n

Georgia State University has simply handed over most of WRAS-FM’s programming to GPB, and both entities have endured a much-deserved shitstorm over the last months. Said shitstorm is observable on GPB’s own Facebook page, or by visiting #saveWRAS on Twitter and such.

It’s deserved because WRAS is local, clever, influential, student-run and transgenerational.  It is arguably the best college radio station in America.  It’s stunning that GSU simply handed it over to GPB (minus evening and graveyard shift programming).  The secrecy of the deal, and its unveiling as students were leaving campus at the conclusion of the spring semester, makes it heavyhanded and ugly.

GSU president Mark Becker finally met with WRAS staff after-the-fact, and staff came away with an impression that some modifications would take place (two weeks later, none has been announced).

10404436_481481095318993_6932548418442056698_nMeantime, GPB is rapidly becoming the bad guy as they slowly roll out a programming lineup that will be rife with reruns of nationally syndicated shows like Car Talk and Prairie Home Companion, shows that are already quite available in Atlanta on WABE.

As I’ve written earlier, I like GPB but I love WRAS.  There are backstage people at GPB I absolutely adore.  It grieves me to see them having to keep their heads down as the shitstorm flies.  (Poor Bill Nigut is listed as part of GPB’s new lineup, and is now becoming the face of evil in this controversy. Nigut has told me he found out about the WRAS takeover at the same time everyone else did.)

GPB is an honorable entity.  It’s smart and avoids the foolishness of commercial broadcasting (pledge drives notwithstanding, Chip Rogers notwithstanding).  Along with WABE, GPB covers Georgia’s capitol more thoroughly than most of Atlanta’s TV stations.  GPB is fighting the good fight.  GSU made the mistake, but GPB will be the face of it June 2.

Whenever GPB raises its WRAS-takeover profile, it only seems to make it worse.  The latest is a GPB press release that inadvertently highlights just how screwed-over students are in this deal.  Cue the soothing radio voice as you read:

Our partnership with Georgia State University helps Georgia State students open the door to their future. Now, internships in a professional media operation will be available to provide practical on the job experience that matters to potential employers.

Each year, interns play a vital role throughout GPB’s operations working alongside professionals in areas including television production, news, new media and beyond. (…)

In addition, students will also produce a 30-minute music program that will air as part of GPB’s new programming schedule from 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. on 88.5.

In other words, in exchange for 14 hours of students-produced content seven days a week, students get internships at GPB!  And a thirty minute radio show!

All so GPB can run syndicated programming, plus a show hosted by Nigut.

Like Putin’s walk into Crimea, this takeover seems inevitable and unstoppable.  GPB may lose a few donors in the short term, but is well positioned to eventually expand its takeover of WRAS.  GSU’s secretiveness while cutting this deal shows that isn’t about Georgia State students, or a unique locally-produced entity with a 43 year history and a national profile.  It’s about power politics.

Unless GPB decides otherwise.  Its foot is irretrievably in the door at WRAS.  But a compromise that gives WRAS back to students for most of the week — and maybe all of the weekends — would go a long way toward creating some some short-term goodwill for GPB as it launches.

Meantime, I’m going to listen to Adventures in Paradise one more time Saturday.  It will be a really crappy start to my weekend.


WRAS matters

The best thing about Atlanta Georgia is WRAS, the Georgia State University radio station at 88.5 FM.  In a city with many great attributes, WRAS is the best of them.10330228_10152322747342107_1419655363576821531_n

The first night I lived in Atlanta in May 1986, I found WRAS by scanning through the lower end of the FM dial.  I vividly remember hearing a band I’d never heard before called The Jazz Butcher.  The band name stuck with me, the music was fun and the radio station remained my go-to for music in the 28 years since.  (Embedded above, Stump was another early find, with its refrain “Charlton Heston put his vest on” and it’s weird croaky rhythm.)

WRAS was, at once, wildly unpredictable yet the most consistently programmed radio station in Atlanta.  Every other commercial radio station in town has shifted focus or formats too numerous to count.  But WRAS has always been a radio station with a mission:  Play great, accessible music unheard elsewhere on radio — with an emphasis on artists unsigned by major record labels.

Georgia State president Mark Becker has made a puzzling decision to “partner” WRAS with Georgia Public Broadcasting. The benefits for Georgia State are nebulous, except to give its president and his friends (and GSU donors) another radio station with a news-talk format that they prefer to the strange yet wonderful noises that have emanated from 88.5 since 1971.  They’re trading in 14 hours of student programming per day for vague promises of exposure on the fringes of GPB’s statewide network.  It’s a great win for GPB, which has understandably craved an Atlanta radio presence.  Way to go, GPB.

I like GPB, but I love WRAS.  The decision to gut this radio station is ugly and sad.  In a world where radio is becoming increasingly homogenized and corporate and syndicated, GSU has cheerfully thrown in the towel to those impulses.  GSU’s spin that ‘WRAS isn’t going away because it will still be on the internet and on FM overnight’ just makes the taste worse.  Colleges everywhere have internet radio stations with tens of listeners.  Georgia State was, purportedly, the only all-student-run radio station in America, and it has a burly 100,000 watt FM radio signal.

WRAS was good for students.  With a volunteer staff of about 70 students, WRAS has the personnel footprint of a football team.  Students who have worked at WRAS have parlayed the experience into real-world post-graduation careers, with the added benefit of giving their listeners music they never would have heard on any other radio station.  Many of them are now on the march to forge a compromise with GSU, which excluded students and alumni from its decision.

WRAS studio at Georgia State University

WRAS studio at Georgia State University

Radio listeners are accustomed to getting their faves torn away by the cruel realities of corporate radio ownership.  One can argue that this is no different, that WRAS was bound to be seized at some point by GSU as an underutilized “asset,” and reshaped into something more ratings-friendly — even though WRAS never subscribed to any ratings services because nobody at GSU cared about the ratings.  Prior to the Becker regime, WRAS was viewed as a lab run by volunteer students — which delivered real-world feedback from listeners, and from the music industry that viewed WRAS as a tastemaker nationally and valued spots on its playlists.

You can argue about the relevance of radio, but the tug-of-war over this one shows that local radio ain’t dead yet — despite years of predictions that it would die by way of satellite or Pandora.

Now GSU is creating yet another radio station largely drained of its unique, local programming.  Way to go, GSU.

What in Atlanta is better than WRAS?  Start by disqualifying everything that hasn’t been consistently great for 43 years.  Maybe Piedmont Park is a contender.  Perhaps certain colleges and houses of worship qualify.  Certainly WREK and WCLK deserve consideration (WREK’s musical variations tend to be too jarring to make it accessible to my ears, however.  If I liked jazz, which I don’t, then I’d be a WCLK fan.)

But none is better than WRAS, a true Atlanta gem.  GSU ought to reconsider.