State of Student Radio
By: Josue “Josh” Alvarez Mapp (a.k.a. DJ Mappquest)
Last week, Atlanta, Georgia found out that Album 88, the channel known iconically for Georgia State University’s student run radio station WRAS, will have its primetime slot taken over by Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB). First, this is not a slight at public broadcasting at all. Through my experiences as a board member of Capital Public Radio, some of the brightest, best minds with equally great hearts work in public radio (or at least the staff of Capital Public Radio is phenomenal, in and of itself). 88.5 FM license is owned by Georgia State University (GSU), and pushes 100,000 watts (which is pretty big for a college radio station). Since the news broke last week, GSU students, WRAS student staff, and alums have been on the campaign to not lose this air time to GPB. There is much debate on whether this will work or not (1 2 3).
However, this is not the first time a college radio station has been at the unmerciful hands of its campus administration. When I was becoming the Station Manager for KSSU, KUSF found themselves in a similar situation in 2011. Vanderbilt’s station found itself in equally similar shoes in the same year. Finding an article talking about a college radio station that survives is rare. Over the last two decades, death has been swift and merciless to college radio stations. However, over the last decade, the internet offers the final frontier, the last bastion for college radio.
WRAS’ story resonates strong all the same in my heart, and those of my predecessors of KSSU. Once upon a time, KSSU had an FM frequency. In the mid-2000’s, KSSU eventually went streaming online after the loss of the FM frequency in the mid-90’s and the adoption of a weak AM frequency, 1580 AM. To be heard by the students, KSSU.com was born.
WRAS was reminded, like many others have been, that no one and nothing is sacred or spared in a world of money. As colleges struggle to balance the checkbooks and accounts nicely in these trying times, they will be attracted by locations where the grass is greener.
What the world forgets; what the GSU administration has lost sight of, is the greatness of college radio. College radio provides one of the best avenues for students from all walks of life to learn to speak up, be heard, and be active. They become voices for their campus and their community. They become contributors in an atmosphere of apathy. Boundaries are pushed in college radio. Minds are expanded; hearts are filled. College radio is infectious. It is inspiring. It is aweing. To turn a famous phrase, but twist it for my purpose, how can you not be romantic about college radio? Sure, an administration can make a deal with an entity to use its FM license. GSU’s administration’s price is $75,000 per year for two years (for now). The instrumental value of college radio is minimal; laughable at best. But its intrinsic value is immeasurable. The price of the lives enriched by college radio cannot be tallied on any accountant sheet or book.
Sure, online radio gets the job done. Trends have been showing that music consumption is leaning more and more to digital venues. But there is something nostalgic about FM. When you tell someone you have a radio show, their first question is “Oh, on what station is it on?” Even though they listen to Pandora or Spotify, the notion of Internet Radio isn’t as “cool” as an FM band. So why not both? WRAS on 88.5 and online.
As it stands now, the choice is not in WRAS’ hands. It is in the hands of the GSU administration. I only hope and trust that WRAS will successfully retrieve all 24 hours of scheduling for 88.5 FM in the (near) future.
It is sad to say that this has been the underlying tone of college radio for two decades, but it has. One day soon, internet radio will be as cool, if not cooler, than terrestrial radio. It will be a part of every day life; in the car as much as it is on your smart device and computer. Until then, we all must fight the good fight, to be the voice and beacon of our college and our community, forever and always. #savewras