The state of WRAS in 2016
GSU's beloved college radio station fights for local music
On May 6, 2014, Georgia State University delivered some bad news to the management and staff at WRAS 88.5-FM. The 100,000-watt student-run radio station's on-air signal would be taken over by Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) during the prime-time hours from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. The takeover went into effect June 29, 2014.
It was a harsh blow to the station's four-decade legacy as a leader in the national college radio scene, and an Atlanta music institution. But it was by no means the death knell. Two years later, maintaining relevance in the face of such crippling change is a difficult task for the young DJs who have inherited the station's day-to-day operations. But the student staff — WRAScals, as they affectionately call themselves in meetings and emails — are adapting to the changes and finding new ways to keep WRAS an integral part of Atlanta's music scene.
"At this point, we have all pretty much accepted the takeover," says Hannah Frank, host of the Wednesday night indie pop show Glitter Frequency, and former WRAS general manager and promotions director.
Part of this acceptance means working around the hurdles presented by GPB, raising WRAS' profile, and finding new ways of using the resources the station has available.
Frank, who sports a WRAS logo tattoo on her right arm, is one of the DJs behind a push to up the volume with the annual WRASFest fundraiser. This year's June 10 benefit concert at the Mammal Gallery boasted a headlining performance from Bosco & Speakerfoxxx. Politically charged rapper Wara From the NBHD, Athens' post-punk luminaries Muuy Biien, and 12 other acts filled out one of the most impressive lineups to grace WRASfest in years.
Former DJ Nadia Deljou, a spring GSU graduate and former host of Friday night's trip-hop and downtempo electronic music show Beatscape Lounge, says now more than ever the station needs to interact with the local music scene. "We must drop this post-takeover narrative," Deljou says. "We're still the same damn station we were two years ago. Nothing has changed."
Local promoter Ari Fouriezos has utilized WRAS' community connection to raise awareness of shows she promotes via Sorry, Mom! Productions. "WRAS is important for Sorry, Mom! events as they not only announce some of our shows on air and give tickets away to callers, they also take the time to invest in the artists we are promoting," Fouriezos says. "They make time to interview artists with upcoming releases and important shows and help get the word out. The DJs are also excited about the shows we put on and come out to support."
Deljou has also teamed up with former Crossroads host Christian Bowman to conduct in-studio interviews with various local musicians. Acts such as CLAVVS, Poison Coats, and Slang have all visited WRAS' studio. "I truly believe a change is coming," Deljou says. "The station has great young staffers who are ready to do big things here. As the community begins to see we have their back, they, too, will have ours. And that is how we will survive."
But Deljou is certainly not the first DJ to conduct interviews at WRAS. Khepra Lawson, the current host of Rhythm & Vibes, Atlanta’s longest running hip-hop show, has interviewed local talent such as Allen Thomas and Wara from the NBHD, who Lawson personally selected for WRASfest this year — in addition to the fest's entire downstairs lineup.
Binh Nguyen, a 23-year-old GSU art major, is the current host of regular Monday night's Manic Compression, Saturday night's Moshi Moshi 88, and Tuesday evening's Georgia Music Show. Nguyen joined the staff as a DJ in September 2015, but has been listening to WRAS for years. In fact, they* decided to attend GSU because of the station.
"I've been tuned into Album 88 since I was 16, and started listening religiously to the specialty show programming since I was 17 — I Don't Care and Nippon Music Champ at 17, then GMS at 19," Nguyen says. "Being underage, I couldn't get into the majority of local shows, so the Georgia Music Show was a great resource for me. Having struggled financially and mentally as a kid, the station helped shaped my music taste in the way that it opened my ears to all the possibilities in music, and to all the great art being produced in our own backyard."
They have also conducted interviews with bands for the Georgia Music Show, including local acts Man Up, Yancey and Small Reactions, and Athens buzz band Mothers — and dozens more.
Album 88 — and, by extension, the Georgia Music Show — has long promoted local music. Everyone from R.E.M., OutKast, and Drivin N Cryin to Olivia Tremor Control, Deerhunter, Black Lips, and the Coathangers have benefited from the early exposure the show offered. The Georgia Music Show has been on the air since 1974, making it one of the longest-running specialty shows in the station's programming. Naturally, it should be chief among the shows broadcasting over the airwaves — and, as of this summer, it can be heard when WRAS goes out over the analog signal, at its new timeslot of 8 - 10 p.m. every Tuesday.
Nguyen has also spearheaded more community outreach efforts. Earlier this year, they interviewed local musicians and listeners about what WRAS means to them for a short film celebrating WRAS' 45th anniversary. It's a means to spread awareness and remind people just how significant the station is in the big picture. Nguyen is still working to compile interview footage, but a two-minute trailer is currently available on Album 88's Facebook page. "If you love something this much, you don't just give up when things are tough," they say.
Frank agrees. "What we're doing here is so valuable. Of course we don't always see tangible results, but at the end of the day, nothing we do here is in vain."
- Nguyen uses the gender-neutral "they" pronoun.