WRAS student DJs mull legal options following tense meeting with GPB president

To throw the frustrations back on GPB is not where that belongs.’

The rift between Georgia Public Broadcasting and students over the future of WRAS-FM appears to have widened following an Oct. 28 meeting between student DJs and state media network officials. “Album 88” student DJs say they felt like their grievances went unheard — and warn that potential legal action could be taken in the coming months.

At the meeting, WRAS student leadership, GSU officials, and GPB CEO and President Teya Ryan met for the first time since GPB entered Atlanta’s radio market. Last May, Ryan and GSU President Mark Becker announced a two-year, $150,000 deal that allowed the state media network to take over almost 100 daytime hours from college DJs, ending a 43-year tradition of student-run radio at the Downtown academic institution.

WRAS General Manager Alayna Fabricius attended the meeting with the hope of beginning a formal relationship with GPB officials, discussing how students DJs were affected by the deal, and asking whether GPB would give student DJs some additional weekend hours. Over the past several months, she says, Album 88 has undergone a drop in its influence drop because students have access to the airwaves only during evening and early morning hours. The conversation with Ryan didn’t go well, she says.

“We weren’t really given any kind of concrete answers,” Fabricius says. “We wanted to negotiate to make the partnership more equal. We’re still cautiously optimistic, but they weren’t accepting any of our ideas about giving us time back for the terrestrial stream.”

Both Fabricius and WRAS Urban Music Director Jenny Nesvetailova say other GSU communications students have started to benefit from classes held at the state media network’s studios. But they are left wondering how student DJs will benefit from the deal. Nesvetailova, who currently is a Creative Loafing intern, says she hoped the meeting could have helped clarify what was specifically being offered to student DJs.

“Anytime we tried discussing anything that happened in the past couple of months, Ryan said there’s been so much hostility from us and that we haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities given to us,” Nesvetailova says. “She says it seems like we don’t want to be dealing with them.”

Album 88 Alumni President Zach Lancaster, who observed the meeting but didn’t participate in the discussion, says officials at the meeting showed ambivalence toward many concerns expressed by WRAS student leaders. Rather than support the students, he says, GSU’s vice president for student affairs, Douglass Covey, did not represent their best interests. He says Ryan talked to the students not as partners, but like “children” who were taking up her time with concerns previously expressed by other WRAS supporters.

“Instead of mending bridges, she’s burning bridges,” Lancaster says. “She seems to have a lot of contempt for people who aren’t with Georgia Public Broadcasting. At board meetings, she was like that with the public expressing concerns about GPB’s behavior. That’s not the behavior of a good leader who’s looking to be partners in a community. This is Teya Ryan’s march to the sea.”

Ryan, speaking to CL for the first time after numerous requests since May, says Lancaster’s account of the meeting was “not an accurate reading.” She says she has listened to student DJ concerns during two GPB board meetings and sat down with them respectfully. She acknowledged that the transition for WRAS student DJs wasn’t easy. She wants to move the “dialogue forward, and not in anger and acrimony and accusations.”

“There is much that can come out of this that’s very positive,” she says. “That may not seem to be so right now. But in the long term, we can make great things happen. But we can’t do so if the hostility continues. We simply don’t feel that toward the students.”

She is placing the burden on students to take advantage of opportunities such as internships, a 30-minute music show outlined in the WRAS contract, or other education opportunities. The frustrations over the lack of progress, she says, should be pointed toward GSU — not GPB.

“These are students of GSU,” Ryan says. “In a sense, they need to look toward the university. We have to work through the guidelines the university has given us. ... To throw the frustrations back on GPB is not where that belongs.”

Fabricius now says WRAS student leadership is “looking into legal options,” but declined to elaborate further on the record. Lancaster said he’s had preliminary discussions with students about how to proceed.

“Nothing has been set in stone,” Lancaster says. “The meeting was the last recourse for diplomacy. They made it very clear it wasn’t a partnership. ... They have no interest in working with the students to create a better WRAS model.”