Cover Story: Life after WRAS
A handful of high-profile 88.5 alumni recall how the station changed their lives
Over the last 43 years, WRAS has earned a storied reputation for turning new music acts into tomorrow's megastars. During that same time, many of the Georgia State University students running Album 88 went on to achieve professional prominence in their own right. Today, 88.5's list of high-profile alumni include local broadcasting legends, major media executives, and a Grammy Award-winning label founder. In their own words, a handful of them talk about how the station nurtured their quirks, broadened their skills, and paved their road to self-discovery.
Richard Belcher, longtime investigative reporter/anchor, WSB-TV; WRAS' first general manager (1969-1971):
The best moment for me was signing WRAS on-air. I worked there for 13 or 14 months before we signed it on. It was a long process all the way through 1970. Organizing the staff, getting trained, getting ready, getting music — which, back then, meant getting close with the music distributors who would bring you hard copies, setting up a music library, hiring people. The moment we signed it on, I think the song was "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison. It was great. And it was an intense, diverse, funny group that was as tight-knit as any fraternity.
It changed my life. It made it possible for me to get into the field that I've done now for 43 years: being a reporter. I didn't know at the time that it would. I was a business major at Georgia State, but I was selected to be the GM because I think the faculty advisor and the board that selected the GM of the station and the editor of the newspaper chose me to organize it. I guess you could say I got bit by the bug. And a few months after I left WRAS, I got a job at WGST radio. Had I not had the job at WRAS, I would not have gotten the job at WGST. If I hadn't gotten the job at WGST, I wouldn't have gotten into television. It changed my career path and my life and I've done something for 43 years that I love. I feel very fortunate.
Millie De Chirico, current manager of programming, Turner Classic Movies; former WRAS music director (1999-2001), general manager (2001-2002), and host/co-host of "Hang the DJ," "One Step Beyond," and the "Georgia Music Show":
Simply put, that radio station completely changed my life. It took a frustrated, alienated teenage girl from Cobb County and gave her an entire adult life to look forward to. I wouldn't be at TCM if it hadn't been for WRAS, quite literally. Nor would I have had a tenth of the opportunities and experiences in life if it weren't for that station. Finally discovering that moment where you figure out the world is so much bigger than you knew it, that the people around you spoke a general language of respect for arts and culture — people who want to talk about books, go to movies, go to concerts, collect cool things, and want to share their passions with you — it's maybe what makes life possible for some people. And I will always make an attempt at protecting that experience for anyone else who needs it.
Jez de Wolff, current senior marketing manager, Adult Swim; former WRAS music director/general manager (1996-2001) and host of ska show "One Step Beyond":
When I was music director, I had office hours where I would get calls from record labels. I'd have like three record labels on hold to talk to me — this 19-year-old kid. At the time, I thought that was normal. It wasn't until I got to CMJ, the College Music Journal marathon in New York, and I met other music directors from other radio stations and they were like, "What? You have all these phone calls waiting for you?"
That's when it dawned on me that Album 88 was special. It was influential and the music industry really paid attention to Album 88.
I was music director for a year and then I became the general manager in the fall of 1999. That was when it became really apparent how awesome it was to be an all-student-run station. The administration just turns over the budget to a kid and says, "Here you go, figure out how to run this station. Manage 60-plus employees, manage their various egos and tastes, deal with their attitudes and whatever dramas are going on at the station." You figure it out. You put on a benefit show. Figure out how to do that.
I believe 100 percent I would not be where I am right now were it not for WRAS. I feel like I learned so much more in that radio station than I did in any of my classes.
With the administration trying to take away all of those important hours in the day from those students, it's really going to lessen the power of the station. And a lot of the labels aren't going to pay attention. Some of the greatest memories I have of the station are all the artists that came by while promoting their records and performing. That's not going to happen anymore. Labels aren't going to send PJ Harvey or Willie Nelson, which were the two big ones I had the honor of interviewing. PJ Harvey's not going to spend her time to talk to some kid who's on Internet radio. I just don't think the administration understands what they're taking away. Any other station that's online-only will tell you they just don't have the same listenership. They don't have the record labels beating down the doors trying to get them music.
Lance Ledbetter, founder of the Grammy Award-winning Dust-to-Digital label; former host of the "Whisper on a String" and "Raw Musics" shows on WRAS (1997-1999):
When I transferred from Young Harris in 1996, two of the things I wanted to do really bad was intern for a record company and work at GSU's college radio station. I started doing the graveyard shift and eventually got a 6-10 p.m. shift. Then I put in a request to do my own show called "Whisper on a String." It was an experimental show that reflected a lot of the music I was listening to while I worked for Table of the Elements, because they were an experimental/avant-garde label.
From there, I met a fellow DJ named Brian Montero and I became a big fan of his show called "20th Century Archives." When he graduated I didn't really know a lot about that era of music, 'cause it was mostly 1920s and '30s. I loved Brian's show so I took a stab at trying to find the music from that era to keep Brian's slot going. The name of that show was "Raw Musics," and I played a lot of music from the '20s and '30s. I'd get a lot of requests from people calling in to hear gospel. So that's when I started calling the record collectors who had the 78s, not just the reissues, but the actual records that were going onto these reissues. I started thinking, "My god, I can't believe you can't go into a record shop and get these recordings." And that's what led to Dust-to-Digital.
WRAS had a pretty big impact on where I am now because I do the record label full-time and have been since 1999, when I decided I was better off trying to put my energy into a record company than a radio show. But it was really that radio show that forced me to think about music that was unavailable in new ways. And to me that's what college radio is about. It's young people learning about music in front of a live audience. Your feet are to the fire. I think that's what's really great about WRAS.