GPB to WABE: ‘We are responding to the high demand we have heard for years’

It’s on!


Nothing like a good ole fashioned public radio battle royal!

Georgia Public Broadcasting, now ending its second week of its controversial partnership with Georgia State University to broadcast daytime programming of WRAS 88.5 FM, has responded to the widely read letter from WABE. The two media outlets for decades had kept their distance and not competed against each other.

Louis Sullivan, the chairman of the board of Pubic Broadcasting Atlanta, which operates WABE, said in his letter that GPB’s decision to air duplicate programming and compete was a waste of Georgia taxpayer dollars.

On Tuesday, Michael McDougald, chairman of GPB’s board, responded in a long letter addressed to Sullivan. He takes issue with Sullivan’s claim that the initiative will waste public funds and suggests having discussions about partnerships in the future.

GPB President and CEO Teya Ryan, WABE/PBA CEO Milton Clipper, WABE/PBA COO John Weatherford, GSU President Mark Becker, and Hank Huckaby, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, also received copies. We’ve published it in full below:

First, as a fellow Georgia native, I want to convey my deep personal respect for you, your career and your many accomplishments. You serve as a role model to young people in our state. That said, I believe you have been misled about recent changes to the public media landscape in Atlanta and I am obliged to clarify these misunderstandings.

As you know, Georgia Public Broadcasting has recently formed a partnership with Georgia State University that will result in Atlanta residents enjoying multiple options for public radio. Importantly, Atlantans will now have the choice of listening to an all-news, all-information public radio station or to a classical music station. This is a long overdue choice for our city.

Before this partnership, Atlanta was the ONLY top ten radio market in the United States that did not have an all-news and information public radio station. Residents of New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle all enjoy multiple public radio stations within their market, and certainly Atlanta residents deserve the same. And, while there are multiple public radio stations in these other major markets, all are fiscally healthy.

We have enormous respect for WABE’s efforts, but we firmly believe that, especially in today’s fragmented media marketplace, we should do everything possible to encourage more original reporting and an overall increase in public radio listening.

At certain times of the day there will be some duplication of syndicated programs or stories from NPR, mostly in the drive-time hours between our two radio stations. This is typical in many top cities with multiple public radio stations.

It is important to remember that these drive-time programs serve as a vital vehicle to deliver local news and other local content that helps inform citizens about their city. GPB’s local news stories within these programs will be significantly different than those currently heard on WABE. Public radio has proven that it has an extremely important role to play in driving a healthy democracy and a more informed citizenry. Therefore, we think the more news and information made available, the better. With this goal in mind, GPB is significantly increasing the resources to our news division.

GPB is also showing its strong commitment to local news and information by launching three original programs on 88.5 GPB/Atlanta: One, a daily radio talk show that will focus on social issues facing the Atlanta region, a weekly Friday political roundtable, and a weekend program focused on arts and culture. This is just the beginning. Our hope is to offer more local original programs in the future.

In addition, GPB has nine journalists and station managers working outside of Atlanta throughout Georgia - all of whom are dedicated to providing local news and community outreach events in their cities and contributing stories to GPB Atlanta. This helps inform citizens in Atlanta about what is happening in the rest of the state, and will further distinguish GPB Atlanta from WABE. We consider this a vital service that will help foster greater awareness across Georgia’s varied and diverse landscape. GPB is able to make these connections because we cover the state with nine television stations and seventeen radio stations. Therefore, GPB is one of the few media companies that can bring Georgians together.

Clearly, our intention is to offer Atlantans an alternative service to WABE, and we believe our differentiated programming will bring new donors to the public media table. As a result, we do not see this partnership as you suggest, as “a waste of taxpayer’s money.” GPB has no intention of using taxpayers’ money to support this new initiative. We fully anticipate, as with WABE, that the marketplace will support our programming on GPB Atlanta.

I am puzzled that your concern seems to indicate a double standard between our two companies. You do not want competition for your radio station, but you do support maintaining a duplicative and competitive television service. You must be aware that there are two public television stations in Atlanta - -WPBA and WGTV - -both have been serving the Atlanta area for decades. Both of our networks air top-rated programs such as Antiques Roadshow, Masterpiece, Nature, and Nova.

However, as the major station in the Atlanta market, GPB pays significantly more money for these exact same programs than does WPBA.

As you stated, there are “significantly different fiscal situations” between WABE and GPB. I agree, but not for the reasons you suggest.

Atlanta’s citizens are not the only ones in the state that value access to public television and radio. As a statewide network, GPB covers 98 percent of the state, and to do this we must maintain twenty-six broadcast towers around Georgia. WPBA/WABE has only to maintain one broadcast tower for both its radio and television services. It’s easier to keep costs down when you only service a single tower, but it takes a lot of manpower and equipment to get Sesame Street and Morning Edition to every mountain valley, military base and rural farmland in Georgia. The result of this statewide commitment is a significantly different cost burden on GPB, and helps explain the differences between the GPB and WPBA/WABE budgets.

In addition, the very core of what we do at GPB, our mission above all else, is education. In fact, it is the heritage of public broadcasting and an enduring part of our commitment to the people of Georgia for their support.

Understanding this, GPB has worked hard to provide teachers and students in the state with extensive digital educational material. During the last school year more than 80,000 Georgia K-12 teachers used GPB’s digital educational assets more than 8.3 million times. This includes public schools, private schools and home schools.

Here are some of the valuable opportunities and resources GPB provides to Georgia schools - including the Atlanta public schools:

* ?We create and maintain vital specialty courses, such as our Chemistry and Physics video course that is often the only way students in rural parts of the state can access this information.

* ?We have recently created Georgia’s first 8th grade digital history textbook. The adoption by school systems around Georgia is estimated to save the state $1.2 million annually. And, it is offering Georgia’s 8th grade students an opportunity to learn on a format that is exciting and motivating.

* ?We produce original programs which enhance the learning experience, such as a 365 segment series titled, Today In Georgia History, which covered a year’s worth of Georgia history; and more recently, 37 Weeks: Sherman on the March, which is a week-by-week chronicle of Gen. Sherman’s march through Georgia.

* ?And, there is GPB’s commitment to high school sports around the state. Our purpose is not to simply broadcast the high school football and basketball games. We also take the opportunity to profile the schools playing by highlighting and identifying top student athletes and encouraging students to stay in school with our Stop the Drop program - a challenge put out to all Georgia High School students to produce 30- second videos on why it is important to stay in school. In our first year, the contest drew entrants from 60 schools, and last year, 150.

There are many more examples of our educational efforts. All cost money, and explain another significant reason why there is a difference between our two budgets.

We are also very proud of the relationships GPB enjoys with colleges and universities across Georgia - -The University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Mercer University, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Georgia Regents University, Chattahoochee Technical College, The University of West Georgia, and now Georgia State University. Each of GPB’s college and university relationships is different from the other; however, each is formed with the intent to provide new learning environments for students.

GPB is highly engaged with the college students we work with, and we feel we are helping them on a career path. For example, recently, students from Chattahoochee Technical College have been working with our studio production teams to run cameras, audio systems and work as studio managers for our live television programming including programming destined for PBS nationally.

Also, the journalism students at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism have contributed dozens of radio reports - 45 in the last year - to the GPB statewide radio network as well as to national NPR stations across the US. This is a unique partnership, where the journalism students are not simply interns, but are assigned to work with our journalists at GPB Radio/Macon as an integrated part of their classwork.

Our intention with this new educational programming partnership with Georgia State University is to extend and significantly expand these media opportunities to the 2,000 communications students at Georgia State.

We understand that there is a great deal of concern about the change in the daytime hours on WRAS, particularly from GSU alumni. The University has repeatedly addressed these concerns and explained their motivation for the partnership. GSU students will continue to program WRAS 70 hours a week on the analog channel and 24/7 on a digital stream. Importantly, WRAS is not going away.

The real overlap that should be of concern to both the WPBA/WABE board of directors and that of GPB is not that there are now two radio services in Atlanta; it is the duplication of human capital and physical resources between the two companies.

There is no doubt that in these very stressful economic times, one does have to wonder why there is not a greater partnership between the two public media entities. Our CEO, Teya Ryan and COO, Bob Olive met three times over the last two years with WPBA/ WABE board members, along with WPBA/WABE CEO Milton Clipper and COO John Weatherford. In fact, GPB offered a written proposal calling for big, bold steps to bring the companies together to work cooperatively. To our disappointment, the proposal was ignored and never addressed by any member of the WPBA/WABE executive team.

The only solution recommended by Mr. Clipper during these meetings was to share news stories. This has been his suggestion for the last ten years. Both organizations have gone down this path repeatedly a number of times but it has not led to any smarter use of duplicate resources.

Our suggestion is that we use this new situation as a catalyst to finally come together and think through a serious and doable plan that will allow our two organizations to combine resources and work for the overall public good. We are very willing to engage in this conversation if there is a desire for real change.

One final point - this line in your letter gave me pause when I read that of WABE: “These facts speak to the successful manner in which PBA has served the citizens of Atlanta and further emphasizes the folly of GPB’s planned wasteful intrusion in to the Atlanta market.” Please be assured that GPB is not bent on any sort of “folly” or “wasteful intrusion” into WABE territory.

Rather, we are responding to the high demand we have heard for years - requests from radio listeners in Atlanta for a public radio service that focuses on all news and information during the day. Now, those listeners have a new home, and we at GPB heartily embrace them.

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to your letter.


Michael H. McDougald, Chairman
Georgia Public Broadcasting