WRAS FM 88.5 ("Album 88") is a college radio station in Atlanta with a frequency of 88.5MHz, which has been in operation since January 18, 1971. It is owned by Georgia State University and its on-air staff are all GSU students, with the exception of those who broadcast the university's athletic events for the station (the Georgia State radio network). WRAS has the highest power (100,000 watts ERP) of any student-staffed radio station in the world — a distinction it now shares with WREK at Georgia Tech in Atlanta since October 2011.

The station's first general manager was Richard Belcher, well known to Atlanta TV viewers for his investigative reporting on WAGA-TV 5, and now WSB-TV 2. The "Album 88" name dates back to the late 1970s, and is unusual, as it is still rare for noncommercial stations in North America to use a moniker (other than their own broadcast callsign), the way commercial stations have for decades. It refers to the album-based rotation the station employs: stressing several cuts from each album rather than a single. The station is non-commercial educational, with the only breaks in between songs being song listings, public service announcements, promos for various WRAS shows, brief news segments, and community affairs shows.

The station has won countless awards, frequently beating out commercial radio stations, from the Atlanta weekly Creative Loafing, the monthly Atlanta magazine, and the College Music Journal. The station has over 50 student volunteers who host rotation shifts from 2am onwards, as well as specialty shows that start at 8pm most weekdays, 6pm on Thursdays, 2pm on Fridays, and 8am on weekends. Many of the non-student envoys to the administration of the school also worked at the station in their college days.

Among the specialty shows on Album 88 are: The Georgia Music Show (dedicated exclusively to artists from Georgia), I Don't Care (punk), Soul Kitchen (funk, soul, disco and related), Crossroads (blues), Jet Lag (international psychedelia), New Theory (chillwave), Beatscape Lounge (ambient, electronica and nu jazz), Subterranean (drum and bass), Cowtipper's Delight (classic country and alternative country), Dot Dash (post-punk), Mighty Aphrodite (female vocalists), We're Not Gonna Take It (heavy-metal music), Tower of Song (psyche, prog, freakbeat), a large variety of hip hop including the long-running shows Tha Message, Rhythm and Vibes (Atlanta's longest-running hip hop show) and Hush Hush (instrumental hip hop), One Step Beyond (ska, bluebeat & rocksteady) and many more.[3]

WRAS has played a crucial role in "breaking" a wide range of artists including R.E.M., Deerhunter and Outkast (all of which WRAS was the first to play on radio). The station featured more commercially identifable rock in the 1970s and early 1980s; many of the platinum and gold records that hang in the station's offices reflect this. According to Bob Geldof he penned the Boomtown Rats hit song, "I Don't Like Mondays" in the WRAS office after reading a telex report of the schoolyard shooting on which the song is based.

On March 14, 2008, an F-2 tornado struck Atlanta's downtown core and led to the evacuation of students and employees from various areas of the Georgia State campus. WRAS was thus forced to suspend broadcasting for nearly two days. (See 2008 Atlanta tornado)

As of August 2014, WRAS has a construction permit to move to the Atlanta Public Schools facility, which transmits WABE FM 90.1, and WPBA TV 21 (DTV 30.1) east of downtown. It currently transmits via a studio/transmitter link from the Panthersville area (no apparent relation the GSU Panthers mascot), located southeast of the city between I-285 and I-20). The change will expand the station's broadcast range significantly to the northwest, and very slightly even toward the south and east, due to a greater height.

GPB takeover

On May 6, 2014, it was announced that from June 2 (later delayed to June 29th) onwards, WRAS would turn over most of its broadcast day to a new Atlanta-only service from the radio division of Georgia Public Broadcasting, with news/talk programming between the hours of 5am to 7pm, leaving the remaining ten hours of the day as the only remaining student airtime. Daytime programs would continue on Album 88, but accessible only via a new digital subchannel (which did not start until the fall semester in late August) that also streams live on the station's Website.

GPB will pay $150,000 to GSU (the maximum financial transaction allowed under state contract law between agencies), while GSU communications-major students will get internships with GPB, although GPB already offers internships to TV and film students. GSU was promised a weekly Georgia music program on the GPB state network, but only a half-hour. The contract was drawn for a two-year period, but it automatically renews, and has a clause that could lead to "sharing" or even outright transfer of the license to GPB in the future. It is unclear whether GPB or GSU will end up paying for the needed replacement of the radio transmitter to allow for the "HD" channel to be aired, or for the high annual licensing fees which iBiquity charges for the use of their proprietary digital radio technology. The student government (SGA) had allocated over $300,000 for the transmitter, before finding out that most of its usage would be for GPB instead of for GSU students.

Despite being in the works for months, the deal was kept secret until the day after final exams ended, as students were leaving campus for the summer or preparing for graduation, and the station's management was making its annual change. GSU and GPB officials claimed that the deal had only been finalized the day before, but there was no denial or other indication that the signing itself was not delayed deliberately. This made Album 88 staff and GSU students especially upset at the manner in which it was handled, with some claiming that the transaction may have been illegal.[4] Student anger manifested itself at a protest during GSU's spring commencement ceremony,[5] and a social media campaign with the tag #savewras,[6] A petition on change.org drew over 10,000 signatories.

The change resulted in significant schedule conflicts with Atlanta's flagship NPR member station, WABE FM 90.1, which is owned by the Atlanta Board of Education (along with Atlanta's secondary PBS station, WPBA). On paper, the switch had the benefit of bringing more NPR news programming to conventional radio listeners in Atlanta. Until the fall of 2015, WABE had long aired classical music during the day outside of drive time. A number of NPR staples weren't heard at all in Atlanta until WABE launched an all-news stream on its third HD subcarrier. However, with few exceptions, most of the GPB programming airing on WRAS already airs on WABE. In fact, according to some calculations, about one half of GPB's programming on WRAS duplicates programming already airing on WABE, and also on adjacent GPB stations that can be heard in some parts of metro Atlanta.

For listeners on the west side of the metro area, the WRAS/GPB format would be the fifth FM station to air the seven total hours every weekday of NPR's flagship news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Those programs can already be heard at exactly the same time on WABE, and on GPB stations WGPB, WJSP-FM, and WUWG in the westernmost counties of the state.

This is the second acquisition that GPB has made of a student station from a state university. In 2004, WUWG was acquired from the University of West Georgia, its entire broadcast license transferred from UWG to GPB. Since that time, that station has been rendered superfluous for covering the Carrollton area, since WJSP has been moved closer up from the south (licensed to Warm Springs), and GPB also purchased WGPB (in Rome) and moved it further down from the north. During the 2000s, the Radio Communications Board of Georgia Tech declined similar overtures made by GPB to WREK. This is also the third full-power FM station in Atlanta in recent years to have its former music format lost to talk, after WSBB-FM was switched to a simulcast of WSB AM, and WYAY FM became "NewsRadio 106.7".

Album 88 supporters also raised concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest of Douglass Covey, VP for Student Affairs at GSU. Until April 2014, he served on the board of Public Broadcasting Atlanta, the arm of the Atlanta Public Schools that oversees WABE and WPBA, while at the same time GSU was negotiating the deal to bring GPB into competition for listener donations and corporate underwritings that are needed to support WABE. He served on the board because it reserves a seat for a designee of the GSU president, and resigned, citing time conflicts. As of June 2014, the PBA board has not moved to eliminate GSU's position on the board. [7]

Reactions

As one of the most powerful and influential college radio stations in the nation, support for keeping the Album 88 format on WRAS full-time, with no outside programming, poured in from across the country. [8] Ongoing efforts in opposition to the change include fundraising for awareness and a call for a boycott of Georgia Public Broadcasting and its sponsors.[2] In late June, 55 stations in 25 states broadcast a live program in support of Album 88. The reactions were especially poignant, given other large college stations that have been forced off the air during the 2010s, including WRVU at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and Rice University's elimination KTRU (and even its translator station) in Houston.

As a counter-proposal to the internship offer made by GPB to GSU in exchange for the WRAS airtime, Album 88 alumni have proposed the use of a broadcast translator for GPB programming, which would give GSU a second full-time but much lower-power station in Atlanta.[2][2] However, since the FCC rarely opens application windows (and in fact is still handling applications from the 2003 window), the only solution appears to be doing as commercial stations have done for the past few years, or purchasing an existing station. This would be the best technical solution to put an all-talk signal, since such stations (including W222AF and W229AG locally) carry surprisingly far without stereo generators turned on for music, and it would allow Album 88 to keep the numeric part of its name. However, GSU officials have not responded favorably to the proposal, preferring that the students be demoted to the lesser station.