Thursday, November 29, 2012

Radio Station Field Trip 38 - WRAS at Georgia State University

(Entrance to WRAS. All photos by Jennifer Waits)

Last month I journeyed to Atlanta, Georgia in order to attend the College Broadcasters Inc. (CBI) conference. In addition to mingling with college radio DJs and learning the latest broadcasting news, I was eager to visit as many college radio stations as I could. First on my list was WRAS 88.5 FM at Georgia State University in Atlanta. I walked over to the station from my hotel on the morning of Thursday, October 25 and met up with WRAS General Manager Anastasia Zimitravich. She toured me around the station and gave me some insight into the inner workings of WRAS.  

WRAS Lobby

WRAS first went on the air in 1971, although radio began earlier on campus when students were allowed to utilize the frequency of another local FM station (read more about the station's history here). By 1987, WRAS was broadcasting at an impressive 100,000 watts and can now be heard all over north Georgia and can sometimes be heard in five states.      

Vinyl at WRAS

The student-only station is unusual in that its broadcast can only be heard terrestrially. Although there's no official, station-sanctioned stream; TuneIn has recently made the broadcast available online. Zimitravich told me that she'd like to have the station streaming online and explained that it's the station's "biggest hurdle."

 CDs at WRAS

Although WRAS is old-school as far as its broadcast goes (FM only), DJs have embraced digital music as their primary music medium. The station's collection of CDs isn't necessarily organized in alphabetical order and is rarely used by student DJs who "don't really play physical music" according to Zimitravich. She also explained that there's a lot of music that the station can only get digitally. As an example she cited the show "New Theory," whose host tends to play a lot of "blog-based music."

WRAS General Manager Anastasia Zimitravich outside the WRAS Studio

Even though most DJs are doing their shows off of the station's automation system (for rotation shows) or off of their laptops or iPods (specialty music shows), the station does have turntables and CD players for DJs to use. They don't have a cassette player, but Zimitravich said, "I wish we did." Zimitravich told me that the on-air studio has eight CD players as well as two turntables. WRAS has a strict policy forbidding non-DJs from the on-air studio, so I was only able to peer in to get a glimpse of the studio from the doorway.

WRAS Studio

WRAS has around 50 to 60 volunteers and live DJs are on the air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week doing mostly 2-hour shows. During rotation shows (typically between 2am and 8pm on weekdays) DJs play music that has been programmed for them, with the exception of one song per hour (called a U-Pick) which they are allowed to select.

WRAS Production Studio

The station's music director screens everything that gets sent to WRAS and determines what should be included in the automation system. Zimitravich said that WRAS tries to play music that "isn't popular" but that "deserves the help." She characterized the music as "indie music that people want to hear," saying that WRAS is "poppier" than Georgia Tech's WREK, but "still not top 40." At the same time Zimitravich said that she likes WREK as well and said that they are helping to "keep the college spirit alive."

Bathroom at WRAS

Local music is also an important part of the airsound and Zimitravich acknowledged, "we have a really good [local music] scene." She also told me a lot of DJs at the station are interested in working in radio and that WRAS to a certain degree aligns its programming procedures with a commercial radio station model so that its DJs are prepared for the industry. Former DJs have gone on to a variety of jobs in music and broadcasting. One former general manager works at CNN and another owns a radio station in Japan.

Sonic Youth LP in WRAS library

Unlike rotation show DJs, specialty show hosts have the freedom to select their own music for their programs. It's considered a privilege to host a specialty program and those slots are typically in the evening beginning at 8pm and on the weekends.

Poster from WRAS Fest, an annual festival that raises funds for the station

Some of the specialty music shows include Theoretical Abstract (abstract hip hop), Cowtipper's Delight (country and western), Bitrhythm88 (video game music, noise rock, math rock), the local music-oriented Georgia Music Show, the indie folk/freak folk show Deviltown, electronic music programs like Subterranean, and the vintage international show Jetlag (playing rare 1960s and 1970s vinyl across genres that include folk, soundtracks, and psychedelia). Spoken word is also represented on the program Melodically Challenged. Between the hours of 6am and 2am, programs are in two hour blocks. The 2am to 6am graveyard shift is utilized for training.

Production Studio at WRAS

All live music performances and band interviews are pre-recorded at WRAS so that the material can be screened before being aired. Musicians are interviewed in a production room and bands set up and are recorded in the station's office/lobby.

Accolades on the walls of the WRAS lobby/office

As is the case at many college radio stations, WRAS is off the radar of many top 40-loving undergraduates. Zimitravich acknowledged that "our student body doesn't really know who we are," even though the station is in a prominent campus location in the University Center and is a stop on new student tours. For the most part, WRAS draws its large base of listeners from off-campus. The station is on friendly terms with Georgia Tech's WREK and Zimitravich told me that they try to arrange regular kick ball tournaments with them.

Fan letter in WRAS lobby

Thanks so much to everyone at WRAS for showing me around your station. Stay tuned for my tours of several other college radio stations in Atlanta.

WRAS production studio

See a complete list of all of my Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips here.

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