Athletics Makes Pitch to Student Radio
Three groups have contacted President Clough with concepts that could have an impact on WREK radio operations. In addition to offers from Tech's Athletic Association and Georgia Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) sent Clough a letter proposing a discussion of its ideas for WREK, said Jim Fetig, Associate Vice President for Institute Communications and Public Affairs, at a meeting of WREK supporters before the Thanksgiving break.
WABE currently broadcasts a mix of mostly classical music format and news on 90.1 FM and is a National Public Radio affiliate. The details of PBA's proposal were not discussed at the meeting, but the proposal by Athletics was covered, in some detail, by Athletics Director Dan Radakovich.
Radakovich proposed that Tech explore converting WREK's FCC license into a commercial radio operator's license. That would allow ISP Sports, the multimedia rights holder for Athletics, to broadcast Tech games on an FM frequency. Currently, ISP broadcasts in Atlanta on AM 790 The Zone, but FCC regulations require some AM stations to reduce their power output at night, significantly reducing the station's reach, said Radakovich.
"One of the first complaints that I had gotten from our fan base is really the very weak radio coverage we have, especially after six o'clock, when the sun goes down," he told those attending.
ISP has explored paying current commercial FM stations to carry Tech games, but so far has been unsuccessful, he said.
When asked by Undergraduate Student Government Association (SGA) President Alison Graab whether he intended to increase the sports programming already broadcast on WREK, Radakovich answered that for the most part he envisioned the coverage staying the same with the exception of adding an hour-and-a-half to two hours of pre-game shows per game. He added that if the Institute decided to put a cap on the number of hours available for sports programming, they would abide by it.
The biggest concern expressed at the meeting, was how turning commercial would affect the rest of WREK's programming and the ability of students to control the station and benefit from the opportunities it provides.
"As a commercial station, your purpose is to make money. So wouldn't we have to change our programming to maximize our profit?" asked Jeremy Varner, general manager of WREK.
"You can be a commercial station and decide not to make a whole lot of money," answered Radakovich. "But you can't, if you"re a public station, make any money. A commercial station is only bound to profit by their owners. That would be the Institute's choice."
Colleen Terrell, WREK faculty advisor, expressed her concerns.
"I have extreme reservations about taking the station commercial. I think there will always be pressures for the students to change their programming to raise money for the Institute. If there's a budget crisis, if the station is commercial, then the station becomes something that can be sacrificed to raise money. I think it's going to be very very difficult for the students to remain in control of it," said Terrell.
Hans Klein, former WREK faculty advisor, expressed concern that changing the station's license might not even be possible under FCC regulations.
Radakovich said that he talked with a consultant and was told that there is an FCC process for changing licenses. Whatever way his proposal ends up, Radakovich said he thinks discussing the options is a good process to go through.
"It exposes options," he said. "From our standpoint in Athletics we want to make sure we are doing the right thing for the students and for the Institute. If along the way it helps us, then that's great."
Many questions still need to be investigated regarding the commercialization of WREK, said Fetig. Among them are: would WREK become a taxable entity, how does that change the way WREK is financed, what happens to the profits that WREK might make and does the station's technical requirements change?
The next step, said Fetig, is to bring the matter before the Radio Communications Board (RCB) so they can decide whether they want to be involved in investigating the three proposals. But if the board votes not to participate, he said, the proposals will still have to be looked at because the President has given me that responsibility.
"I want to make this as inclusive as possible, there are a lot of people who have an interest in this," said Fetig. "I want this out in the light of day, so that people can see the facts. I expect that we will have an opportunity for student comment."
Meeting attendees also included: Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Schafer, Dean of Students John Stein, Assistant Dean Danielle McDonald, WREK Chief Engineer Eldon Stegall and Vice President of Campus Organizations for SGA Thomas Ernest.