Got HD Radio?

Well I could tell you how I went and saw a great (Wreckless Eric) and decent (Cheap Trick) show this week, but this post is all about WREK. The radio show Personality Crisis airs on WREK but WREK programming could soon be undergoing a radical (tragic) shift.

First, let me clarify that all opinions to be noted are mine, not WREK’s, that I host a show only there and have no position of authority. That said, “Let’s rumble…”

I graduated from Georgia Tech in 1990. At some point during my (what seemed like endless) tenure as a student there, I came to the realization that Tech was not a very student friendly school. At times, it seemed that if GT could subsist on grants and completely blow students off, then GT would be in a dream situation. Unfortunately, there are students. But, luckily for Tech, most of the student population is generally apathetic. So when some genii designs a parking deck to sit at the lowest point on campus, the students accept it, not realizing the brilliance until a flood or two damages their cars. (this happened circa 1984.) I’ve got an idea! Let’s feature a dining hall that stops serving dinner at 6:30! Who eats after that? (Not sure when this was implemented at the student center. I think they have an area there that stays open a little later there but the snack area used to stay open until at least 10 when I was a froshperson.) Anyway, they may be counting on that apathy again. This time the target is WREK.

You might have read about the WREK situation in Creative Loafing or the Technique, but it hasn’t subsided. It’s picked up speed. Right now, plans are afoot for Public Broadcasting to lease a certain amount of time (over 10 hours) and for WREK to go “digital” and be dumped into the unknown world of HD Radio. Do you have HD radio? Do you know anyone that does? I know there’s a big push on HD TV since that’s going to replace terrestrial TV but there doesn’t seem to be that same urgency (aka advertising blitz) regarding radio. So right now, I’m regarding it with the same regard I paid minidiscs. And DATS. I’d say CB radios, but more people own those than HD radios. Also, WREK’s tower would move to Stone Mountain. Yippee! It’s just fine where it is for the signal and we’ve turned down moving the tower to the Peachtree Plaza in the past. So…. Let’s look at the winners and losers here…..

WINNERS

GPB – I’m not exactly sure what they want to put on WREK, to be honest. I’m guessing NPR stuff that they don’t air while they air their original programs of “highbrow” music from the 1700s-1800s that was originally the pop music of the day. In fact, I think Mozart may actually have an “Oops, I Did It Again” sonata. But that stuff brings in those listener contributions ($$$$$$$) so that they can continue to operate. I’m sure they have multiple radio personalities (they may not be Steve and Vikki, but they are personalities) that make salaries that are multiples of WREK’s $40 K budget (virtually unchanged since the mid-70s), but if people want to give it to them… Anyway, this would get the monkey off their back of having to field complaints from folks who want more NPR, less Johann Sebastian. And I’m sure GPB would pay a “fair” rate to lease the time, aka they’ll make more back in listener contributions than they’ll pay out. So less hassle with NPR fans, more airtime at a “fair” rate, more money coming in, GPB ARE WINNERS!

Georgia Tech – Tech win in several ways. First of all, and most obvious, is via income revenue. You’ve got to try to get up in that Harvard range for bringing in dough and we all know GPB’s “fair” rate is gonna push ’em toward that top. Then there’s the prestige of having that award-winning NPR programming associated with Georgia Tech. Excuse me, but will anyone actually listen to GT’s new version of WREK and associate what’s coming out with GT? If they don’t do it with an actually innovative station (which WREK currently is), how will they when the programming will be exactly the same as if the person was listening to public radio in some place like Omaha or Santa Clara? What was all that shit about “we don’t fit the mold, we break it” ? GT students and alums can say that proudly but in this case it rings just as hollow as “I’m not gonna pay a lot for this muffler.” Just another marketing catchphrase, obviously. Tech seems to be  stuck on trying to position itself as some sort of “cultural leader” and I’m not sure why. It could be, again, the pursuit of $$$$$. Look at how the Ferst Center is booked. Cheesy acrobats that would have been mildly amusing on the TV show Real People (the Umbilical Brothers), once decent artists trying to keep their careers afloat (Chick Corea and Bela Fleck), lame as get all new age (George Winston), lame-o smooth jazz (Earl Klugh) and the Hamburg Symphony, noted for its “innovative programming”, performing the works of those radicals Tchaikovsky and Brahms! Safe, non-threatening stuff that’ll bring in the $$$$. Not unlike the programming of music you’ll more likely hear on public radio! Meanwhile, Georgia State’s Rialto Theatre series features Bo Diddley, the Royal Drummers of Burundi and a Steve Reich Festival! Still, NPR programming is sure to spur some alum to give mucho dinero and besides, it’ll keep them from having to hear those pesky “Hour Of Slack” promos during ISP GT night game broadcasts. So, GEORGIA TECH ARE WINNERS!

LOSERS

Georgia Tech Students – Not just looking at WREK staff here, but the student population as a whole. Understand that WREK has always been funded by student activity funds with additional fees (electricity, location space) picked up by the school. The station is still “owned and operated” by GT students, and that’s gonna change. An outside entity is now going to do that. WREK has always had problems with student listenership and if a group of students had banded together with the goal of taking over the station to play Creed, I would have been sad but at least understanding. The current situation is sad, but not understandable. And the students may raise an uproar if (when?) it occurs, but after a couple of weeks the apathy will kick back in and “ Hey why did Paul Hewitt play for the tie?” will be a more likely subject of conversation. And, thus, there’ll be one less extracurricular activity to participate in. I gotta go to Diff-EQs…… So, in this situation, GEORGIA TECH STUDENTS LOSE.

The Arts Scene In Atlanta – Considering more than just listeners here, since those guys will still be able to listen to WREK on their spiffy HD Radios sitting atop their Betamaxes. Smirk. Not that those with an NPR jones probably couldn’t find said programming on the internet, it’s just not on Sirius yet and I wanna hear it on the radio in my Lexus as I head in from Douglasville. WREK programming is UNLIKE any other radio station out there. Terrestrial/satellite/podcast, WREK is totally unique. Yes, there are elements that are common with other stations’ programming (both good and bad), but in the 23 years I’ve been affiliated with WREK it has always attempted to be the best radio station featuring the best programming available for Atlanta (and now the world via the internet.) Sometimes we’ve been successful, sometimes not so. But the success ratio has always seemed to be better than the failure. This unique vision which has been the first to bring Atlanta the music of rock acts like the Smashing Pumpkins, Flaming Lips and Mastodon (to name just a few), has also exposed many Atlantans for the first time to many jazz acts, world musicians, hip hop artists, experimental artists and, ahem, modern classical artists like Harry Partch and Steve Reich that the existing public radio station  in Atlanta has generally stayed away from like a ten foot pole. It has educated the listening audience as well as the student staff about types of music and art that they never would have discovered on their own. It certainly did me. Now the only teaching will be the power of the almighty dollar. WREK also provided a stage for internationally known acts such as the Indigo Girls. Red House Painters and Black Crowes, who all performed at the station in the formative stages of their careers. And, though I’ve never heard them mention it, I’d imagine the multi-million selling act Outkast have been a little influenced by some of WREK’s hip hop/rock programming in developing their unique sound. Plus, WREK has been allowed the artists to be heard via interview. Since 1968, WREK has featured interviews with individuals as diverse as David Bowie to Sun Ra, from civil rights pioneer Hosea Williams to punk rock pioneer Joey Ramone. Frank Zappa called in, Captain Beefheart came by and pro wrestlers amazed WREK listeners with their knowledge of Einstein’s theories! (Ok, maybe not the last part.)  But Van Hammer and Vinnie Vegas (Kevin Nash) did stop by. Nonetheless, WREK has filled in a lot of cracks the rest of Atlanta’s media hasn’t been able to. That soon will change. ATLANTA (and INTERNET) RADIO LISTENERS as well as ATLANTA (and WORLD) ARTISTS LOSE.

Unless…..

As I see it, there’s two ways of fighting this war :

1) Since the overwhelming factor seems to be money, make a difference there. If this situation distresses you, and you are an alumnus of Georgia Tech, tell them you will no longer donate money to the school if they go through with this action. Tell other alums and ask them to do the same. If you know an influential ($$$$) alum like John Portman, or the Day family, or anyone (or the relatives) who has a building named after them on campus, advise them of the situation. Above all, be nice and civil when talking about this. Harrassment won’t accomplish anything and hurts the WREK cause in the long term.

2) Tell folks about it. Websites, blogs, media, artists, bands, politicians, anyone. Again, be prudent. But get the word out.

3) If you are an artist performing in Atlanta, mention it on-stage. Mention it to other artists and alert them to what is happening. WREK may need some of you artists to perform for us at some sort of benefit/event in the future. Contact Jeremy Varner at general.manager@wrek.org  . This applies to everyone. If you know Elton John, or R.E.M. or the Indigo Girls,  or Outkast or Jermaine Dupri, let them know. They are local-related acts who may/should know about WREK and could possibly help. If you know anyone of fame that GT bigwigs would know, be it Willie Nelson or U2 or Philip Glass or Neil Young or whoever, tell them about the situation. Ask them to lend a word to the administration or a performance for the cause. Money can help. but positive publicity for WREK (which would make the whole deal appear more seedy) would also be a big help. WREK has certainly helped out a lot of you artists, now we need your help.

4) Above all, keep the faith. It’s not a done deal. To quote a favorite saying of Joe Strummer, “The Future Is Unwritten.” If you’ve enjoyed/appreciated what WREK does and has done, it’s time for you to write it….

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

  1. It sounds like GPB just wants to buy out WREK for morning and afternoon drive-time to air Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Guess they think they can steal pledge money away from WABE, and then buy even more time from WREK.

  2. Actually, the concept of HD radio is solid (see http://www.hdradio.com) and it looks like a very promising technology — once it’s in place and everyone has the right kind of receiver. But obviously, that’s not why GT wants to do this. Putting it bluntly, this is just an easy way to generate revenue. And if that’s the case, you have to wonder why they even pretend to keep the “old WREK” in place, even part-time, over the traditional air waves. Hey, if you’re already whoring yourself to public radio for half the day, then what’s the difference? Just sell all your air time to the highest bidder(s). If this happens, it’ll be a sad end to one of the coolest radio stations on Earth. Too bad . . .

  3. Well that is seriously fucked up.I would much rather hear George P choking on the cart for the Happy Flowers “There’s a fly on babies head…..” than any of that NPR garbage. WREK is/was the best radio station ever-not just in the ATL.What I don’t understand is why-with the HD radio-WABE can’t carry that crap on its own multiple signals. Surely the New Lexi will be the first autos with those cutting edge HD receivers. I’m suprised they are going after WREK
    and not the juicier mega-watts of Broadcasting BlowTorch that belong to that downtown Business Night College.

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