WRAS Hits the Airwaves
The 100,000-watt Voice of Georgia State spun its first record more than 40 years ago
Although WRAS is now the most powerful and one of the most highly respected all-student-programmed radio station in the country with more than 50,000 weekly listeners, the station humbly began in the 1960s with a hand-me-down FM signal.
What we now know as WRAS, Album 88 at 88.5 FM, was our second station and signed on the air Jan. 18, 1971, when we were Georgia State College. Very little is known about our first radio station in the 1960s, except that there was a small studio in Sparks Hall broadcasting on WPLO 103.3 FM. At that time, FM stations were barely profitable, so the corporate owners of WPLO allowed our students to broadcast a variety of programming.
By 1969, FM stations in San Francisco, New York and other major markets began tapping into the music of the Woodstock generation, and the owners of WPLO-FM now knew they could turn a profit with their own programming. Students were soon told of the loss of the station, so they lobbied the administration for a permanent solution.
On Nov. 12, 1969, Georgia State University (which had been given university status earlier that year) filed with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for a station at 88.5 FM. The FCC granted a construction permit for WRAS in February 1970 to operate at 19,500 watts, with two small studios in what is now the University Center.
Our first chief engineer, Harvey Morris, took such care to create a clean sound that the station was often used to demonstrate “hi-fi” stereo equipment in audiophile retail stores. WRAS also scored a technological first, along with Georgia Tech’s WREK 91.1, when in 1974 both stations aired the world’s first simulcast of The Who’s “Quadrophenia” album in “quadrophonic sound” using technology that gave the listener two front and two rear channels of sound.
WRAS quickly earned the reputation of being one of the most influential and professionally run student stations in the nation. The station’s first general manager, Richard Belcher (B.B.A. ’72), is now with WSB-TV, as is Chuck Dowdle (B.A. ’72), the station’s first sports director. Thousands of students have followed, many remaining in the fields of broadcasting and public relations, as well as in the music recording industry. While most other college stations had poor training and little knowledge of programming, Georgia State students had access to professional equipment and a large audience. Our latest alumni are in leadership positions across the country, from Turner Broadcasting to National Public Radio.
After the station’s power increase to 100,000 watts in March 1987, most of the population of North Georgia could now hear the signal. For more than 25 years, WRAS has been the most powerful student-programmed station, airing more than 300 hours of Panther Sports programming per year and informative programs about Georgia State’s unique research and academic offerings.
The future of WRAS is strong, primarily because of the very nature of its service to the university and its programming. Radio is the ultimate mobile device, with no data caps and no subscription fees, covering the entire metropolitan Atlanta area. In terms of programming, while online services such as Pandora deliver music based on what a listener has already heard and can define, stations such as WRAS cull from among thousands of new releases each year to bring their audience the sounds that will define tomorrow’s musical trends.
Jeff Walker (B.S ‘ 83, M.S. ’88) began spinning records for WRAS as a student in 1976. He is now Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Administration and WRAS adviser and operations manager.