by Jeff Walker

Although WRAS signed on the air on January 18, 1971, its roots reach back to the mid-1960s, when GSU was known as Georgia State College. At that time, the Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company owned WPLO-AM and FM, but their FM station was not used, as commercial FM stations were barely profitable then. Georgia State was allowed to use its 103.3 FM frequency, and a classroom was converted to a studio in a building once known as Kell Hall. During the WPLO FM days, students staffed the station, and it aired a mix of music, interviews, and news on a limited air schedule.  When FM stations in San Francisco, New York, and other major markets began turning a profit in the late 60s playing Woodstock-era rock, the owners of WPLO-FM notified Georgia State that our use of the frequency would be terminated.  On November 12, 1969, Georgia State University (which had been given University status on September 10, 1969) filed with the 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 a small studio in what is now known as the Student Center West building.  The antenna was placed on leased tower space on the grounds of WABE, near the intersection of Piedmont and Cheshire Bridge roads.  This antenna site was on high ground and gave excellent coverage of metro Atlanta.  Our Chief Engineer, Harvey Morris, with the assistance of Butch Foster and, in 1976, Jim Gantner, did an excellent job in engineering the station and produced a sound so clean that the station was often used to demonstrate “hi-fi” stereo equipment in retail audiophile stores.  The station even aired Atlanta’s first live “Quadrophonic” broadcast along with WREK in 1974, using a short-lived technology that gave the listener two front and two rear channels of sound.

WRAS quickly earned and maintained a reputation of being one of the most influential and professionally run student stations in the nation.  At no time was this more true than in the first three years of the station’s existence.  Beginning with the first student General Manager, Richard Belcher, now with WSB-TV, expectations were high.  While most other college stations had poor training, sparse technical facilities, and little programming knowledge, Georgia State students produced a progressive sound so popular that it influenced format decisions down the dial at the commercial stations.  When easy listening station WKLS was sold in 1974, the new owners chose Album Oriented Rock rather than Top-40, largely on the success of WRAS and visits by their consultants to GSU to see how the students were programming music.  The success of WRAS, 96Rock, and WQXI-FM spelled the end of an era for WQXI-AM, which had dominated the market for young listeners through the Beatles era.

The effects of the popularity of WRAS were felt again in the 1980s as the “New Music” genre developed. With the new music came a new slogan for WRAS in the Fall of 1982, as the station was now called Album 88. Atlanta first heard the Go-Go’s, Sade, Run-D.M.C., Men at Work, and many other artists on Album 88. The diversity and popularity of the playlist was a source of irritation to the commercial stations, especially Z93, 96 Rock, and V103, whose audiences were resistant to the new sound and could no longer claim they were breaking many of the hottest new artists.  After Album 88’s power increase to 100,000 watts in March of 1987, most of the population of North Georgia could now hear the signal.  The New Music genre grew and changed in the 80’s until, in October of 1992, a commercial station cashed in on the opportunity to claim this new musical territory.  After an awkward beginning, 99X eventually became one of the country’s most respected alternative stations of the 1990s, building upon the artists made popular by Album 88.

In the 90s, Atlanta radio listeners could hear several more FM stations due to changes in federal limits on interference.  This allowed new commercial FM stations with formats such as pop, jazz, hip hop, new country, soul, and talk to compete for Atlanta listeners.  As it had throughout its history, Album 88 adjusted its sound over the following decades to remain an alternative to commercial offerings.  The trend was toward a more alternative mix of artists and sounds which were not being exposed on other Atlanta stations.  During this time, artists such as Outkast were making a name for themselves in Atlanta, and their music was first played on the radio on Album 88. The station continued to win recognition and awards, as it always had, from listeners and the music industry.  The station was frequently on Creative Loafing’s list of most popular radio stations. Its student staff continued to move to commercial radio and television positions with regularity, as well as many other professions.

As the station moved through the 2010s, it upgraded its signal yet again as it became the flagship radio station of the Panther Football Network. An additional antenna site was leased in downtown Atlanta at the top of a 1,000-foot tower, and new transmitters were installed to offer HD Radio for the first time. The new antenna site and HD technology resulted in several advantages, including interference-free reception and extending our reach even further into North Georgia.

In 2014, Georgia State’s President, Dr. Mark Becker, agreed with Georgia Public Broadcasting to carry NPR programming during the day on the analog FM signal while students continued to program during the nighttime hours. Student programming continues to be heard on a 24/7 basis on 88.5 HD2 and online at Student interest in the station continues to be strong, and the outlook for the station is bright, partly due to the range of creative programs on the station and being the flagship radio station for the Panther Radio Network, carrying many Panthers football and basketball games live.