June 8, 2016

Don't Change WUGA's Programming

Editor’s note: This is an open letter to Karri Hobson-Pape, the University of Georgia’s vice president for marketing and communication, the department that includes UGA’s NPR and GPB radio affiliate.

Please accept my heartfelt welcome to the treasure that is the Athens community. As a devoted 26-plus year listener to WUGA, a community member in Athens and a fifth-generation UGA alum, I am happy that you have joined us. I hope we will have the opportunity to meet in the near future.

As you will know, WUGA is a beloved and vital source of connection for the university and Athens community. This local public radio station has been a jewel in the crown of UGA and Athens over the past 30 years. The Athens community has enjoyed award-winning, locally produced radio shows. To name just a few: “It’s Friday,” a model live show that drew national audiences to the Athens music scene through weekly performances and informed interviews; “Afternoon Concert” with Michael Cardin that provides soothing classical music for hectic workday afternoons sprinkled with interviews from the arts community; and “The Commons,” an informative news show featuring interviews with UGA scholars and esteemed guests to the visiting UGA academic community. These programs exemplified the diverse music, arts and intellectual leadership of UGA and the Athens community.

For many years the balanced mix of music and locally produced original programming on WUGA sustained the community listener and contributor base. This excellent weekday programming set the rhythm of the workday for a town cherished for its diversity and working independence. Everyone from stay-at-home mothers to graduate students and faculty, professionals and retired community members structured their days to the programming. As a graduate student in the 1990s and volunteer at the radio station, I studied this through analysis of the 1995 Griffen Report and recognized how unique and beneficial WUGA was to the University of Georgia and the Athens community.

This cherished treasure is now under serious threat.

In 2011, the university purchased WNEG/WUGA TV and then linked it with GPB. WUGA FM cut back on some local programming. As a concerned listener, I met with UGA Vice President Tom Jackson and station manager Jimmy Sanders. They both very aggressively assured me that local radio programming would not be reduced. Rather, they pledged to increase local radio programming and preserve this vital link for our community.

Now, the WUGA general manager has announced that based on a survey conducted last year, major changes are occurring in the programming. From noon–9 p.m., there will be no music during weekdays. All locally produced programs have been pushed to the margins of the schedule. (Embarrassingly, the “local news” read by Jeff Dantre seems to be verbatim rip-and-read from the Athens Banner Herald.) The loss of music during the afternoon workday, the marginalization of local programming and the reliance on piped-in talk radio will cost significant losses in listenership and support for WUGA.

I recognize that these changes are based on the interpretation of the “WUGA Audience Research Project.” As a PhD in social sciences from UGA, I have serious reservations about how this survey was conducted, and that there was a strong bias present throughout this “research project.” I request that the survey and raw data from this research project be made public for independent analysis. Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that these changes are what the WUGA listening community actually wants.

This topic has been raised through social media. I immediately posted comments on the WUGA Facebook page as soon as this announcement was made. Certainly, whoever moderates that page has not had time yet to repost this. In comparison, I also posted my concerns publicly on my own Facebook page and immediately drew many comments mourning the loss of music and local programming from the listener community. It would be interesting to know how many other listeners have contacted the radio station with similar concerns and how those concerns have been addressed.

If WUGA moves to a talk-radio platform, which creates excess distraction for the many working listeners, I fear we will lose a vital part of our community.

Vice President Karri Hobson-Pape, I do hope that you will take my concerns seriously as a devoted WUGA listener, a UGA alum and a member of the Athens community. This public radio station has such wonderful potential to highlight the excellent work and advancements of UGA locally, nationally and internationally thanks to new technologies. The radio station and UGA have a great foundation for this. The station can support local listeners who enjoy the esteemed music contribution in the Athens community and classical music like no other resource. I dearly hope that WUGA will continue to serve as a link that builds the sense of shared community of WUGA listeners.

As my earlier inquiries have not been shared in an open forum, I suggest that you spearhead an open public discussion about these programming changes to determine if these do indeed reflect what the community wants. To start this process, I am sharing this letter openly and look forward to your response.

My hope is that together we can work to preserve this unique WUGA FM listener community. We are all invested in fostering the reputation of the University of Georgia and its tradition for excellence in creative and intellectual rigor.