WREK, Tech’s student-run radio station, has run into another obstacle this year as the Georgia Tech Cable Network (GTCN) has dropped the WREK channel, moving its audio content to the TV Guide channel instead.
Earlier this year, WREK lost 30 percent of its budget when the International Sports Properties decided to move its broadcasts of men’s basketball and football games off the student station, and over the winter break, a steam pipe burst in WREK’s storage room, leading to an outbreak of mold that damaged recordings and backup equipment.
WREK became aware of the change at GTCN when a staff member noticed that channel 17, which used to play the radio station’s content, was empty.
“We were never really notified about [GTCN taking us off the channel], no warning beforehand at all,” said Trey Rhodes, general manager of WREK. “We had a verbal agreement that we’d be getting another channel on GTCN for our new HD subchannel, but it looks like we won’t have a presence on the network at all except for the music on the channel guide.”
Channel 17 originally showed a slideshow of upcoming music and shows, a brief history of WREK and other content along with a WREK’s current broadcast. According to a WREK staff member, the station had been planning to put sports programs, live concerts and even comedy shows on the channel.
Carol Pulliam, general manager of GTCN, defended the choice, citing the technical benefits in the new digital system and saying that the music being broadcasted by WREK works well behind the channel guide.
“By combining WREK’s audio with GTCN’s programming guide, we were able to create space for two or three HD channels. Using WREK as background music enabled us to use the bandwidth more efficiently,” Pulliam said.
However, staff members at WREK are skeptical about these reasons.“The impression we got from GTCN was that our content wasn’t what students wanted to see,” said Thomas Shanks, chief engineer of WREK. “The main thing is that they have a lot of bandwidth in their system, on the digital side and the analog side, and they could have moved us to one of those channels, which right now are empty.”
“Spaces or blank channels in our lineup are reserved for testing. There are a couple of channels that are unusable due to the location of a particular radio transmitter – it causes too much interference,” Pulliam said.
WREK has recently obtained approval to increase the power of its transmitter to 100,000 watts to reach more listeners living in the Atlanta metro area. Brad Henry, third-year ME and a host of the Thursday evening talk show “Tech Talk,” acknowledged that the impact of WREK on the average student’s life is unfortunately very low. However, just like any other student organization, WREK has an annual budget allocated by the Student Government Association, which takes the money out of student activity fees.
“I would like to see WREK become more accessible to students. Let’s face it, no one is going to turn on their radio. So we need some easier way for students to listen – for example, playing WREK in the Student Center or the CRC,” Henry said.
Despite numerous setbacks this year, Rhodes says that WREK is still growing thanks to a dedicated staff. The radio station will be celebrating its 41st anniversary by holding its annual WREKTACULAR concert at The Drunken Unicorn on March 28.
“Not all is doom and gloom in radio-land,” he said optimistically. “We’ve just invested in this new HD transmitter and we’re looking forward to more upgrading and improvement, so it’s still a great time to be involved.”