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Indigo Girls' Amy Ray reflects on WRAS' influence

The folk duo's co-founder chats about the station's heralded past and uncertain future

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For more than four decades, WRAS (88.5 FM) has supported local musicians long before they've found success: R.E.M. back is the '80s, OutKast in the '90s, and Deerhunter last decade. Grammy Award-winning folk duo the Indigo Girls is also on that list. Amy Ray, one of the Atlanta-based group's two co-founders, credits Album 88 with playing its earliest releases prior to the band's signing with Epic Records in 1988. In a recent conversation, she reminisced about the role WRAS played in helping the duo find fame, her mixed feeling about the GPB move, and what she hopes will happen next at GSU.

On how WRAS helped the Indigo Girls launch their career:

In the early days, [the Indigo Girls] had a single in '85, then an EP in '86, and a full-length record in '87 that WRAS played that were all independent [releases]. They were early supporters of what we were doing at a time when college radio was one of the most important vehicles of promotion for an independent band. But at the same time, college radio was a lot more open to that kind of music.

College radio was this thing helping bands become real successful, so major labels followed that and took advantage of that. There was a period of time that was a lot harder for indie bands to get played, even on college radio, because it was taken over. That happened to WRAS to a certain degree, but I think it opened back up in the last few years. They became more indie-oriented again, which is the cycle of many college radio stations.

We would've never been able to do as well as we did in Atlanta without them, I'll say that. WREK, too. All the [local Atlanta] indie stations.

On being torn between college radio and public radio:

It's really important to have an indie station at a college where students can learn how to be programmers and there's this great space for diversity and a diversity of voices. I hope it stays that way and people are given access to it. I'm also a huge fan of GPB. It's really hard for me. Their programming is really great and has given a format for a lot of programs that wouldn't normally exist in the community. I live in a small town in North Georgia and we have a GPB station, one that's different from WABE, and it's so important. It's important in our community. I wish the two parties would sit down together, have a true conversation and dialogue about this, figure out a way for everyone to get something out of it. But I don't think it's going to happen. I wish GPB would say, "What can we do to support WRAS, not takeover WRAS?"

On how public radio and college radio can coexist:

When you look at WFUV at Fordham University in the Bronx, they're an NPR station, but they're also one of the best Triple A non-commercial stations out there. They do incredible programming and the students are still involved, but they also do NPR news that doesn't dominate the format. Being an NPR station strengthens what they were doing. The same goes for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (WUTC 88.1 FM). They have this great programming, but at the same time is an NPR station.

On what she hopes happens next with WRAS:

For me, it's very important to give WRAS a chance to be a meaningful part of the dialogue and negotiation and not just be this takeover that changes everything. That would be the first step, for me, that I would like to see happen. As I've heard, it's going to be this almost aggressive takeover that takes the heart out something really important to the Atlanta community.

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