Broadcasting live from the Ansin Building, Emerson College’s 88.9 WERS signal reaches across Greater Boston, and the station connects with listeners across the globe through its streaming and app.
But the true power behind the station is the students.
“I think one of the secret sauces to WERS staying cool is having the students involved,” said Ken West ’94, brand manager for WERS. “We’re teaching them about how the business world works, and the students know what music is cool with their peer groups. Students bring music that they and their friends love and we talk about it and play them.”
Students who work at WERS get hands-on experience with a cutting-edge media company that attracts more than 150,000 listeners a week in a major market. They get a taste of marketing, advertising, social media management, voice training, research, and more. And the students are vital to the success of the station’s terrestrial station, streaming, website, and social media feeds.
WERS essentially is an independent media company that provides students the opportunity to experience what makes a successful radio station. Students learn from West, who worked in the commercial radio business for 30 years, as well as General Manager Howard “D” Simpson ‘94, and four professional deejays on-air throughout the week: George Knight, Phil Jones ‘18, Maurice Wilkey (Mo Wilks) ’95 MA ’10, and Hal Slifer.
Program coordinator Eva Windler ’24 wanted to work at WERS to learn more about voice work and microphone technique, and hones her skills as the on-air host for the midday shift (10:00 am to 2:00 pm) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Windler said as she got more involved with the station, she wanted to play a bigger role in choosing and organizing the music, and to help other student on-air hosts. In her current role, she also makes playlists and trains and provides feedback to new members of the on-air team.
She said her favorite part of working at WERS is the music she discovers daily thanks to WERS’ eclectic format.
“We feature brand new artists like Blondshell and also classic bands like R.E.M. Our playlists range from indie artists to huge hits,” said Windler. “We’re a Triple-A [AAA] radio station, which means we play Adult Album Alternative music. I love pretty much all of the music we play regularly, but if I had to choose favorites, I really like the brand-new songs our music team finds, especially the ones from local artists.”
Windler equated introducing listeners to music they’ve never heard before to finding treasure.
“I find new songs and artists to listen to all the time. Through my work at 88.9, I learn about bands, their artistic processes, and what they’re up to now,” said Windler, and she always knows when musicians are on tour. “This role has taught me so much about the music industry and continues to teach me more daily. Working at WERS is such a cool experience on so many levels.”
Business of Creative Enterprises major Brooke Vickerman ’24 began working with WERS in January, and became the station’s social media manager in September, running the station’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X, and LinkedIn accounts.
She was attracted to working at WERS because she heard it can help students get a leg up finding a job after college. Vickerman plans and creates drafts for two weekly newsletters sent out by WERS, and creates each weekday’s engagement question on Facebook. On Halloween, she asked listeners to list scary movies with good soundtracks.
She also has a hand in social media ticket giveaways, and created a plan to engage with listeners during the station’s live music week.
“I like seeing the listeners react to the posts I’m putting up,” said Vickerman. “Working at a real radio station and seeing people respond and encourage us is really cool. Everyone who works at WERS is really helpful and fosters learning.”
From her work, Vickerman is getting an idea for what part of the music industry she’d like to work for after college.
“Maybe as a deejay. Promotions are really cool. Working with artists and setting up the giveaways is fun,” said Vickerman who also hosts her own show, Honeysuckle on WECB, Emerson’s other student radio station, on Thursdays from 1:00 to 2:00 pm.
Programming for WERS is very fluid due to its audience and independent status, says West.
“It’s fascinating because our audience is not all students. So how do you target a radio station that really is probably mostly geared at [age] 40-plus people?” said West. “But yet trying not to dismiss people younger than 40.”
Being independent allows WERS to bring on new shows like the Salt Lick Sessions, which debuted on the station in September. The new show is a collaboration with Salt Lick Incubator, a nonprofit founded by former Berklee College of Music President Robert Brown to support emerging musicians.
“From our initial talks with the Salt Lick Incubator team, I knew we were collaborating on something special. Salt Lick Sessions provides a ‘fly on the wall’ opportunity to discover and experience rising talent as they ascend,” said Simpson.
Finding and introducing regional artists to the public, is something the students and staff are proud of, says West.
Vickerman said the opportunity to learn in a professional media setting has been incredible, and wants more students to join in, and Windler agrees.
“I really love working at WERS. Even though we’ve been around as a station for almost 75 years — our 75th anniversary is in 2024 — a lot of the Emerson community don’t know that much about us,” said Windler. “It would be really cool if more people learned about what we do, and took advantage of the opportunity to work at a professional radio station with thousands of listeners tuning in all the time.”