The different worlds of WERS and WECB

The ins and outs of Emerson's student radio stations

by Anna Buckley / Beacon Staff • September 13, 2012

Lydia Liebman and Jeeyoon Kim (WECB)
Lydia Liebman and Jeeyoon Kim (WECB)

In the depths of the Ansin building, tucked away from the bustling sounds of Boston, lie the offices of WERS and WECB. There, two of Emerson’s radio stations produce their own sounds to be broadcasted out to the city, and potentially the rest of the country.

While both of Emerson College’s radio stations can be found on the mobile app iHeartRadio and station websites, only WERS broadcasts on the FM dial.

But the main difference between the two channels isn’t found in how they are broadcast, but rather how they are formatted.

According to Kendall Stewart, daytime music director for WERS, DJs at the station work for either the daytime, urban, or weekend programming, or a combination of the three. WERS Daytime is a mixture of folk, vintage, indie-rock, soul, and alternative. The station’s urban programming airs on weeknights, playing both reggae and hip-hop in two segments. On the weekends, family-friendly programing airs.

In contrast, Lydia Liebman, general manager for WECB and a junior visual and media arts major, said WECB has more freeform.  The station hosts between 40 and 50 different radio shows in two -hour blocks, ranging from jazz, comedy shows, and talk shows, according to Liebman. Since its founding 65 years ago, WECB has remained a freeform station and has never been regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.

 “WERS is very structured,” said Liebman. “[At WECB] we give you the freedom to do what you want.”

 According to Liebman, the goal for WECB has always been to remain a freeform station. This means the process of scheduling is more open. For example, a bluegrass show can be followed by a political talk show.

 “‘Freeform’ basically means that we don’t follow any strict format. Students are given the ability to create and host their own radio shows based on whatever they want, within reason,” Liebman said. “We’re all about promoting creativity and individuality and giving people that don’t necessarily have a lot of radio experience an outlet to really explore that.”

At WERS, however, content producers are the ones to choose the music DJs will play during airtime. 

 According to Stewart, WERS gets a number of potential DJs coming to the station asking why they can’t play whatever they want, and the response is that real radio stations don’t function that way.

 “We have to be professional all the time; these are our full-time jobs. It’s a matter of everyone just agreeing to work together and to sustain that level of professionalism,” Stewart said. “What I always say when I’m working with other people is that we know that we’re kids, but we want the rest of the world to be surprised when they find out that we’re kids.”

WERS is the highest-rated student-run radio station in the nation according to radio-rating company Arbitron, and has listeners outside of the college.

 “It’s a really great opportunity because we are running a real radio station here. We have an actual FM frequency, and we broadcast to a lot of people. We have very dedicated listeners,” said Stewart. “I want to go out into the real world and be a music director, and here I get to be a music director every single day.”

But for sophomore journalism major, and former staff member at WECB news Mariesa Negosanti, WECB provided the opportunity to learn about radio in a more general sense. As a listener of both stations, Negosanti said that she enjoys the variety of music WECB broadcasts.

 “What I like about WECB is that if you want to listen to a certain type of music, there are specific shows for specific music,” she said. “You can pick and choose what you want.”

 Students applying to positions in the production, promotion, or news teams are put through an open application process, according to Liebman, who said that if a student shows a strong interest in learning the technical aspects of the job, they are often given the opportunity. 

According to Liebman, the DJ spots are highly sought after, and applicants must go through an interview process. WECB usually expects around 120 applicants for 25-30 spots each semester.

 “It’s very competitive,” Liebman said. “We definitely want to make sure you’re on your game if we’re going to give you a slot.”

 Once a WECB DJ is hired, he or she is able to play the music that fits his or her show, according to Liebman.

 “We give a lot of free reign to them,” she said. “We trust them to do a good job and, about 98% of the time, it does go well.”

 Sterwart said at WERS the content directors choose the music that DJs will play during airtime.  Due to the format of the station and the interconnectedness of the jobs, students at WERS are constantly communicating, Stewart said. 

Music directors like Stewart work with program directors to choose songs that fit the station, which is then given to the DJs to air. Before and after music production elements are aired that the production manager and his team create. 

“Everything here is connected, so we have to have open lines of communication at all times,” Stewart said. “Every department affects the other one.”

 For Negosanti, the biggest difference between the two stations is the type of experience you recieve when working.

 “If you’re going to try something new and see if you like radio, I think [WECB is] the better choice, but I think if you want more of a professional feel, WERS would be the better choice because its 24/7,” she said.

 Having worked at both stations, Liebman said she has seen firsthand the benefits a student can get from working at either station.

 “There’s a lot of crisscross and overlap, which is great,” she said. “I really think that people should be open to exploring both.”