WERS changes format, opposes FCC fine

by Beacon Staff • October 11, 2006

The new show, entitled "Music For The Independent Mind," debuted Sept. 27 and airs weekdays from 2 a.,This is not a test, WERS listeners: Emerson's golden child radio station has recently changed its format to consistently include a wider variety of genres.

The new show, entitled "Music For The Independent Mind," debuted Sept. 27 and airs weekdays from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m., replacing a group of more genre-oriented shows.

While the station's management has hailed the change as a fresh way to move the station foward, some students working there aren't so pleased.

According to WERS's operations manager, Alden Fertig, the switch has been informally discussed for many years, but the decision was made to do it now because 88.9 FM "had maxed out what we could do [with the current format], and to bring the station into the future."

The WERS Web site describes the new mix as "music for people who are interested in exploring different genres and discovering artists outside of the mainstream."

Indeed, "Music for the Independent Mind" incorporates a wide variety of tunes, placing rock-radio staples like The Beatles' "Come Together" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect" alongside more eclectic cuts such as Francophonic lothario Serge Gainsbourg's "Cha Cha Cha Du Loup" and the Yeats-referencing "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" by the Speakers.

Boston-based artists from Cambridge bluesman Chris Smither to college-rock mainstays the Pixies each have a place in the program.

Fertig said that the old programs were innovative in their time, because they catered to audiences with different tastes but limited resources to access them.

Advances in technology have allowed specialized listeners with alternate avenues to pursue their tastes.

"Since the late '90s and the proliferation of iPods and Internet radio, we lost that appeal," Fertig said. The block programming introduced students to diverse music they might not have heard otherwise. "If you wanted world music, you would wait until 2:00 p.m."

Those devoted to such shows were displeased by the changes. Senior audio/radio major Chris Brey deejayed a segment of the late-night techno program "Revolutions" and oversaw the new music added to its line-up.

He was told of the switch, which effectively deleted his show, the Sunday before it was announced to the general staff.

"I was in shock," he said. He was offered a DJ slot for "Music for the Independent Mind" but declined at the time, saying he was "not mentally ready" after the show on which he had worked was cancelled.

Brey, however, had the opportunity to deejay the last "Revolutions" segment, and he considered it "the best show I'd ever done."

"It came out really well," Brey said. "And somehow it gave me closure."

Brey has since accepted a slot spinning records for WERS's hip-hop hours, "88.9@Night."

"I agree with the the change, but it hit me personally," Brey said. "It was hard to swallow. In the end, I realized this happens in the professional world all the time. It really sucks, but it's part of the industry."

Though genre-specific shows like Brey's have been replaced, Student Manager Juliet Nuzzo, a senior audio/radio major, noted that a benefit of the streamlined programming is its focus.

"It's a lot easier to put my energy into one thing to make it great," Nuzzo said.

Although the weekday schedule has undergone extensive changes, the weekend remains much the same, including "The Playground" and "Standing Room Only," which feature children's music and Broadway numbers, respectively. Fertig said the programs were considered "signature shows for the college."

Despite what Fertig calls "anecdotal feedback," both in favor of and against the change, he believes the adjustment will take time.

"We're not making any judgments yet on whether this is successful, and we're not going to do that until six months to a year," he said. He compared the radio reformatting to opening a new restaurant, in that both build upon business through continued patronage and positive word-of-mouth, rather than on initial buzz.

Much of this falls onto the shoulders of the student body, a market to which Fertig believes the new format caters.

"It's totally driven by Emerson students," Fertig said. "[And we've] turned that into our greatest strength.",Bryan O'Toole