WERS loses top ranking

by Beacon Staff • October 3, 2007

After five straight years on top, the station has dropped to number two on the review's Best College Radio list.,The last time Emerson radio wasn't ranked the best in the nation by the Princeton Review, Crazytown was topping the Billboard Charts and Forbes magazine named Britney Spears the world's most powerful celebrity.

After five straight years on top, the station has dropped to number two on the review's Best College Radio list. WSBU-FM, known as The Buzz, the 100-watt station of St. Bonaventure University took the title in the latest edition of the Review's annual "Best 366 Colleges" book. The little station nestled in the Allegheny Mountains in New York has had a place alongside WERS on the Best College Radio roster since the list's creation in 1992. This year, however, is the first time it's been ranked first.

Jeanne Krier, publicist for the Best 366 Colleges, said the results are based on the radio station's popularity among students and that qualitative evaluations of facilities, resources and programming are not considered. The question of popularity is answered with a five-point rating between "Extremely" and "Nonexistent" as part of a voluntary 80-question survey made available to those at the 366 colleges featured in its guide book. The average score determines a school's ranking, and volume has no impact on the final results.

WSBU's signal reaches about 20 miles from St. Bonaventure's campus. The station can be heard on Live365.com, an online radio streaming Web site, broadcasts 24 hours a day, plays music from all genres and recently began hosting live performances, said Chris DeMarchis, station manager at WSBU.

He estimated over 200 students, approximately ten percent of St. Bonaventure's undergraduates, work for the radio, which also publishes a biweekly entertainment magazine, Buzzworthy. DeMarchis acknowledged the small market in which the station competes for college listeners as a boon for its popularity.

"There are probably only four other stations in the area. For students who want alternative rock and hip hop, we're the source for what's hot on the street," he said.

General manager of WERS Jack Casey said most of WERS' regular listeners are located in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. WERS is podcast on iTunes and can be streamed from Live365.com. The station hosts in-studio performances which are usually aired weekly.

He said approximately 110 Emerson students work for the station, which has a 400-person membership and a large number of outside donors, whose contributions boost help the station's popularity in Boston. Casey said he isn't worried about WERS' position on The Review's charts.

"We'll see if there's anything we can do to recapture number one status," Casey said. "We love to be number one."

Casey said WERS has over 10,000 total listeners at any given time in all of the station's markets combined, but that number could not be confirmed by The Beacon.

Sam Citron, a sophomore marketing communications major and music director at WERS since January, downplayed the station's position on the survey and said citywide ratings were more important because of WERS' large Boston listenership.

WERS competes with commercial stations in the Boston market, so it's ratings are also tracked by Arbitron, an international media research firm that measures network and local market radio audiences.

Between fall 2006 and spring 2007, Arbitron marked a decline in WERS' local audience numbers. The number of daily listeners who tune in for more than five minutes dropped from 1567 persons to 1312, according to a report on Arbitron statistics by the Radio Research Consortium.

This decline coincided with the station's new "Music for the Independent Mind" campaign, which also debuted in September 2006, according to the WERS Web site.

WSBU's radio ranking may have been inflated by a rally St. Bonaventure held in an attempt to improve its ranking on Princeton Review's "Worst Food" list. In 2006, the university was ranked second-worst in the nation.

Over 200 students attended the rally, which was emceed by an WSBU DJ, where they filled out the Princeton Review survey as vendors passed out cotton candy. Tom Missel, St. Bonaventure's director of media relations, compared the rally to a carnival.

"We wanted to be proactive," he said. "The idea was to inform students that, no matter how unscientific or objective the survey was, it made headlines and that the students had a lot of power in defining the school's reputation."

It worked. In this year's issue of the 366 Best Colleges, St. Bonaventure climbed off the "Worst Food" list.

Krier said the review receives an average of 325 completed surveys from each of the 366 schools it rates.

"Some people will write the story and say Emerson has the second best radio station in the country. Not true," Krier said. "If you could grab three-hundred or so students and ask how they feel about it, that is the spirit of this survey."