Campus radio station to hire its first ever professional host

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • March 14, 2013

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Johnny Quinones, a WERS production director, reviews his past work.
Johnny Quinones, a WERS production director, reviews his past work.

WERS, Emerson’s student-run public radio station, will hire its first professional full-time host in its 67-year history. The host will assist student disc jockeys during the weekday morning show, said General Manager Jack Casey. 

The job description, as posted on Emerson’s website, says the host will be responsible for the creation, direction, and production of content about local happenings—not national news or music, which students will continue to cover. The future hire, to be called an On-Air Host, will appear in public on behalf of the station, and provide content for the morning show, which runs from 6-10 a.m. Mondays through Friday, according to the description. 

The newly-appointed host will broadcast alongside the students and serve as a mentor — not replace anyone, Casey said.

The new job title has caused frustration among WERS members. Two anonymous WERS student staffers spoke with the Beacon about issues at the station, and the implications of hiring a professional host. 

Currently, students run all the station’s shows and are responsible for selecting and introducing music, speaking on air, and editing and producing stories. Casey said these duties will not change with the new hire. 

The first anonymous source, a WERS DJ, said the decision to hire a new host came amid a tense environment at the station, and many student staff members do not support it. The source had reservations about the new position, but said the professional staff is unapproachable, so negative viewpoints would not be voiced by the DJ or any other student staff members. 

“If the students had an opinion about whether or not they wanted to work with a professional DJ, they couldn’t do anything about it,” said the WERS worker.  “Most of the other DJs would prefer to be given a chance to branch out on their own.”

A second anonymous source said this decision was made in response to a lack of student interest in radio in general. 

“I think it’s kind of like a last ditch effort — we don’t have the interest or talent,” said the student. “It definitely does take away from the completely student run aspect of the station. You’re no longer hearing purely student voices.” 

Casey said the decision to add the host was made to improve the station and help WERS hold up against other professional competition throughout the city. 

“I think its the right time in the evolution of WERS to bring someone else in,” said Casey. “The station has been going since 1946 and has always gone onto the next thing whatever that next thing was. I think this is right.”

But according to minutes from a Feb. 22 weekly management meeting at WERS, student managers and the professional staff discussed recent problems within the station, including mispronunciations and an overall lack of professionalism by students in office and on air.

Casey led the discussion about poor radio talent at the school, citing an instance where a host mispronounced artist Conor Oberst’s name twice in one segment, according to the minutes. 

He said some students are recently showing resistance to this procedure, according to the minutes. 

“It’s appalling,” said Casey in the minutes. 

According to the minutes, he also said the station may need to start firing some students and only keep the best DJs on. 

Production Director Johnny Quinones, a senior visual and media arts major, painted a different picture of WERS, and said the response from the student staff about the new professional host has been positive overall. 

“I’m sure whoever does get the pleasure of working with this guy will improve,” said Quinones.  

Quinones said that with the help of the new mentor, students will speak more on the radio, instead of giving brief song introductions and artist explanations as they do now. This will add to the overall quality of the show, he said. 

Casey said one of listeners’ biggest complaints in focus groups conducted by the station is inconsistent young talent. For himself, he said, it took 30 years to be comfortable ad libbing on the radio. 

The second anonymous source said listener funding makes up majority of the station’s profits. 

“Money is a large part of radio,” the staff member said. “If the listeners don’t like what they are hearing on air they are not going to support us. You have to raise the bar if you want to keep listeners engaged.”

Tim Riley, an Emerson journalism professor and National Public Radio music critic, said WERS management is worried about the right things.

“In order to be a good source of news, you want to earn the trust of your listeners,” he said. “You want to know how to pronounce things; it is a pretty fundamental part of journalism.”

In the Fall of 2012 the visual and media arts department dropped the radio major because of a lack of interest, according to Jonathan Wacks, chair and professor of the visual and media arts department. The program will be moved to the communications department as a minor. 

Gary Berkowitz, who has worked as a professional host for WROR, Boston, WHYT, Detroit, WJR, Detroit and WKQI, Detroit among others  and consultant, graduated from Emerson in 1973. During his time at the college, he worked as a DJ, production director, and general manager at WERS.

He said he believes the new host will help students learn more, and that the station should be completely professionally-run, so students can truly get a grasp on the radio business.

“If Emerson wants WERS to be a toy to play around with and have a good time with, that’s a different story,” said Berkowitz. “But if they want it to help students be in radio, it should be taught by professionals and not student run. And I felt that way when I was a student too.”

During his time at the station, he said he tried to act as a professional, adhering to deadlines and maintaining a serious attitude in the office, and received backlash from his peers. He eventually quit the station and started work as a night host at PRO-FM in Providence.

The new host would be the seventh professional working at the station, compared to 98 student members said Casey. 

Casey said the office will conduct a thorough search for the new hire and he does not expect to bring anyone on to the staff this semester.

Chris Gavin, Rebecca Fiore, and Brittany Gervais, Beacon Staff and WERS staff, did not edit this story.