With upcoming hire, WERS changes frequency

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 13, 2013

At issue: WERS seeks professional on-air host

Our take: Reduce the static and give us a clear signal

WERS, since its founding in 1946, has been a student-run radio station. It has amassed a following with this format, broadcasting across the Commonwealth and — through online streaming — around the world. For years, the station has also been topping lists of college radio stations and racking up Associated Press awards.

The station now plans to hire a full-time professional host, which would force the station to stray from student on-air talent for the first time. The new hire would provide content for the weekday morning show: 6 to 10 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, peak drive-time hours. This is a fundamental change of the station’s dynamic, and the station should be straightforward about its reasons for the move.

WERS already has professional management, a system that allows oversight while students learn the workings of an active radio station. But with the addition of a professional host and content producer, the station could no longer accurately call itself “student-run.” When the next Princeton Review rankings come around, would it be appropriate for a station with frequent content produced and broadcasted by a non-student to compete?

WERS General Manager Jack Casey told a Beacon reporter that the change is part of “the evolution of WERS” — that the station “has always gone onto the next thing whatever that next thing was.” His comments imply that it’s a natural progression for a college radio station to start putting in pros. The new position suggests not a continuing trajectory, but, at the very least, a shift in direction.

And blurring the issue further, Casey said in a management meeting that because of poor student talent and “appalling” behavior, the station might have to start firing DJs.

He now says the new position did not come about because of these problems, but said that focus groups of listeners have complained about the student talent.

We understand that WERS, as a prominent public radio station, must do what it can to attract an audience and continue to function at its current level. But the station should be more forthright about where this change comes from and what it means.

As WERS’ de facto leader, Casey owes it to the student staff and station listeners to clearly explain the decision. These students are trying to pursue a future in radio, and they deserve to hear a forthright assessment of their performance, to make adjustments and improve before their careers begin.