Path unclear for WERS' future

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • September 19, 2013

At issue: WERS makes unprecedented changes over the summer.

Our take: A student-run radio station shouldn't take away opportunities from students.

From the first day potential applicants step foot on Emerson, they learn that WERS is one of the best student-run radio stations in the nation—with an emphasis on “student-run,” giving those aspiring high schoolers the hope to one day hear their voices on air, and maybe even win a prestigious Associated Press award. Its influence throughout campus is inescapable, from the WERS-emblazoned windows along Tremont Street to the station’s continuous broadcast in Emerson’s Café.

But this year, changes to the station added a caveat to the “student-run” label. After the college encouraged the station to strive for more financial independence, WERS installed George Knight as its first-ever full-time professional host. The station also cancelled two programs, reggae hub Rockers and the hip-hop-focused 889@Night, to expand its regular daytime programming.

The station’s management maintains that student opportunities were not diminished by the changes. It’s true that no students were forced off the WERS staff, but some were relocated from their preferred positions and now find their roles unclear. And by consolidating the morning programs, and adding George Knight as the co-host for the station’s 6 to 10 a.m. block, fewer students will have the opportunity to broadcast during the station’s peak hours, when they would be able to get the most exposure for their efforts.

A professional presence in the studio stirs up the dynamic of a self-directed learning environment. The intention may be to send in a “mentor,” as WERS general manager Jack Casey told a Beacon reporter. But George Knight is a talent, not a manager. He is operating at the same level as the students. and has the potential to either intimidate or inspire. It brings to question how Knight will be received in the studio—as a co-worker, a higher-up, or a humble brush with professionalism. We can’t predict what WERS will ask him to contribute beyond his radio personality. 

More fundamentally, based on the reasoning provided by the administration, future plans for WERS are unclear. The ramifications of the professional hire and show cancellations muddle the station’s previously touted status as a primarily student-run radio station. For a station that receives much of its funding from Emerson, this identity crisis is one that must be immediately clarified. 

Although WERS can’t ignore its financial obligations, ultimately it is part of an institution of higher education whose priority is to teach. When WERS places a higher value on revenue than on teaching its students, it is fundamentally undermining the whole premise of a student-run,  college organization. Thus if Emerson is going to maintain that WERS is a college radio station, it must accept that sacrificing learning opportunities for students in exchange for increased earnings is sanctimonious.