Digital Exclusive: Gannon University’s WERG Radio voted ‘Best Station in the Nation’

Digital Exclusive

“It’s not here yet,” says one of the WERG staff at Gannon University in downtown Erie.

“Not yet, but it’s coming,” says another.

On March 6th, the Intercollegiate Broadcast System announced 90.5 WERG-FM radio was the Best College Radio Station with an enrollment under 10,000 students. The last time Gannon earned this honor was in 2014, and that is memorialized in a plaque that hangs just outside of the station booth.

While the staff waits for the 2021 plaque, homemade posters of their achievement hang around the 2nd floor of the Center for Communication and Arts, the home of WERG.

Even without the three IBS awards from this year, the almost 550 square feet that make up the entire radio station struggles to accommodate the trophies they have already won in their 50 years of existence.

“I can facilitate the path to earning those awards, but the students have always done all the work.,” said faculty operations manager Chet LaPrice. “That spirit has never changed… And when you get that recognized, that’s just an amazing, special thing.”

From the audio production to the specialty shows to the social media posts, everything is done by the students.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t really fully set in that, you know, the stuff we put in is nationally-renowned,” said program director Nicolis Franz, a senior Digital Media major. “Obviously, when we’re working on it, that’s not something that we’re really prioritizing. We’re just more focused on putting out content that is good and that’s fun to make and that we enjoy making.”

A smirk appears on the corner of Franz’s mouth.

“… It just so happens that the awards kind of go hand-in-hand with that.” His smirk grows into a full smile.

Franz admits he and LaPrice take a very hands-off approach in their oversight of the students, allowing them to be creative. And music director and senior medical lab/philosophy major Andy Drew takes it upon herself to find the latest alternative music people are listening to while, at the same time, listening to other students’ suggestions.

“I think it’s really cool because it’s so student-influenced at all times,” Drew said. “We do keep adding songs, but then we also do get to play a ton of old songs… It’s a nice little diversity to give old songs a new chance, but also, we’re adding new songs constantly.”

Drew boasts of a clipboard that is always available to the disc jockeys. So, if somebody calls in to request a song WERG doesn’t have, the DJ will write it down, and she will personally hunt it down to see if the station can play it.

College radio stations like WERG differ from standard commercial stations because they aren’t obligated to ratings and sales, which means students can get actual, on-air practice for a career they want. Junior digital media major Erik Konwinski hosts his own sports talk show, “Prime Time Sports Guys” every Thursday night, from 6 to 8 p.m. He said the best way to learn your craft is to get actual live repetitions.

“It’s something I wouldn’t be able to do on my own,” Konwinski said. “We have the technology to record things, but this gives us a platform. It’s interesting to put something into a system, and then be driving in your car later on, and hear your voice. It gives you confidence.”

Production director and interdisciplinary studies major Robert Fox hopes to use this hands-on experience to help him pursue filmmaking in the future.

“Even if the film aspect of my career doesn’t work out, I do enjoy doing this for the radio,” Fox said. “I feel like it gives me experience in marketing as well, with coming up with the catchphrases and the colorful language you use to promote events and stuff… I’ll see where the road takes me.”

An interest in advertising and marketing is what propelled digital media and advertising major Madison Maurice to be the social media director. She knows each one of her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts is a chance to get people to listen in.

“Social media allows people to connect [to the station] even if they’re not tuned in,” Maurice said. “It improves our listener base. We’ll get a lot more listeners from my posts or posts I’m sharing.”

LaPrice admits he never recruits any student to join WERG. The staff will set up a table on campus — when there is no pandemic — and they will talk to anybody interested. Other than that, digital media majors do air shifts their freshman year, and everything builds from there. Once the student decides to join the station, LaPrice will talk to them personally to identify their talent and figure out their aspiration because, at its core, the station is a training ground for a student’s future.

“With a degree like this, you can do a lot of things,” he said. “You can go into broadcasting, you can go into the healthcare industry, we’ve had students go into sports… it just depends on where your passions are. When you try to align that with your talents, get you some recognition occasionally, that goes into their portfolio, and that all helps when it comes time to put your resumé out there.”

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