When WERG signed-on for the first time on Dec. 1, 1972, few people could hear the station beyond a several-block radius of its studio in the basement of the Zurn Science Center. The station, started by Father Thomas McSweeney, a professor in the Department of Theatre, was a place where students who wanted to enter the field of broadcasting could gain practical experience.
Forty-five years later, that purpose is undiminished, but 90.5 WERG is now heard throughout the tri-state region and southern Ontario. More importantly, the station is heard from as a national leader in college radio after winning the Abraham & Borst Award for the Best College Station in the Nation at the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS) Conference in 2014.
A long way from its humble beginnings, WERG has launched some prominent careers–on both sides of the microphone.
Among the high-profile veterans of WERG are Daniel Daube ’84, a two-time Emmy winner for editing and producing who is now a technical consultant for the Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta. Monique Beatty and Kevin Sullivan, both 1987 graduates who work in Hollywood. Sullivan as a writer with Nickelodeon and Beatty as a director of TV production at DreamWorks Animation Television.
Some, like Jen Markham Wynn, who interned on the Geraldo Rivera television franchise, still feels the romance of radio as the host of the highly-rated morning show at WXLO radio in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Some of the most memorable careers made at WERG belonged to the faculty who nurtured the student stars. One of the most influential of these was AJ Miceli, who came to the station three years after its founding and transformed “the little station that could.”
Steve Bohen ’79, who had a long career in radio, television and as a faculty member at Gannon, was in Miceli’s first class in 1975. “AJ brought a strong sense of the fun of radio, but also the need for professionalism,” Bohen remembered. “He’d worked in every area of radio: sales, operations and on-air in Erie and other markets. He made connections with local stations that expanded our reach and provided opportunities for students.”
Students operated WERG (“The Fine Eighty-Nine”) during the week while weekends ran community service programs produced and staffed by volunteers. One of these programs, “Super Soul Saturday,” has become an institution in Erie radio, and was described by Bohen as: “must-hear radio that brought the African-American community of Erie to the station and to the University. That resonates today in what the program did and continues to do.”
A transmitter from WTAE-FM radio in Pittsburgh and a new antenna atop Nash Library extended WERG’s reach throughout the city at a new position on the FM dial: 89.9 mHz. By the summer of 1989, the station was broadcasting in stereo and sparked the growing interest in alternative rock as Energy-FM 90.
“We were just about the only source of information in those pre-internet days.”
Chet LaPrice ’92, ‘11M, now WERG’s operations manager, arrived at this critical juncture for the station. While still a student, LaPrice was at the center of the moment that, for him, defines what WERG is all about.
“It was the great ice storm in 1990 when power was out all over Erie and we were one of very few stations on the air,” he said. “We were just about the only source of information in those pre-internet days. We were on 24/7 doing live updates—a lesson on how radio can be a lifeline in times of emergency.”
LaPrice brought technical sophistication to WERG that modeled industry-standard equipment and made a move on the dial to 90.5 mHz, while Miceli also made WERG worldwide introducing an online live-stream of the station.
Now located in gleaming new studios in the Center for Communication and the Arts, 90.5 WERG may look different than where it started, yet it is still a place where students are shaping their future careers as part of a top station in the nation.