In 1972, Gannon College’s airwaves transmitted a new sound as its student-operated radio station, 90.5 WERG, signed on for the first time. Now in its 50th year, the station is cueing generations of alumni, faculty and listeners to reminisce and honor its rich, evolving history.
Two turntables and a microphone were industry standard the year 90.5 WERG first signed on. Over the years, the station evolved to boast a tri-state audience, digital equipment rivaling national commercial stations, and hard-earned accolades.
The low-watt educational station was originally created to train students in broadcasting in what current Operations Manager Chet LaPrice described as the only learning laboratory in operation 24/7, 365. Just five years after WERG signed on, the Federal Communications Commission authorized it to increase power to 3,000 watts, enabling students to broadcast over the entire city of Erie, serving “two countries, three states and one big lake.”
WERG spent a long tenure under the advising of industry professional and professor Anthony “AJ” Miceli, the 41-year department chair who was vital in establishing WERG’s collaborative presence within the Center for Communication and the Arts.
“As programming director, I was basically always at the station and had the honor of training incoming DJs. Some of my favorite memories are of just sitting in the station talking with friends and enjoying the atmosphere and getting to watch new people come in and fall in love with the station just like I did.” – Camryn Grey ’21
In these early days, the station pumped out an album-rock format with news, informational and sports programming, including Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. Community volunteers filled weekend spots with iconic shows like “Super Soul Saturday” that still runs today. The ’80s brought the earned upgrade to 89.9 FM, solidifying WERG’s place as the educational station where students could learn broadcasting while “enjoying the benefits of having an actual sizable listening audience.”
WERG's transmitter being installed in the Nash Library in the ’70s.
Over the years one thing never changed: WERG is operated by the students. They try new ideas and expand their professional knowledge while being afforded opportunity to fail.
“If the students are operating (the station) in good faith and are trying to do something creative and say, it doesn’t work … we circle the wagons,” LaPrice said. “You have permission to fail here because that’s how you learn. If you’re coming from a place of passionate loyalty, wanting to succeed as part of the team, we’re going to give you the learning laboratory to work your magic.”
“We run WERG like a professional broadcast operation, and the students treat it that way,” LaPrice said. About 60 students and volunteers work at the station every year.
LaPrice lends his students the creative reigns to pitch and execute new ideas. Students Sydney Oyatta ’20 and Epizitone Nsanbeh ’19G launched “Uzuri wa Africa,” or “The Beauty of Africa” that focused on African traditions, music and culture, and Gannon global student interviews. The show ultimately earned the “Best Specialty Show” by the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System Conference.
“It was a show that brought people together. It makes people real and someone who (you) can emotionally connect with… and then it won a national award,” LaPrice said.
Other favorites like “Sonic Sunrise” brewed from student requests and became the station’s longstanding morning drive show. The award-winning “Prime-Time Sports Guys” was pitched by students in 2003 as a three-hour sports analysis program – and is now entering its 20th year.
When it came to celebrating the station’s 50 years, LaPrice made sure to honor the names and legacies of WERG alumni.
“The Hott 80's Hott 2000 in 2012. Most fun I ever had on the radio counting down the top 2000 songs of the 80's for a year!” – Dan Sheldon
Monique Beatty ’87 went on to become director of TV production at DreamWorks Animation Television. Kevin Sullivan ’87 is now an award-winning writer with Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Both have given back to Gannon, and they and their self-proclaimed “Media Rats” crew are now the namesake of a classroom at Gannon.
Homecoming 2017: The Media Rats invade the 90.5 WERG studio. (Back, left to right) Christine Scalise ’87, Kevin Sullivan ’87, Monique Beatty ’87. (Front) Jeffrey Wizniewski ’88 and Greg Marshall ’16.
“Having WERG air shifts was the first step toward me coming out of my shell and (literally) finding my voice,” Sullivan told the Gannon Knight student newspaper. “It’s such a great opportunity to be creative, to entertain, to find out what you want to say and how to say it – and to play awesome music. WERG can play such a significant part of your growth during your years at Gannon.”
The Media Rats still gather each Homecoming to spend time on WERG’s airwaves. They helped kick off the 50th anniversary celebration along with Joe Brunscak ’88, Jeffrey Wisniewski ’88 and Christine Scalise ’87. At the time of this writing, their 2020 virtual reunion show is a finalist for a national special program award.
WERG is a two-time winner of the Intercollegiate Broadcast System “Best College Radio Station” with an enrollment under 10,000 students designation.
Jim Griffey ’77 went on to work at K104 before a 30-year career as production and creative director and copywriter at what is now Cumulus Media. He remembers the station as a creative launchpad and Miceli as one who “steered the station in a unified direction with the idea of making WERG as close to a real-world station as we could be. And it was a breeding ground for talent that went on to great careers in broadcasting,” he said.
“During the incredible 37-1 Lady Knights Basketball season, Gannon and WERG sent me to do color commentary in Missouri. Zach McDermott and I were the only students from any school at the press table for the Elite 8 and Final 4.” – Beth Gaertner ’12
The legendary Rockman Tony Bonvini ’77 recently retired after more than forty years of managing stations in South Florida. 2020 Commencement Speaker Harry Hairston ’77 left WERG to work as a television personality on Erie’s WICU before working in markets in Detroit and Philadelphia, earning broadcast awards along the way. Daniel Daube ’84, a two-time Emmy winner for editing and producing, is now a technical consultant for the Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta. Tom Puckett ’96 has served on News Radio 930 WBEN in Buffalo for nearly 20 years.
One thing is certain: Gannon’s 90.5 WERG has yielded a unique pride among alumni in its 50-year history.
“We just had a blast just doing radio and doing our thing – and finding the fact that there are other people that are into this kind of stuff, too,” LaPrice said. “Good radio always involved the combination of music, information and entertainment. Our two-part mission of serving the students and the university, and then serving the community with unique diverse programming while serving as a learning laboratory for our students to learn how to do that – that creates those quality moments. I'm proud to be a part of that.”
By Nicole (Dohoda) Lossie ’11, marketing and social media specialist