Kevin Sullivan and the Media Rats of 90.5 WERG returned to Gannon University for this year’s Homecoming weekend, which took place from Oct. 4-7.
Sullivan and a few other DJs from back in the day call themselves “The Media Rats.” They reunited for an air shift from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, for Homecoming. He said he couldn’t wait to be back on campus and at the radio station.
Sullivan said that there are “a ton of media rats — too many to mention.”
The DJs who joined him on the air were Jeffrey Wisniewski, class of 1988, and Monique Beatty and Christine Scalise, both from the class of 1987.
Sullivan said that Wisniewski’s wife, Patricia, was also there, but since she is not a Gannon alumna, the Media Rats call her a “media mouse.”
“The weekend was a blast as always,” Sullivan said. “It’s such a treat to get see my Gannon friends every year, and Homecoming is such fun.”
Sullivan, a 1987 graduate of Gannon, was on the air at WERG for all four of his years at the school.
He said that he was just a “low-key DJ” and although he didn’t hold any managerial positions, he said it was fun being on the air.
“I made some of my dearest friends of my life at Gannon, and I love that we make time every fall to reconnect,” Sullivan said. “It makes me so nostalgic for my time at Gannon.”
WERG first signed on in the evening of Dec. 1, 1972. With an effective radiated power of 10 watts, WERG’s purpose was to serve Gannon College as an educational platform to train students for the broadcasting field.
The studio and offices were in the basement of the Zurn Science Center on campus from 1972 to 2000. Then, everything moved to the Walker Building, a campus dormitory, from 2000 to 2014.
In August 2014, WERG moved to where it is today, the Center for the Communication and the Arts (CCA).
The CCA was built in the 1970s and originally owned by the Loyal Christian Benefit Association. According to Chet LaPrice, the current operations manager for WERG, Gannon bought the CCA from the previous owner, removed the interior and rebuilt it specifically to house its facilities.
Anthony “AJ” Miceli became a professor and part of the faculty at Gannon in 1975, and he became adviser to the station. Miceli was the department’s chair for 41 years. According to LaPrice, it was Miceli’s vision, inspiration and tenacity that helped make the CCA become a reality.
Linda Fleming, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, was also instrumental in the process.
During the 1970s, students operated WERG, “The Fine Eighty-Nine” according to WERG’s website, throughout the week. The station had an album rock format and also played sports, news and informational programming.
Broadcasts continued over the weekend with community members who would volunteer their time to run alternate programming. Super Soul Saturday was one of these shows that is still part of the format today because it has become an integral part of WERG’s weekend schedule.
On Oct. 19, 1977, Lowman Henry, the general manager at the time, announced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave authorization for WERG to increase its power from 10 watts to 3,000 watts.
WERG was now able to serve the entire city of Erie and not just the campus. As one of the legal IDs states on air, WERG is “serving two countries, three states and one big lake.”
This semester, over 50 students are involved with the station; however, there are over 70 students and volunteers on WERG in any given week.
It has been 30 years since LaPrice first went on air with WERG – from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1988.
As an undergraduate student, LaPrice said the station was his home away from home. After he graduated, LaPrice worked in commercial broadcasting for 13 years. In August 2002, LaPrice returned to Gannon and was hired as the operations manager.
As the operations manager, LaPrice’s job includes lots of strategic planning and some paperwork making sure the station stays up to code with FCC regulations and following Gannon’s policies.
LaPrice said “content creation” is the most direct way to describe his job. LaPrice said he teaches students how to develop their creative skills and craft content that will appeal to a mass audience over the air.
LaPrice said that the most satisfying aspect of his job is when students win national awards for their content creation.
“Come see our trophy case,” LaPrice said. “We have a lot of talented students here.”
Content gets submitted through various organizations. WERG submits work to the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS), College Broadcasters Inc. (CBI) and more.
Each year around March, when Gannon is on spring break, a group of WERG students go to the IBS conference in New York City for a weekend. WERG has been an IBS member since 2004 and has been attending the conferences since 2011.
In early 2014, when WERG moved into the new CCA building, a whisper room — technically known as a “band shell” — was donated by the Erie Chamber Orchestra to be reconfigured as a sound booth for audio production.
LaPrice said around the same time, the station received a $5,000 grant that enabled it to modify the booth for voice-tracking purposes with a software program called Wide Orbit and a broadcast-quality control board.
Also during 2014, WERG won “Best College Radio Station in the Nation” at the IBS conference for the category of colleges with under 10,000 enrolled students. The students involved at the station work hard every year in hopes of winning that award again.
WERG is currently a nominee for “Best Radio Station” for the Erie Reader’s Best of Erie: 2018 alongside Jet Radio 1400, Star 104 and other local stations.
At the time Sullivan was part of WERG, the studio was in the basement of Zurn. Sullivan said that in Zurn, WERG was “super tiny, very, very old and incredibly rickety.”
“It was hidden in the scary and dark back corner,” Sullivan said. “I had several 6 a.m. shifts, and it was extremely spooky to be down there alone then.”
Sullivan said that when he thinks of what the station used to look like compared to what it looks like now, it’s distinct and restored.
“I look at your current space and the equipment and it’s stunning to me,” Sullivan said. “Ours was held together by duct tape and hope.”
Sullivan continues to compare what WERG was like when he was here in comparison to what he sees when he comes back to visit.
“We didn’t know – or at least I didn’t know – how far from state of the art we were,” Sullivan said. “It just added to the wonderfully scrappy feel of kids getting to be on Erie radio.”
Sullivan currently works for Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Los Angeles and said he wouldn’t be there today if it wasn’t for his involvement with WERG.
“I came to Gannon very shy and sheltered, and it took me a while to come out of my shell and really feel a part of the Comm Arts department,” Sullivan said.
“Having WERG air shifts was the first step toward me coming out of my shell and (literally) finding my voice.”
He said that he has to pitch jokes at work and has to risk looking like an idiot in a room full of writers every single day, and he said he wouldn’t be comfortable doing that if it weren’t for those first steps toward confidence back at Gannon and with the radio station where he learned to not be afraid to speak.
Alumni, current students as well as Gannon faculty are appreciative of having WERG as a tool on campus.
Abigail Ritchie, a senior communication and electronic media major, is on air at WERG, and she first got involved in the spring semester of her sophomore year, 2017.
Ritchie decided that, as a communications student, “I thought it was the perfect way to learn and become more involved in my major.”
She said that she was also interested in learning more about the radio and how it operates.
Ritchie said what she enjoys most about the station is the people and the environment.
“I enjoy hanging out with the people because we share laughs, we have fun, and, honestly, they are like my family,” said Ritchie. “I know I won’t be judged for sleeping on the ground or for dancing and singing to AJR, because they do it too.”
Ritchie said she loves the performing aspect as well and said you don’t really know that you are talking live to thousands of people; rather it feels like she is just talking normally with her co-host.
Sullivan, LaPrice and Ritchie all provided some wise words of advice or shared what they envision the future will hold for WERG.
LaPrice said the most important part of being involved with any entertainment media is that you need to know your audience.
As for the future of WERG, LaPrice said, “I would hope that the same creative spirit that preceded me at WERG will still be here after I no longer am.
“90.5 WERG is a unique university and community asset that has, over the decades, become part of the fabric of Gannon’s culture.”
Sullivan encourages students to get involved in radio and said they should dive in to WERG even if they aren’t planning a career in it.
“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,” Sullivan said. “WERG can play such a significant part of your growth during your years at Gannon – and it’s also super fun on top of that.”
Sullivan said that you may never get a chance to be on the radio again, to create a persona and share your point of view like this, so he said, “Do it! You won’t regret it.”
Ritchie said something very similar to Sullivan.
“Have fun,” Ritchie said. “If you make a mistake, who cares? Learn from it and grow.”
Ritchie said that for the future of WERG she imagines it being filled with bright, talented and hardworking students who are putting amazing work out into the world and that they are sure to come up with innovative ideas to make the station even better.
“I do plan on coming back to visit after I graduate this May,” Ritchie said. “This place is home and it always will be.”