In My Mind & In My Car: WFNX, WERS, and Alternative Radio

When I was a kid my family took a day trip and I was restless on the way home. It was nighttime and we had to stop at a Hannaford (or was it Shop & Save back then?) before finally going home.

My parents turned on WERS and I was immediately distracted. From then on I tuned in. This transformed to listening to Standing Room Only, The Coffee House, etc…on the weekends I would sing and dance (yeah, who doesn’t dance when they’re folding laundry?) to my favorite musical theater songs and on the drive to school I would listen to the sounds of folk and acoustic sets on WERS. I remember the cold fog rising from the fields in my hometown, driving the old clunker of a car that I had inherited, and becoming disgruntled when the signal became fuzzy and WERS became difficult to hear. I had first period free on Fridays during my senior year in high school, so I dropped my sister and friends off for school, assisted my theater teacher with role call, and would then sneak out to the little coffee shop in town. It was attached to the pharmacy, and I would then sit in my frosty car with a cup of coffee or latte and listen to WERS before facing the school day.

You see, I wanted to go to Emerson College–very much so. To be honest, I think listening to Emerson’s radio station hyped me up a little. At the end of the day, after band practice and theater or poetry club, I’d listen to Rockers. WERS and WFNX were probably the two stations I flipped between the most in that car, though I listened to classic rock a good deal as well. I used to listen to WBCN as well. For a while I tuned into WAAF but was disgusted with some of the on-air talent’s comments toward the Middle East and Iraqis after the military invasion of Iraq, so I stopped listening. For local and alternative radio, I focused on WFNX and WERS.

I was accepted into Emerson College and received a scholarship so that I was able to attend, and WERS was suddenly no longer a faceless entity. While I was not involved in any live mixes, or an on-air talent, I truly enjoyed volunteering time to the fundraisers and with other various tasks–submissions, digitizing the library, etc.

Regina Spektor at WERS, Boston. Photo credit Mary Costa.

One day, while I was sorting through old jazz records at WERS (anyone else remember the jazz program?) an artist came in for a live studio performance. Her name…Regina Spektor! I had already been listening to her for years, and really admired her as a musician and songwriter. Still do! You can see a photo from that day above, taken from fellow Emerson Alum Mary Costa. She blogged about her time at WERS here.

That performance was incredible. Hearing ‘Samson’ right then and there was a tough one for me, ladies and gents. Because crying would have been embarrassing, der! The emotion!

At the end, as she was leaving, I awkwardly told her that I really respected her as a musician and an artist. I must have sounded like a total nerf herder. But instead she smiled up at me (she is super tiny–I am 5’4″ and felt like an NBA player) and said, “How kind of you!” and jotted her signature on the back of the dreaded Sallie Loan envelope I had in my hand. Kind of me? I sounded like a trite jerk, I’m sure, but she was nothing but nice and friendly.

There were many other moments at WERS that will always stick with me. One being the caller I got while working the spring fundraiser during Standing Room Only. The woman who called me was prompted to do so after we played ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ from Fiddler on the Roof. She was reminded of seeing the play open on Broadway and then proceeded to donate the largest sum of money I had ever entered into that database.

Many of my friends did much, much more at WERS, and I know that all of the hard work there pays off. It is the highest rated college radio station in the US, and was rated #1 by the Princeton Review.

So, why am I reflecting on all of this?

In case you missed it, though I am sure you did not, WFNX was sold this week to Clear Channel Communications. Many feel this is the end of alternative radio programming in Boston, and have reacted angrily to the announcement. I will miss WFNX greatly! I loved the Leftover Lunch, and will miss the yearly themed Halloween prom parties. They were a blast. I have a lot of great memories listening to WFNX, and I know a lot of others do as well.

As I mentioned in a tweet earlier today…help us, WERS, you’re our only hope! But Star Wars jokes aside…many argue that radio is on its way out. And while I hear that debate, I find it comforting to listen to programming that includes a real human being. It’s nice to know a person is there, consciously interacting with the music as you are listening to it, requesting it, and whatnot.

Will we turn to the internet or satellite more for alternative music and indie bands? Youtube and the like have taken indie music by storm. The loss of WFNX reaffirmed my fear of more Top 40 channels taking over and churning the same songs at the same time each day. Not to discredit the songs played, but I often hear the same bands within an hour span, if not the same song, on Top 40 radio. Is the turnover rate that high for listeners, or are listeners not paying attention, or…is anybody there?

One thing is for sure: WERS still is, and I surely hope the radio station can support everyone who is frowning upon the loss of WFNX. Actually, I know it can. I just hope music lovers continue to support WERS in return!

Having a great time at the WFNX 1989 Halloween Party, 2009!

Thanks for all the great music, WFNX and WERS! In the meantime, I’ll be doing my best to spread news about artists through my Facebook page and Twitter. Follow for photos, links, and more!

Andrew Bird at WERS, May 2012. Photos by Sherwin Su & Nina Corcoran.


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