90.5 WERG is Gannon University’s student-operated broadcast radio and web-streaming station, which operates at 90.5 MHz on the FM dial. With a signal-strength of 3000 watts, 90.5 WERG can be picked up throughout most of Erie County, and along the Erie lakeshore into New York and Ohio. On a larger scale, listeners from all over the world can pick up 90.5 WERG’s programming twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by connecting to our website for live web streaming. WERG is licensed by the FCC as a non-commercial educational radio station. (Check out our local coverage map).
The Seventies: “The Little 10-watt Station that Could”
In 1970, a group of engineering students at Gannon College came up with the idea of establishing an educational radio station for the purpose of training students to enter the field of broadcasting. Father Thomas McSweeney, a professor in the Department of Theatre, took on the role of Faculty Advisor for the radio station. In December 1972,WERG signed on at 89.1 FM with an effective radiated power of 10 watts. The original studios and offices were located in the basement of the Zurn Science Center, and the format was rock: lots of Jethro Tull, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. Some of the original WERG jocks were Jim Snider, Greg Zbach, Tom McCarthy, Marcia Malinowski, Dave Glasier, Rick Donato, Ron Piluso, Steve Collins, and Ken Darby. AJ Miceli was appointed faculty advisor to WERG in 1975. In 1977, the WERG offices were relocated to the old Schuster Theatre while the WERG studios remained across the street in the Zurn basement.
Throughout the seventies, students would operate WERG during the week. WERG maintained broadcast operations over the weekends with the help of community volunteers, who ran alternative programming for the Erie community. One of these shows, Super Soul Saturday, has become an institution in Erie radio and an integral part of WERG’s weekend programming schedule. Student managers began adding news, sports, and informational programming to WERG’s broadcast day…this was the era of Jim Griffey, Gary Loncki, Steve Bohen, Mike Robinson, and Lowman Henry. Around this time, Jim Griffey designed and implemented some of WERG’s first format clocks and playlists. (Pictured at left in the Zurn Basement from left to right: engineer Bob Peyton, jock Ron Piluso, and Jim Griffey-October 1973.)
The Eighties: A Bigger Tower and More Power
Major technical upgrades came in 1980. That year, WTAE-AM radio in Pittsburgh, PA donated a Westinghouse transmitter to Gannon. This enabled WERG to go to 3,000 watts, giving the radio station a strong signal throughout the City of Erie. The new Shively antenna was mounted on a tower atop Nash Library, and WERG moved up the dial to 89.9-FM.
Throughout the eighties, WERG operated with an Album Rock format under the name Rock 89. With a regular weekday format, plus Super Soul Saturday, various community programs on Sunday, and a weeknight news magazine show -Total News at 6—WERG became known as an educational station that not only trained you in the mechanics of broadcasting, but let you do so while enjoying the benefits of having an actual sizable listening audience. (Picture at left: the WERG studio in the Zurn Basement in the late 1980s.)
As the eighties drew to a close, WERG evolved from an Album Rock station and began playing new wave and alternative rock. Some of the big names on the air at this time were Joe Martin, T.J. Johnson, Kevin Umberger, Andy McNutt, Greg Alquhist, Meg Rothgery, Joe Lang, Mark Soliday, and Johnny Marx. Also, the Bright and Early Show, hit the airwaves with the voice of Paul Spindley (formerly “Crusin’ Van Dusen” on Rocket 101.) It was around this time that The Rockman joined the WERG staff. And who could forget Norton McGee? In 1989, WERG obtained the necessary equipment to begin broadcasting in stereo. The 80s ended with WERGs Top 100 Countdown of the 80′s.
As WERG’s new Modern Rock format took shape, station management was looking for a new identity to go with the station’s new sound. Student manager Scott Powell was in Pittsburgh one weekend and listening to the “war” between the two Contemporary Hit stations in the city: B-94 and Energy 105. Something clicked. “Energy” was not only a good-sounding name, it fit the call letters of the station as well: WERG. ENERGY. On the morning of August 29, 1989, WERG signed-on for the first time as Energy FM 90. Program Director Andy McNutt developed the station’s signature sound as a home for the best new rock on Erie’s radio dial, with a playlist featuring artists like U2, R.E.M., Depeche Mode, Concrete Blonde, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Michelle Shocked, Pere Ubu, Big Audio Dynamite, Sting, Social Distortion, the Hoodoo Gurus, and Sarah McLachlan. Songs by groups like EMF and The Divinyls, which Energy premiered, went on to become #1 hits on the Pop Charts that summer. WERG entered the digital realm as compact disc players were installed over the summer of 1990. Then, Nirvana arrived and revolutionized the music industry, moving the format that is now called “Modern Rock” into the musical mainstream. The WERG jocks of the era were Jen Markham, Chris Tarbell, Chet Price, Chuck Peters, Scott Powell, Tim Miller, Matt Hamilton, Greg Mauz, Mark Hopkins, Chad Allen, Mark Freeze, and Josh Bricker. Energy-FM 90 was how the station was identified from 1989-2005, a run of sixteen years. (All of the people pictured above to the left returned to the WERG airwaves the evening of Reunion Knight ’07.)
The 2nd floor of the old Schuster Theatre on West 7th was the original home of WERG’s production studio. When that building was demolished in 1994, the production facilities were relocated to Scottino Hall on Sassafras Street. With a fully digital studio, including SAW-32 and SoundForge production software, Gannon students obtain practical hands-on experience with exactly the same tools that the professionals use. WERG continued to pave the way for modern rock throughout the nineties, with Dan Rapela, Carrie Edkin, Bert Copple, and Jason Makay behind the microphone. (Pictured at left: Our Best Mix of DJ’s from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.)
In 1999, the welcome news came that WERG would be getting all-new studios and much needed office space. WERG was finally able to move from the hidden recesses of the Zurn Science Center basement, into the station’s present location in the Walker Building at 7th and Peach Streets. Construction on the new facilities began in the spring of 2000. Legendary station engineer and Gannon professor, Dr. John Duda was instrumental in the design of the new facilities, but sadly was never able to see them finished. Dr. Duda passed away in 2000, leaving behind a legacy that is now commemorated each spring with the annual Duda Awards, presented to students on the WERG staff that have demonstrated excellence in various broadcasting techniques over the previous academic year. (Pictured at right: Our Two Joes, Joe Lang and Joe Bruncsak.)
A New Era: “Broadcasting from the Walker Building…”
The new facilities were ready to go by September of 2000, and early that month, Alex Knight (known on the air as “Baker Al”) did the first broadcast from the Walker Building air studio. In addition to the move, WERG obtained the funding to purchase digital programming technology: the DigiLink IV from Arrakis Systems. The DigiLink IV made it possible to automate the radio station, and this enabled WERG to begin continuous operation without having to sign-off after midnight.
Other innovations followed. WERG entered the realm of the World Wide Web with the creation of this website. From its humble beginnings, wergfm.com has grown into a fully functional resource as a one-stop website for updated information on music, news, weather, sports, entertainment, and all manner of events both on-campus and within the Erie community. Dave Twomey ’05 constructed the website that you are now surfing.
WERG began broadcasting live via streaming audio. The station can be heard at 90.5-FM and also world-wide by going to wergfm.com and clicking “Listen Live.” Alumni, parents, and students can now tune-in from literally everywhere, as 90.5 WERG is world-wide on the web.
The DigiLink IV system was expanded to enable WERG to go “CD-less” in the fall of 2002. WERG’s entire music library is now contained on the Digilink, and programming is scheduled on a daily basis by the student Program Director. Over the summer of 2003, WERG acquired funding for several capital equipment purchases, including a digital audio editor for the studio. No more wrinkled tape or scratched CD’s–all audio on WERG during the week is digital. The on-air names at WERG around this time were Chris Tingley, Alexis Tate, Denise Kolivoski, Kate Neubert, Dave Twomey, Travis Phelps, Dave Dull, Jess Kuzemsky, and Zach Flock.
In October 2004, WERG began using Selector to schedule the station’s music. Selector software is the industry standard that broadcast stations utilize for their programming, and our students get hands-on experience.
“Transmitting from a Big Tower in Summit Township…”
Since its inception, WERG’s signal had emanated from an antenna in downtown Erie. The powerful 3000-watt signal would cause periodic interference on-campus and at adjacent facilities, necessitating WERG to suspend broadcast operations at various times throughout the day. This, coupled with the fact the downtown Erie antenna was below average terrain for Erie County, resulted in an inferior signal that faded rapidly as one moved away from the city. Station management, with the blessing of the Gannon University administration, began looking into the possibility of relocating the WERG antenna to high ground on Upper Peach Street–FM signals get stronger the higher the antenna. WERG Consulting Advisor Joel Natalie got the ball rolling, and plans began to take shape in 2001.
With a wider broadcast footprint, WERG would need a new position on the dial–90.5, and the Federal Communications Commission gave the go-ahead on March 24, 2005. Through negotiations with WQLN General Manager Dwight Miller and WQLN Head of Engineering Ed Upton, space was leased on the WQLN-TV tower. WERG’s brand-new ERI-LPX antenna was mounted in April 2005, and after several weeks of tests, we were ready to “flip the switch.” (Our ERI-LPX 2-bay antenna is pictured on the far left tower.)
On June 30, 2005 at 9:50 a.m., with station engineer Mike Kobylka handling the technical issues and student General Manager Evan O’Polka on the air, WERG moved from 89.9 FM to 90.5 FM and began transmitting from the new antenna in Summit Township. WERG’s new dial position and better signal brought clear reception throughout Northwestern Pennsylvania including Erie, Millcreek, Waterford, Harborcreek, Fairview, Lake City, Albion, Girard, North East, Edinboro, Wattsburg, and Wesleyville; as well as Conneaut and North Kingsville in Ohio; and Ripley in New York. Voices heard on WERG during the first few years of this new era: Matt Walker, Becky Fresch, Katie Gabelman, Mahala Sass, Brad Mealy, Lacey Johnson, Dennis
Trapani, Liz Hudson, Monika Bach, Katie Trapp, Shawn Hladney, Ally Buyny, Emily Cooper, Wally Heinl, Kelly Fennessy, and Wendy Sowizral.
Over the next few years, improvements to the station facilities in the Walker Building were implemented. A new computer was installed in the jock lounge, with industry-standard software to manage and update all facets of station operations, including website, sports updates, news writing, copywriting, and showprep. With the addition of Adobe Audition, FrontPage, PhotoShop, and Sound Forge software; a production music library and microphone, a fully-functional production facility was designed with digital transfer capability direct to the WERG studio. Graduates from this era include Amanda Flick, Sean Amicucci, and Deb Carlson.
The next major capital upgrades occurred as the decade of the 2000’s drew to a close. In May 2008, a brand new Audioarts Wheatstone D7512 studio control board (pictured left) was installed in the WERG studio. The following year, we upgraded to the Google Radio Automation master control system (photo below), going on-line December 2, 2009. These enhancements to WERG enable Gannon students to gain practical experience utilizing industry-standard equipment, allowing us to continue to fulfill our two-part mission: serving Gannon students and the Erie community.