WERS Radio Thrives in Downtown Boston

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Posted March 5, 2013 by Jeff Wallace in Business

Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, and Alabama Shakes are now household names in the music biz. Mumford won a Grammy for album of the year; the Lumineers are everywhere with “Ho Hey”; and the Shakes just owned their first shot on SNL. Before these guys and girls entered the mainstream market, you could hear them on Boston’s own WERS 88.9 FM.

WERS is an institution in downtown Boston and beyond, yet it remains obscure somehow. It’s noncommercial public radio, but it’s got the goods to reel in a dedicated, sophisticated following. Run by Emerson College students since 1949, it is consistently rated as one of the best college radio stations in the country.

WERS broadcasts from atop its location along Tremont St. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hayford.

Located a quick jaunt from the Boylston Street Green Line station, the WERS studio is visible from Tremont Street. You have probably walked by dozens of times without even knowing. They are active 24/7 with the station’s 20 or so programs, which range from reggae-centric “rockers” to show tunes on the weekend. The daytime format operates more or less in the adult-alternative vein.

WERS is one of the few radio stations that are actually downtown. Many people don’t know this, but many of the larger local stations don’t even broadcast from downtown Boston. That work tends to take place from an unassuming building in a remote part of low-rent Brighton. WAAF, WZLX, Mix 104.1, and 98.5 the Sports Hub are all included in that camp.

I know what you’re thinking: “College Radio? Isn’t that where you get an endless and painful supply of noise-rock bands on a bad signal?”

But that’s not the case here. WERS positions itself as “Boston’s discovery station,” vowing to help listeners “discover their next favorite artist, band, or album, whether it’s new, local, independent, or a rediscovered classic.”

That means you can hear Led Zeppelin and Passion Pit on the same dial, and somehow it all makes sense. Wilco and Foster the People. Bob Marley and the Black Keys. Adele and Otis Redding, too.

Two-Time Grammy winners Mumford & Sons are in heavy rotation on WERS’s daytime format. Photo courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity (no photographer listed).

It also means you’re likely to hear the next act to end up beside Bieber and Bruno Mars. WERS was routinely spinning Mumford & Sons when the band was playing tiny venues like The Middle East in Cambridge. Two years later, they’re selling out the Garden and every other hockey rink and basketball arena they’ve touched.

The coolest thing is that WERS still plays Mumford & Sons. Remember, just because a band is now huge doesn’t mean you should hold it against them.

The station’s relaxed daytime format is well suited for most workplaces. The station will carry you from folk to indie rock to reggae, and everywhere in between. Plus you’ll get a dose of what’s new and hip. Another bonus is that there are no commercials. You’ll recognize plenty of tunes without even knowing it–random cuts from the Who, a Wallflowers single, and a catchy song you’re sure you heard in an iPad commercial. “Three Marlenas” anyone? Look it up. You’ll thank me.

When tuned in, make sure you have the Shazam app handy on your smartphone. According to the app, I tagged “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons in early 2010. I remember the exact moment: I was in my truck with the dial tuned to 88.9 FM.

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