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WERS cancels HIP HOP and Reggae shows

G. Ball Valentino

Boston area listeners tuning into WERS, Emerson College’s heralded radio station, looking for their nightly fix of Hip Hop were greeted by a surprise — the smooth sounds of R&B.

WERS’ long running Hip Hop show “88.9 at Night” and their 35-year old reggae show “Rockers” have been axed and replaced with “The Secret Spot,” an R&B program that was previously on during weekends. 

Long seen as a haven for independent artists, both shows held a special place in the hearts of those looking for Urban music that was different from the commercial options on the dial.

The move by the communications college had the Boston urban music scene’s social media buzzing as word spread late yesterday evening. Malcolm Gray, WERS assistant program director for urban programming, expressed his sadness at the format change.

Gray said he spent two years “building something to shine a light on an underrepresented community.”

“Just like that,” he said, “ gone.”

Many listeners started using the hashtags “#RIP889atNight,” “#RIPRockers,” “#Save889atNight” and “#SaveRockers.”

Many former jocks at the station spoke about the importance of the station to their careers. One former producer tweeted “A Boston radio legacy is dead.”

Another former host DJ Kerosene chimed in with “Can’t speak for everyone, but I know @WERS889FM played a pivotal role for myself and my start in the game.”

According to Emerson the programming change is motivated by a need for better ratings to increase revenue.

“To keep WERS vibrant now and self-sustaining well into the future, the station needs to build its audience,” Emerson stated. “It has become increasingly challenging to achieve this goal with our current format, which fragments our listening audience. To provide a more consistent format, our new weeknight programming, Secret Spot (R&B, soul), will broadcast from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and remain part of the weekend evening line-up, where it originated, and has done very well.”

“WERS will continue to offer a wide selection of current and classic music (including reggae) within its overall programming,” the Emerson statement went on. “Additionally, the new evening format, ‘Secret Spot’, features many of the diverse artists formerly found on Rockers and 88.9 at Night.”

The long lasting impact on the urban music scene remains to be seen. But with only the pirate stations left in the wake of this change and stations like JAMN 94.5 and Hot 96.9 leaning more toward the pop side, music spectrum for rising Hip Hop artists are dwindling.

The founder of Rockers, Doug Herzog, who went on to become President of MTV, spoke with the Boston Globe about the importance of the show and his love for reggae music in his life. 

“It basically changed my life,” Herzog said. “I became fascinated. It’s been a 40-year fascination for me. I’m still a reggae fan. Still have Jamaican 45s.”