In an effort not to completely rot my brain listening to sports radio during my work commute and school drop-off on weekday mornings, I frequently tune in to George Knight and Company on WERS 88.9. The Emerson College-student run radio station’s morning program keeps old fart music to a minimum, throws in some news headlines and awards prizes to winners of its silly Mind Twister game. My kids now have some of morning host George Knight’s lines down pat, and they wonder what the heck they’d do if they ever won any of his guitar picks (they don’t play) or the Music for the Independent Mind CDs (don’t use ’em) that he gives away to contest winners.
But they were amused to learn that Knight lives in Wellesley and that I’d be tossing a few questions his way for The Swellesley Report. Interestingly enough, Knight actually got his start in radio not far from here.
How’d you get into radio, how long have you been in it, and did you ever think you’d be a lifer?
My very first radio experience was at a tiny station at Weston High School. Next stop was a much larger station at UMass Amherst, where I graduated with a Communication degree. I hadn’t quite found my path when I graduated college, so I got a “day job” at a publishing company, and played in bands at night. Did that for two years, and then did some soul searching to realize I was happiest when I was surrounded by music, Since “rock star” was a profession that seemed to be a bit of a stretch, going after a career in radio made sense. It was a good move. I’ve been on the air in Boston for over 25 years now. I love what I do.
How does WERS try to stay relevant as a radio station in an age of streaming services and smartphones?
By being local and by supplying a human companion. When satellite radio first started, the radio industry started freaking out, thinking that the end was near. Turned out it wasn’t. Satellite radio and online services like Spotify satisfy a different entertainment need than local radio. People still want local radio so they can stay in touch with what’s going on around them… or be kept company in their car on the drive to work… or have someone to introduce them to music maybe they haven’t heard before.
It must be interesting working with students at WERS. What are the main things you’ve been able to teach them and vice-versa?
I think one of the biggest lessons I have for the students is that a creative/performance based business like radio can – and should – be fun. But it ALSO is a business, and if you can’t take it seriously, there will be someone right behind you who can. I learn a great deal from the students, including the need for patience. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and the nature of a learning experience is that you can’t always achieve perfection. I have to constantly remind myself that I was a college student once. I’m a little floored that my newspeople are willing to get up as early as they do. I don’t recall being such an early riser in college.
So you’re on from 6-10am weekdays. How’s a typical day go? I assume you’re working more than 4 hours…looks like maybe you do some voice work and other stuff?
I get up at an inhuman hour, get dressed in the dark, have my coffee, and start the day. Once I get to the station I check in with my newspeople to talk about what’s going on, and then it’s showtime. When I get off the air, there are always little projects to take care of, including voice-over sessions, and getting together with other DJs to coach them.
I see that you’re a bass player. How often do you play and where?
I play out about once a month. Before I started the George Knight & Company show I was playing with a rock & funk band called Pablo Palooza, but with weeknight rehearsals and steady gigs cutting into my limited sleep schedule, I had to step down. They still ask me to fill in once in a while, which I’m happy to do. We play at local places like The British Beer Company and Waxy O’Connor’s. Shameless plug: I’ll be playing with them at Waxy O’Connors in Woburn on Saturday March 25th.
What are a few of your current favorite singers/bands?
That’s a toughie. Some of the new-ish artists I like that come to mind are Sturgill Simpson, Kongos, White Denim, Air Traffic Controller (whose keyboard happens to be band teacher at Wellesley High), and Lake Street Dive. Beyond the current stuff, I’m a die hard Stevie Wonder and Prince fan.
What’s your favorite place locally to see a show?
I tend to like smaller venues like Brighton Music Hall and Thunder Road, although I also love the vibe at The Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. One of the best shows in recent memory was U2 at The Garden. They made such a big venue feel intimate.
How if at all do your WERS and Wellesley lives mix?
Every now and then I’ll catch 88.9 on in a Wellesley store. I’m also always amazed at how many calls I get at the station from Wellesley people who are listening on their way to school or work (car pools are always fun). Wellesley residents clearly have impeccable taste in both music and radio shows.
How long have you lived in Wellesley and what sort of involvement do you have in town?
We moved to Wellesley in 2003. My wife is a doctor at Newton Wellesley Hospital, and we have three boys – two at the Middle School, and one at Schofield. All three are football players (my oldest son Joey was lucky enough to be on the fifth grade team that won the national championship a few years ago). I’ve had the pleasure of announcing Wellesley Youth Football home games since my boys started. What makes it interesting is that – although I’m happy to say anything on the microphone – I didn’t play football as a kid and am not well learned in the intricacies of the game. Sometimes it feels like I might as well be doing a play-by-play at the ballet. Thankfully I call the games with another football dad (Jay Althoff) who understand much better than I.
Anything else worth noting?
I was thinking that something noteworthy about my morning show gig is that I’m the very first professional host on 88.9 WERS. I come from a commercial radio background (I’m still a DJ on Country 102.5) and before I got the gig, WERS had decided they wanted to get a seasoned radio person on board to host the morning show and be a mentor to students. It’s an unusual setup for a college station.