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WSOE celebrates 40 years on the airwaves

Elon’s student-run radio station hosted a two-day celebration that included a panel discussion, featuring several former WSOE general managers, and a dinner with a keynote from Tom Mullen ’00, vice president of marketing catalog at Atlantic Records. Additionally, Assistant Professor Gerald Gibson was recognized with an Award of Excellence for his years of mentorship.

Call it camaraderie forged through college radio.

A remark from Travis Lusk ’05 (with the microphone) draws laughter from members of the alumni panel, held during WSOE’s 40th anniversary celebration. Pictured (from left) are former WSOE executives David Hibbard ’89, Lusk, Ryan Sweeney ’10 and Mack White ’16. 

In recognition of its 40th anniversary, WSOE, Elon’s student-run radio station, hosted a two-day celebration on campus March 9-10, attracting past general managers and staff members, as well as current students and station DJs.

To mark the occasion, the station held an alumni panel and dinner, and presented Assistant Professor Gerald Gibson with an Award of Excellence for his years of advising and mentorship. Photos of the WSOE celebration are available online.

Assistant Professor Gerald Gibson, who moderated the March 9 alumni panel, holds up an old WSOE T-shirt for audience members to see.

The celebratory event was highlighted by the alumni panel, moderated by Gibson, that included several former WSOE executives sharing the trials and tribulations they faced in their years behind the microphone and managing a student-run organization. The panelists included David Hibbard ’89, Travis Lusk ’05, Ryan Sweeney ’10 and Mack White ’16. Additionally, Katherine Wolter ’18 and Tom Coogan ’19 joined the conversation to share a present-day view of WSOE.

Before a Turner Theatre audience that included dozens of alumni, students and faculty – as well as new Elon President Connie Ledoux Book – Lusk said WSOE was the reason he came to Elon. And for most panelists, the station became their home away from home.

White, a project manager at Yep Rock Music Group, reasoned that WSOE his “introduction to the music industry.”

Sweeney (with the left microphone) makes a point with Tom Coogan ’19 (far right), the current general manager of WSOE.

For Sweeney, director of metrics and analytics at Ignite Social Media, he explained that working at the college station was an ideal training ground for him professionally. 

“Being a general manager at WSOE was a great introduction to leading because it was a safe place to fail,” he said.

And failures – and successes – were a popular discussion topic.

Each panelist had several stories about the challenges they encountered because of the technology and staffing issues facing a 24/7 organization. It seemed the former WSOE staff  used everything short of duct tape and string at times to keep the station on air. Juggling personalities was also a skill they needed to master, especially when working with musicians.

White recalled a performance by one 1980s cover band – it was a song by either Poison or Guns N’ Roses, he could not remember – put him into an uncomfortable position. Before going on air, the band was instructed to avoid certain choice words. Much to White’s chagrin, the band members used most of them in their live interview.

Elon alumni, faculty and students gather in Snow Family Grand Atrium on March 9 for a dinner during WSOE’s anniversary celebration.

Despite the challenges, the memories created with classmates and the opportunities to meet aspiring musicians made the former executives’ collective efforts worth it.

Lusk met a young John Mayer before he hit stardom. Coogan recalled speaking to Frankie Cosmos twice, and her remembering their first interview. And Sweeney shared an amusing story about interviewing singer-songwriter John Vanderslice for 10 minutes and talking to the musician's kind-hearted mother for the better part of an hour.

Following the panel, WSOE hosted a dinner featuring a keynote from Tom Mullen ’00, vice president of marketing catalog at Atlantic Records. In his current role, Mullen oversees the marketing for the catalog of the label’s currently signed artists, including Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Death Cab for Cutie and Missy Elliott. But two decades ago, he was a first-year student looking to land his own radio show, playing the metal music he was passionate about.

The record executive’s speech summarized his four years at Elon, the integral part WSOE played in his time on campus, and how the radio station ultimately jumpstarted to his career.

During his keynote, Tom Mullen ’00 shared highlights of his time at WSOE and his professional career in the years that followed. “It’s the reason I am standing here,” he said of WSOE. “It’s the reason I have a job … is that radio station. Classes were great … fantastic. I went to them. But the radio station is where I learned most everything.”

Mullen said one of his biggest professional breaks came not from his resume but because he was a music fan. As a student in the late-1990s, he realized his favorite band didn’t have a website. So, he created one from content he found online. “Who found it?” he joked. “The band’s grandparents.” That ultimately led to an interview with the band and a friendship developed.

Thanks to those connections, Mullen landed his first job, a digital position with Cornerstone Promotion, a marketing and public relations agency in New York. “It all started from doing that website,” he said.

In the years since, Mullen has risen his way through the music industry with stops at TVT Records, Equal Vision Records, Vagrant Records, EMI Music and Sony Music Entertainment. During his career, he’s worked with some of the entertainment industry’s most recognizable names. He spoke about collaborations with Katy Perry, marketing a Bob Dylan’s project release with voiceover work from Jeff Bridges – the nicest guy, according to Mullen – and promoting The Clash’s new box set. Mullen’s especially proud of that last undertaking.

It was Mullen’s idea to have actor/comedian Fred Armisen, in character as Ian Rubbish, interview members of the English rock band. Mullen pitched it to the comedy video website Funny or Die and the idea came to fruition – thanks to Armisen’s immediate interest.

Following the radio station’s anniversary dinner, WSOE adviser Bryan Baker (right) presented Gibson with an Award of Excellence in advising and mentorship.

“The best part was watching (Armisen) nerd out with (the band) when no one was watching,” Mullen said. “How we would all be, he was like that.”

“WSOE is the reason I am in the music industry,” Mullen added. “It’s the reason I have a job. And I spent four years, probably more time than I needed to, at the station.”

At the dinner’s conclusion, current WSOE adviser Bryan Baker made one final presentation, honoring Gibson with an Award of Excellence in advising and mentorship. The surprise announcement highlighted the assistant professor’s contributions to WSOE, which date back to 1979.

“His pioneering role in creating Elon’s radio station, years of leadership and advising, and continued mentorship throughout WSOE’s first 40 years have been essential in the station’s success,” Baker said.

Baker also read congratulatory remarks from Bill Zint ’79, Aurora Albi-Mercier ’16 and Melissa Douglas ’18.

In the coming years, the station will annually present the Professor Gerald Gibson Leadership Award, recognizing a WSOE staff member who exemplifies strong leadership qualities.

“Without Professor Gerald Gibson, there would be no WSOE 89.3,” Baker said.

Tommy Kopetskie,
3/13/2018 12:35 PM