New owners found to run WELY-End of the Road Radio
ELY—December 1st will mark the end of an era for Bois Forte operating WELY as the station will go silent as of that date to begin the transition to a new owner, Zoe Communications, Inc.
Once the sale is finalized and approved by the FCC, it will end months of behind-the-scenes work by Bois Forte Business Development CEO Mayan Beltran and Bois Forte’s legal team to find a buyer for the station. Plans had initially been called for the station to shut down June 1st, but an outpouring of community support and potential buyers resulted in that deadline being extended until September 1st and subsequently to December 1st.
Zoe Communications, Inc. owns seven FM and four AM stations in Northwest Wisconsin. The new owners are still determining where they will set up its new studio in Ely and are actively looking at spaces to lease.
The purchase price was $130,000 and will include all of WELY’s equipment, tower, and the transfer of the FCC licenses.
“Although Bois Forte regrets not being able to continue ownership, we are grateful a buyer emerged to keep WELY—End of the Road radio on the air for years to come,” said Beltran.
Bois Forte Tribal Chair Cathy Chavers also expressed sadness that the tribe could no longer retain ownership of the station.
“We tried our best to keep it going, but we just couldn’t keep putting money into it every month without a return on our investment,” she said. “We are hopeful Zoe Communications can keep this tradition alive for the hard-working residents of Ely and the surrounding communities that WELY serves.”
WELY was first broadcast in October 1954. It remained on the air until 1987 but closed due to financial struggles. New life was pumped into the station when famous CBS Broadcaster Charles Kuralt bought the station in 1995 and operated it until he died in 1997. Bois Forte eventually purchased the station in 2005 and has run it for the past 17 years. The AM station is broadcast at 1450 AM, while the FM station is on 94.5 FM.
Bois Forte will retain ownership of the WELY building, including the spacious upstairs apartment that had been turned into office space.
The downstairs studio and offices may be repurposed for a future business that would be owned and operated by Bois Forte
In the meantime, the upstairs offices will be taken out, and some updates will be made to the apartment to prepare it for a future renter.
Most of WELY’s staff found new employment when the June 1st deadline was announced. However, a few staff remained behind, including longtime employee and current GM Brett Ross and a remote office employee, who took care of billing. It remains unknown if they continue employment with Zoe Communications, Inc., which is located in Shell Lake, Wisconsin.
While the sale ensures Ely will continue to have its own radio station, the station will go silent as of December 1 pending the FCC’s approval of the sale to Zoe Communications, Inc.
“The FCC makes it complicated to keep the station on the air during a sale,” said Zoe Communications, Inc. GM Mike Oberg. “We will return WELY to operation when the FCC grants the transfer, and that normally takes about 90 days.”
Oberg said he is concerned that WELY will be off the air, but he is hopeful listeners will tune in once they are back on the air from a location yet to be determined.
“We are looking for a space that is better sized for the operation of the station in town,” said Oberg, who added he doesn’t expect any major changes of the popular programming WELY currently provides.
Oberg, a Minnesota native, said WELY has a lot of history that he’d like to preserve, and given that he already owns several small-town stations, he feels he can make this latest business venture succeed.
“We believe radio is still very important to a local community, and we hope to continue the tradition of keeping the local feel of Ely radio alive,” said Oberg.