EDITORIAL: WELY has risen like Phoenix before, unknown if there’s a way to do it again

The rumor of the radio station closing had been in the wind for awhile now. We had inquired if it was available and took a hard look at whether or not we could turn it around.
Then the announcement came out on Wednesday, “Barring an 11th-hour deal being struck for someone to buy WELY - End of the Road Radio, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa will close the station on June 1, 2022.”
The first thought that came to mind was Ely should send a massive thank you note to the Band for all they did to keep it open. For 17 years the bills were paid, paychecks were cashed and the airwaves were filled with a signal from downtown Ely. But after $1.7 million in expenditures, the Band made the decision they rightly could have made years ago and announced the closure.
Taking a look back, WELY teetered on the edge of financial solvency many, many times over the years including being off the air for months at a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was rescued by the deep pockets of Charles Kuralt and later Janice Erickson took over ownership.
In 2005, the stations were purchased by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. For 17 years the AM and FM stations remained on the air despite a declining advertising base and competition from two newspapers, a shopper and numerous other media entities. The pie was sliced so thin there were times it was a minor miracle any business selling ads was able to make payroll.
Did Charles Pearson foresee all of this when he started WELY in 1964? How about when Brad and Jeanne ran it on a shoestring, doing all the work themselves? Again, the owners over the years should be thanked for their contributions to the community because they certainly didn’t rake in huge profits.
Our phone rang numerous times after word came out officially on the radio station’s impending closure. There was a common question: Would the Echo consider buying it?
We did strongly consider it and spent a lot of time pouring over numbers, talking to current and former employees, and checking with business owners on what their thoughts were.
Here’s what we sent to Bois Forte:
“We interviewed current and former employees of WELY, we looked at making format changes and reducing overhead along with increasing advertising revenue. Each one of these comes with a risk and even though we believe we have the right people to operate the station, there weren’t enough pros to balance out the cons…
“While we believe WELY is an asset to the community, it is a business that has struggled mightily over the years. Thanks to Bois Forte for providing the funding to keep the station on the air during your many years of ownership. The community owes you a debt of gratitude for what you have done.”
In the announcement sent out, it said, “Bois Forte will seek approvals from the FCC to retain its licenses for up to a year while the station is off the air and the Band is searching for a buyer.”
Could there be a way to keep WELY on the air? Possibly. Only time will tell.