No dead air yet, WELY still open
The Bois Forte Tribal Council voted Wednesday to continue operating and programming WELY radio station for an additional three months while the business is moving through the sale process.
Bois Forte, which has owned the station since 2005, had announced in the spring that it would close WELY June 1 and cited financial losses of roughly $1.7 million.
But the announcement triggered reaction within Ely and beyond from those hoping to save the station, as well as interest from potential buyers
Bois Forte decided to put off the June 1 closing date to give interested parties more time, and the latest announcement extends that timeframe for another three months.
The tribe said there has been interest shown in someone stepping in to buy the station.
“These things take time due to the market appraisals, sales agreements, etc.,” said Bois Forte CEO Mayan Beltran of finding someone to buy a radio station. “While the initial three months afforded us some time to begin the sales process, it just wasn’t enough. We are hopeful this new window will give us time to sell it now that all the details are finalized.”
Beltran reported that there are a handful of potential buyers for the station. He added that he is working with a local Realtor to get the station properly marketed after plans to do so with a media broker never materialized.
To date, Beltran said his work with the local Realtor has entailed preparing to sell the entire operations, including the radio station, its tower and property, plus the large building on historic Chapman Street in downtown Ely.
If a potential buyer does not want the entire package, Beltran reported they could just buy the radio station, the tower, and the land that the tower sits on.
There is also value in the actual FCC license that the station currently holds in broadcasting on 94.5 FM and 1450AM. Due to numerous parties still expressing interest in buying, the council did not want to disclose any pricing at this time.
Now that another reprieve has been given, District I Representative Shane Drift clarified that this is the last time he’ll agree to any extension.
“If we don’t sell it, we just have to close it down,” said Drift. “I am concerned that someone will want to buy it and then pull out. What happens then, we give it another three months? No matter what happens (after those three months)—we shut it down.”
Beltran said he would reach out to the interested buyers to gauge their interest now that a purchase price has been finalized.
“We will let them know they have a 30-day first right of refusal to make us an offer,” said Beltran.
WELY was first broadcast in October of 1954 and for decades operated on AM 1450 and from a station “on top of the hill” on Central Avenue across from the golf course.
It shut down twice previously because of financial struggles, once in the late-1980s and again in 1995.
New life was pumped into the station when famous CBS Broadcaster Charles Kuralt bought the station just months after the second closure and operated it until he died in 1997.
An FM signal was added and later moved to 94.5 on the dial, and WELY later moved downtown to Chapman Street and Bois Forte purchased it from previous owner Janice Erickson in 2005
The radio station has operated for two decades from Chapman Street, where radio talent has been known to wave a friendly hello to folks walking past the station.
While the station has maintained some local programming including a morning show, the Trader Craig Show and a Saturday night request program, automation now common place in the radio industry has resulted in less local and live programming.
Nonetheless, WELY has been a place for Ely residents and tourists to stay connected via our FCC granted Personal Emergency Messages. It has also been home to dozens of local sports broadcasts every year, ranging from high school football and basketball to the state’s only radio coverage of the Minnesota State High School League Nordic Ski Meet. WELY also carries Minnesota Twins baseball, and Minnesota Vikings football.