Ely radio station sold to new owner based in Wisconsin
Joe Friedrichs

Ely radio station sold to new owner based in Wisconsin

It’s the end of an era for local radio in Ely.

On Thursday, Dec. 1, WELY will go silent.

A new owner, Zoe Communications, Inc., will take over the station, according to a news release. It is not certain when the radio station will go back on the air.

The purchase price for the deal was $130,000. It includes all of WELY’s equipment, tower, and the transfer of the FCC licenses.

Zoe Communications owns seven FM and four AM stations in 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, according to the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, the current owners of the radio station.

Grassroots efforts led by community leaders in Ely fell short of keeping the radio station in local hands. A group of Ely residents contacted WTIP staff earlier this year asking for help in how to successfully run a radio station. Ultimately, it appears there was not enough support or energy to keep the station based in Ely.

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, according to a news release.

Most of WELY’s staff found new employment when the station announced earlier this year it would be closing, according to the news release. 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, Wisc.

While the sale ensures Ely will continue to have its own radio station, the station will go silent as of Dec. 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 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.