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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

City of Ely could acquire WELY radio station for free

Same offer made last summer was dismissed by mayor

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/18/22

ELY – For the past two weeks this community has been in desperation, almost panic, over the impending shut down of WELY-FM radio on June 1. Ely Mayor Roger Skraba talked informally with the …

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City of Ely could acquire WELY radio station for free

Same offer made last summer was dismissed by mayor

Posted

ELY – For the past two weeks this community has been in desperation, almost panic, over the impending shut down of WELY-FM radio on June 1.
Ely Mayor Roger Skraba talked informally with the owners of the station, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, last week and again this week about what the city of Ely’s role could be in keeping the station on the air.
“I’ve received a lot of feedback in the community about losing the radio station,” Skraba told the city council members Tuesday night. “There are a lot of people who don’t want it to be lost. They want in some way, shape or form, for it to continue.”
Apparently, Skraba received an offer from tribal council leadership last August indicating that they wanted to give the radio station to the city of Ely. For free.
“I told them that’s not something we want to run,” the mayor said. “There are several people who have been trying to buy it and they all came to the conclusion that the radio station is not profitable, and they don’t want it.”
A non-profit group in town, according to Skraba, is considering ways to keep the station on the air.
“They think they can sell memberships and have access to grant money, and want an opportunity to make a go at it to see if it can be done,” he said.
With the impending closing of the station coming in less than two weeks, the organization is in discussions with tribal leadership.
“Our role would be, after the tribe gives us the station, we, in turn would lease it to the (non-profit) organization that would operate the station. That’s going to take time to make that happen,” Skraba said.
While the mayor knew about the station give-away offer last summer, he is now taking the rest of this summer to consider a plan to keep the station on the air.
“They want to know if we are serious about doing this,” he said.
He asked council members for permission to represent the city of Ely in talking with Bois Forte leadership over a possible transition of ownership of WELY. Skraba would include City Attorney Kelly Klun and Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski in negotiations.
“We wouldn’t make any decisions before coming back to you,” he told the council.
While he referenced the non-profit group interested in running the station, he did not reveal the name of the non-profit. Earlier this week at a Tuesday Group gathering, Becky Rom said her non-profit organization, Boundary Waters Connect, was seeking help to figure out a business model for keeping the radio station on the air.
Skraba said he asked tribal leadership for a grace period until September to see if the city of Ely and local non-profit organizations could form a business model.
“We know that the group would have to go out and get fundraising to make up the monthly deficit of $8,000 to $12,000 per month in operating losses,” he said.
“The (Bois Forte) Band is done. They are not going to do this anymore. That’s it,” Skraba continued. “Many in this community are saying that there has to be a better way. Maybe there is a better way. We’re interested in finding out if something like this can work. If the tribal council feels generous, they will give us everything.”
The council voted 5-0, with two members absent, to give the mayor permission to enter into negotiations with the Bois Forte tribal council for the transfer of the WELY radio station ownership.
In making the motion, council member Heidi Omerza said, “I see the pluses and minuses of this. We all see how valuable the radio station is to this community. But the liability (of ownership) I can definitely see as well. There are people in this community who really want to see this succeed. It is worth giving this a chance.”

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