By Stephen Smoot
Since Dwight D. Eisenhower served in the White House, WELD has broadcast from a knoll in Fisher overlooking the South Branch Valley near Moorefield. Just as in the days of sock hops and poodle skirts, the tower rises above a Hardy County pastoral scene of undulating hayfields, broadcasting country and gospel music, news, sports, and, yes, the 9 a.m. obituaries.
According to an online history article, the original owners selected the site because it lay halfway between Moorefield and Petersburg “and neither one would feel slighted.”
In recent months came the news that the station’s Federal Communications Commission licenses and property would go up for sale to pay off debts held by the current owner.
Assisted by WELD station personality Chip Combs, a group called Save Our Station obtained an LLC type business license. They then offered shares of their business to locals for $1,000 a piece to raise the capital to purchase both the licenses and the property. Investors from throughout the region answered the call.
April 4, auction day, seemed to come way too early for those working to save WELD. One called the timeframe “herculean” in a previous meeting. Save Our Station LLC only organized itself in mid-March, but worked tirelessly to keep WELD from falling into the hands of an outside corporate entity that might ignore the needs and preferences of the listener base and community at large.
Attendees gathered on a bright warm day that felt closer to late May than three days after April Fools’. Some came to place bids, but others arrived to witness the proceedings. “I’d like to see it locally owned and run the way the people agree with,” shared Jim Crites, owner of Country Cars and Trucks, and also an advertiser on WELD. He added that “it is the tri-county area.” He hoped that “maybe if it works out, it will stay local.”
Also present was Willard Earle, formerly part of a three man ownership team. Local residents remember Earle as the comforting voice on the air while the Flood of ’85 ripped through South Branch Valley communities.
He remembered that during the flood “it was about the only station there was for a few days.” The flood took out almost all other means of communication and electric power. WELD, however, fired up its generator and remained on the air. Earle described how HAM radio operators would send reports that he would then read over the air. Earle’s constant coverage of that historical event is one of the prevalent local memories of the flood and one important reason why the older generations treasure the station.
One interested bidder in the station came from West Union in Doddridge County. Oliver Azaria is an evangelist that owns WVGV. This call sign was once used by a station in the Greenbrier Valley, but the call sign fell dormant and was picked up by Azaria. As a self-described King James Version centered evangelist, Azaria saw an opportunity to obtain another way to spread the Word.
Azaria explained his interest saying, “We’re all about ministry. Many stations are not concerned about real America.”
Bidding started at high noon. Debbie Flanigan, the agent handling the property, explained that the auctioneer would offer the FCC licenses first, then the real estate associated with the station. After the two items were bid out separately, a third round would offer the licenses and real estate combined to see if they could earn more sold together.
“Whatever earns the most, we’ll take to the owner to see if it’s acceptable,” Flanigan said.
Alan Heldreth, the auctioneer, read the terms and conditions covering the sale of “a fully functioning and operational radio station.” He then started the bidding for the licenses at $10,000, but the first bidder only offered $1,000. Bidders, both online and in person, drove the price to $22,500, which came from Save Our Station LLC.
Next came bidding on the real estate. This included approximately six acres, the building, and most of its contents. These included an old and potentially valuable music catalog and much of the equipment. Elder took pains to explain that leased receiver equipment from Westwood One did not form part of the deal.
Bidding commenced at $100,000. An online participant quickly offered that much. It quickly rose to $175,000 – again from Save Our Station LLC.
The third round requested bids over the combined licenses and property bid, which was $197,500. No one chose to beat this offer, leaving the win in the hands of Save Our Station LLC.
Combs said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the road ahead. Placing the winning bids at auction did not seal the deal. The bids must be accepted, or the next step will see the items sold on the courthouse steps.
What happened leading up to the auction, as Combs explained took “a lot of wonderful people.” He added, “Two hundred thousand for three radio stations is a good deal.” Also, Combs said that “there’s not much that will need to be borrowed, if at all.”