By Stephen Smoot
“We have a bona-fide LLC,” said Chip Combs, WELD radio personality.
That announcement opened last week’s meeting at Walnut Grove Church of the Brethren off the East Moorefield exit of Corridor H in front of approximately 30 people coming together to help save WELD.
The station and its sisters are based in Fisher, near Moorefield, but serve as the only true local station for Pendleton, Grant, and Hardy counties. Western Hampshire and Mineral counties also lie within its broadcast range. Emergency services officials have also pointed out its importance in communications with areas not served by the internet.
Supporters of WELD eschewed the non profit option because one could not be set up prior to the scheduled auction of properties on April 4. Save Our Station is a for profit limited liability company looking for investors seeking to support the station and possibly make a profit as well.
The auction will sell off the land and physical assets first, then the licenses. This makes investment in either less risky for a serious entrepreneur. Currently, Save Our Station LLC is watching to see if other potential competitors may enter the bidding. Miniscule “feeler” bids have been placed, but the important news shared on that front from Combs was “it sounds like Raese’s team will not be a player.”
John Raese’s West Virginia and Allegany Radio Corporations have bought up small town stations throughout the region. Raese also owns Greer Limestone, the Morgantown Dominion-Post, West Virginia Metro News, and other Morgantown based corporations. Combs stated, however, that “their last few small station purchases have not been profitable.”
As Combs said, “People may invest. This is not a donation.” The company is accepting investments to raise enough capital to successfully compete for the Federal Communications Commission broadcast licenses, as well as the physical assets of the station. These include land, the station building, equipment, and a large record catalogue that includes country and western records dating back to the 1950s.
The big hurdle for Save Our Station lies in a problem of perception. It seeks to be a business instead of a charity, but “businesses are still seeing it as a donation instead of an investment.”
Combs outlined potential scenarios. The best case involves Save Our Station raising sufficient capital to outbid competitors while also satisfying the debt holder. Although the debt is approximately $675,000, the holders of the debt would likely accept substantially less.
“There are no absolutes,” Combs said of the auction, “this is the best opportunity they have to get the best dollar value.”
Should the auction fail to raise enough funds for the owners of the debt, the next action would be a sell off “on the courthouse steps.” Since that would obtain likely only pennies on the dollar, there is a strong incentive for them to take what they can get at auction. If another outfit purchases the station the FCC mandates 30 to 90 days to transfer the licenses. Some stated that this could give an opportunity for buyers’ remorse. The debt holders could also decide to keep the status quo, should the auction fail.
Save Our Station is working to be prepared for any possible eventuality. Should it have no option, the company would return investors’ money by the end of 120 days.
In addition to raising capital, the group has also continued to hold discussions with the offices of Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito.
“This time frame is herculean,” Combs admitted. “We’re still several steps from making it happen.” Save Our Station will have to sell many more shares to solidify its position as a competitive buyer. Combs said that as of yet, only two from Pendleton County have invested.
Save Our Station is selling shares currently for $1,000 each. Smaller scale investors can enter plans to purchase shares jointly. Investors can purchase shares at Pendleton Community Bank.