VALPARAISO | Tears flowed Tuesday when Radio One Communication's employees were informed the company's group of radio stations were sold to Adams Radio Group of Northern Indiana.
"I'll miss the day-to-day interaction with the staff," said Leigh Ellis, who has run the company for years since his father, Len Ellis, retired. "Everybody had tears in their eyes. I grew up with them. We shared the birth of each other's kids and watched them grow up and go to school and get married."
Radio One owns WLJE-FM, WXRD-FM, WZVN-FM and WAKE-AM. Len Ellis, who's known as "Uncle Len," is 86, and Leigh, 60, said he wants to retire and pursue other hobbies and devote more time to his family. The staff and stations will continue as they are now for the foreseeable future, they said.
Leigh Ellis said the family hired a broker last May to actively market the stations nationwide. Four companies talked to them about buying it and others expressed interest before the Adams Radio Group was chosen.
"This was an option," he said. "It wasn't that we needed to do it. Our goal was to find someone to take over the same process we had in the community for 50 years. What's nice is the Adams group recognizes the quality of the people we have working for us, and nothing is going to change."
"This is a great expansion opportunity for Adams Radio in Indiana," Ron Stone, president and CEO of Adams, said Wednesday morning in a statement. "The Ellises have built an operation that serves from Chicago to South Bend. As a market, it may have been the best kept secret in the industry and will be a great complement to the stations we are purchasing in Fort Wayne."
Radio One Communications was founded by Len Ellis in 1964 as WAKE-AM, which at the time was a country radio station. The company expanded to Indiana 105.5 in 1967, Z-Rock 103.9 and Z107.1 in 2001. The stations reach seven counties in Northwest Indiana and parts of Cook and Will counties in Illinois.
Indiana 105.5 remains the longest consecutive running country station in the nation's third largest broadcast market, Radio One said Wednesday.
Leigh Ellis, who said he's been involved with the company for 60 years and nine months, has run operations for 38 years. Nobody from the next generation of Ellises was interested in carrying on the family business.
"It was asked of them years ago and again when we were thinking of putting it on the market," Leigh Ellis said. "We wanted to carry on the tradition and the hard work we put into it. I was born into it, and it's not an easy thing to let go. Selling was not the top option, but it was the most logical.
"Adams Radio Group is going to be a great steward to take us to the next level," Ellis said. "We quietly listed our stations in hopes that we would find the perfect buyer that shares our values in serving the public. We believe Adams Radio is that company."
After seeing the stations go "from 45s to hard drives," Leigh Ellis said he's not going away. He said he plans to take about six months to unwind and then return with another hat. He said Adams has talked to him about working as a consultant for some of its other recent radio acquisitions.
The acquisition marks the third market for Adams since re-entering the radio business in July. Other station acquisitions include those in New Mexico and Fort Wayne. The Federal Communications Commission still must approve the Radio One sale, a process that could take 30 to 90 days, Ellis said.