Bliss Communications announced it intends to sell its newspapers to Adams Publishing Group (APG) and its radio stations to Ben Thompson, CEO of Big Radio.
Sidney “Skip” H. Bliss, president and CEO of Bliss Communications, made the announcement at employee meetings in Janesville on June 3 and remotely through video links. The company’s two daily newspapers–The Gazette in Janesville and The EagleHerald in Marinette–its weekly community newspapers–The Janesville Messenger, The Wisconsin/Illinois Stateline News and Walworth County Shopper Advertiser, all associated websites and the company’s printing and production facility in Janesville are included in the pending transaction with APG Media of Wisconsin, LLC. Bliss expects the final transaction with APG to take place in mid-June.
Skip Bliss announced radio stations WCLO-AM 1230 and FM 92.7 and WJVL-FM 99.9 in Janesville are being sold by Southern Wisconsin Broadcasting, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bliss Communications, to Ben Thompson, who with his father operates eight radio stations. Bliss and Thompson filed a joint application today requesting the FCC consent to the transfer of the broadcast licenses associated with the radio stations. FCC consent is generally granted in 45 to 60 days.
Terms of the agreements were not disclosed.
“Our family’s desire is to do what we think is appropriate to try to assure the communities we serve a continuing source of local news coverage, and we believe these transactions, when finalized will continue that,” Skip Bliss said.
Mark Adams, Adams Publishing Group CEO, said, “We are very excited to have the Bliss newspapers join the Adams family of newspapers. The communities served by Bliss are exactly the type of cities and counties that we look for as we continue to expand our company, and each of these markets fits well with other publishing properties we own in the great state of Wisconsin.”
Ben Thompson said he and Big Radio are committed to providing superior coverage of the community’s local news, sports, entertainment, and information.
“These two stations, WCLO and WJVL, both have an incredible legacy in Janesville. I think they have a great brand, a great standing. The Bliss radio stations epitomize what we believe local radio should be.” Thompson said. “We’re honored and humbled to be just the second owner in these radio stations’ history.”
Both organizations announced they intend to retain all Bliss employees.
Skip Bliss said larger media companies are more diversified and have the resources to invest to gain a broader revenue base.
“Media print and broadcast companies across the country are recognizing this need for diversification, and the media landscape is becoming more concentrated in the hands of companies that have the resources to invest in it,” Bliss said.
The Gazette was established in 1845 and is the oldest continuing business in Janesville. Members of the Bliss family have owned the newspaper since 1883. Five generations of the family have operated the company. The Gazette, a 14,000-circulation daily, is the flagship newspaper of the group. In 2007, the company built a state-of-the-art commercial printing and production facility in Janesville. The facility prints publications from Chicago to northern Wisconsin.
In 2008, Bliss acquired Community Shoppers, a group of weekly newspapers in south-central Wisconsin.
WCLO-AM began broadcasting in 1930 under the leadership of Skip’s father and was the first radio station operated by the Bliss family. Skip’s father was a pioneer in radio broadcasting in Wisconsin and was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall Of Fame posthumously in 1990. WJVL-FM began broadcasting in 1947.
Skip Bliss has served in leadership positions on numerous state and regional newspaper associations during his career. He will serve as publisher emeritus of The Gazette through March 31, 2020. Skip’s son, Kyle Bliss, joined the company in 2007 and will continue with the company.
Adams Publishing Group has 30 daily newspapers, more than 100 non-daily newspapers and other enterprises operating in 20 states, including Wisconsin. Adams Publishing Group describes itself as “first and foremost a family-owned community newspaper company, which is driven to provide high quality products and services that make a positive difference in the lives of its constituents, which are, in prioritized order: its readers, customers/advertisers, communities, associates (employees) and its shareholders.”
Other Adams family enterprises include outdoor advertising, radio, wine, Camping World, Good Sam Club, and Gander Outdoors.
Ben Thompson is part of a father/son team operating eight radio stations from offices in Janesville; Beloit; Monroe; and Freeport, Illinois. Scott Thompson founded Big Radio in 1996 with the purchase of two radio stations in Monroe. Ben Thompson spent four years with a Chicago-based hedge fund before moving to Beloit and being named CEO of the family business in 2014. Scott lives in Monroe, and Ben lives in Beloit.
Ben Thompson said he believes the future of radio is local, and Big Radio aggressively pursues this strategy for its listeners and advertisers.
Skip Bliss said in his announcement the sales would put the newspapers and radio stations in a strong position to compete as part of larger groups.
“My family and I have enjoyed being stewards of this important community institution for the past 136 years. We believe we have selected a new owner that will carry on in the best interests of our markets and our employees,” Bliss said. “We want to thank our readers and listeners and our wonderful employees.”