JANESVILLE

The biggest shift in the local media landscape since 1883 was announced Monday when the Bliss family revealed its intent to sell The Gazette and radio stations WCLO and WJVL to two other family-owned businesses.

Bliss Communications is selling its newspapers to Adams Publishing Group and its radio stations to Ben Thompson, CEO of Big Radio.

Sidney H. “Skip” Bliss, president and CEO of Bliss Communications, made the announcement at employee meetings Monday in Janesville and remotely through video links.

“The opportunity to operate these companies for a very long time as a family business has been remarkable and satisfying for five generations,” Bliss said.

“Along the way, certainly, like any business, we’ve had some ups and downs, but over that span of time have loved the businesses we operate,” Bliss said.

The company’s two daily newspapers—The Gazette in Janesville and The EagleHerald in Marinette—and its weekly community newspapers—The Janesville Messenger, The Wisconsin/Illinois Stateline News and Walworth County Sunday—are included in the pending transaction with APG Media of Southern Wisconsin. Bliss expects the final transaction with Adams Publishing Group to take place in mid-June.

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.”

The Janesville radio stations 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 under the Big Radio brand.

“These two stations, WJVL and WCLO, both have an incredible legacy in Janesville. I think they have a great brand, a great standing. They 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,” Thompson said.

Terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

Adams and Thompson said all Bliss employees will be retained.

The Gazette was established in 1845. It is the oldest continuing business in Janesville. Members of the Bliss family have owned the newspaper since 1883, and five generations of the family have operated the company.

The Gazette, a 14,000-circulation daily, is the flagship newspaper of Bliss Communications. In 2007, the company built a state-of-the-art commercial printing and production facility in Janesville. The facility prints not only The Gazette, but also publications from Chicago to northern Wisconsin.

In 2008, Bliss acquired Community Shoppers, a group of weekly newspapers in southcentral Wisconsin.

WCLO began broadcasting in 1930 under the leadership of Skip’s father and was the first radio station operated by the Bliss family. WJVL began broadcasting in 1947.

Mary Jo Villa, Bliss chief operating officer, said: “I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with Mark Adams and Ben Thompson, and I am confident both organizations have the same values and ideals. We have a lot of long-term employees, and I am grateful that Skip Bliss and his family made that a priority.

“I’m excited both Ben Thompson and Mark Adams agree collaboration between the radio stations and the newspaper is important for our employees and the community. We deliver information in different mediums, but when we work together and share resources, we create a better news product, and that is going to continue even though we will have separate owners,” Villa said.

Villa will continue to be responsible for all former Bliss newspaper properties.

‘Resources to invest’

Skip Bliss said the timing is right for his family.

“We had a number of interested parties and had the opportunity to select what we believe to be good stewards of the company,” he said. “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 this transaction will continue that.”

He identified changes in retailing as among the reasons for the sales.

“The media world of newspapers and radio broadcasting have had a business model that relies heavily on local advertising support. Radio has been supported by a strong base of local advertisers as have our newspapers,” Bliss said.

“Newspapers, however, have for years relied on big-box retailers, and as retailing has changed in recent years, we’ve seen a decline in that time of retail with the growth of online sales,” Bliss said.

“Our business has been built around print and broadcast media, and today larger media companies are more diversified. They have the resources to invest in a broader revenue base,” Bliss said.

Adams Publishing Group has 30 daily newspapers, more than 100 nondaily newspapers and other enterprises operating in 20 states, including Wisconsin.

In a Monday letter to Bliss employees, Mark Adams wrote: “APG and Bliss decided months ago that this would be a great fit for all. APG has numerous newspaper and digital operations in Wisconsin, and the cultures and traditions of both companies are very much aligned.

“The Bliss family has done well to navigate the challenges facing the newspaper industry, and it’s our hope to continue to build on that strength and commitment to the communities served by the Bliss newspapers,” Adams wrote.

“We’ll continue to work closely with the radio operations, as this collaboration has allowed both the radio stations and newspapers to be even stronger,” he wrote.

Jeff Patterson, president of Adams Publishing Group Central Division, said the company does not exercise influence over the content of its newspapers.

“Our content philosophy is local that’s made by the local editors and publishers. The Adams family has not directed any content in any of their publications for as long as they’ve been in existence, and they won’t do so in the future,” Patterson said.

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 the proximity of the Janesville radio stations to their other holdings makes a good fit.

“We like being in the office every day. We like knowing our staff and having a personal relationship with everybody—knowing their families, knowing their situations. That’s really important to us,” he said.

“I was 7 when Dad bought the first two radio stations, so I really did grow up in the radio stations, and a lot of people I grew up with are still working for us in Monroe and Freeport,” Thompson said. “So, in reality, it is like my family. I grew up around these folks. They’re like all my aunts and uncles.

“A lot of companies say they are a family, but for us, I guess, we really do feel that way. We don’t just say that.”

Thompson said listeners should not expect much change in the country music format of WJVL or the news and talk format of WCLO.

“What they are doing now, we are not going to lean away from. We are going to lean in, just expand upon what they have been doing. What they have been doing is admirable. It is, I think, right on the mark of what local radio should be doing,” he said.

Bliss and Thompson filed a joint application Monday requesting the Federal Communications Commission consent to the transfer of the broadcast licenses associated with the radio stations. FCC consent is generally granted in 45 to 60 days.

‘A value proposition’

Bliss said he believes the buyers will take good care of his company’s newspapers and radio stations.

“The Thompson family operates good radio stations all around the Janesville market, Beloit and Monroe. They’re family owned. They are not a large, national broadcast group. They are entirely local,” Bliss said.

“Adams is a family-owned organization. They’re not publicly traded. They’re not owned by investment groups. They’re a very diverse company, and they have a significant ownership presence in Wisconsin newspapers. We already have been doing business with other newspapers they recently acquired through our printing facility,” he said.

“My family and I have enjoyed being stewards of this important community institution the past 136 years. We believe we have selected a new owner that will carry on in the best interests of our markets,” Bliss said. “We want to thank our readers and listeners and our wonderful employees.”

Bliss said his family stayed in the media business so long because it believes in the importance of what local newspapers and radio stations do.

“If people want to be well-informed citizens of this country, they have to make a value judgment about whether they want a truly trusted, local source of information or not. If they do, it’s expensive to provide.

“In my opinion, there’s nothing more important than knowing whether your schools are performing, whether local government is judicious with the taxpayers’ funds, whether local law enforcement is effective, whether your child scored the winning basket. It’s a value proposition that each and every household needs to assess,” Bliss said.

He will retire after the sales are complete.

“I’m going to be a subscriber and a listener, and I’m not going to be a stranger. This stuff is ingrained in me. I’ll never forget it or the people,” Bliss said.

“For me, I love these entities, and even though they’re inanimate things, they don’t seem that way to me.”

About Bliss Communications

The Bliss family has been involved in the local media industry since Howard F. Bliss bought The Janesville Gazette in 1883.{span class=”print_trim”}(tncms-asset)5f90d376-8659-11e9-b10e-00163ec2aa77[0](/tncms-asset)

In 1909, the newspaper moved from the corner of Main and Milwaukee streets to the first building of its own at 200-204 E. Milwaukee St. That location is now the front plaza of Bliss Communications’ current location at 1 S. Parker Drive.

Harry H. Bliss took over from Howard Bliss, serving as publisher from 1919 to 1937. Harry’s sons, Sidney H. and Robert W., later became co-publishers. They oversaw the construction of a new facility in 1966, which was built behind the old building and still stands today.

The new facility was known as the Gazette Printing Company until 1996, when the name was changed to Bliss Communications.

Sidney “Skip” H. Bliss Jr., the current president and publisher, is the fourth generation to continue his family’s media heritage. Representing the fifth generation is his son, Kyle, who works at the Bliss Communications printing and distribution facility, built in 2007.

The Blisses have operated much more than just newspapers. The family brought WCLO, an AM radio station, to Janesville in 1930 and added WCLO-FM—which eventually became WJVL—in 1947. Other radio stations also have been part of the family’s holdings over the years.

Bliss Communications also owns EagleHerald Publishing, a daily newspaper in Marinette; CSI Media, a variety of community newspapers located in Rock and Walworth counties; and Southern Wisconsin Broadcasting, which operates WCLO and WJVL.

About Adams Publishing Group

Adams Publishing Group was launched in late 2013 by Mark Adams with support from his family, according to the company website.

The company owns 30 daily newspapers, more than 100 nondaily newspapers and other enterprises operating in 20 states, including Wisconsin.

Mark Adams is CEO of Adams Publishing Group and is “quarterback” of the company’s acquisition activities, according to the website.

Adams Publishing Group 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, its customers/advertisers, its communities, its associates (employees) and its shareholders/owners,” according to the website.

The company in December acquired the Watertown Daily Times, the Daily Jefferson County Union and the Hometown News Group of nine newspapers, including the Milton Courier. That followed Adams’ purchase of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram in June 2017.

Other Adams companies include Camping World/Good Sam, Adams Outdoor Advertising, Adams Radio Group, Adams Wine Group and Adams Vineyards.

About Big Radio

Father and son Scott and Ben Thompson do business as Big Radio.

Here is a partial timeline of the company:

1996: Scott Thompson buys WEKZ-AM and WEKZ-FM in Monroe.

2002: Scott buys WQLF-FM in Lena, Illinois.

2006: Scott buys WFPS-FM and WFRL-AM in Freeport, Illinois.

2011: Ben Thompson graduates with degrees in finance and accounting from the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University in Chicago and begins working at a hedge fund in Evanston, Illinois.

2014: Ben leaves the hedge fund and moves to Beloit to rejoin the family business. Big Radio buys WWHG-FM, WBEL-AM and WGEZ-AM in Beloit and Janesville.

June 3, 2019: Ben announces intent to purchase WCLO-AM and WJVL-FM from Bliss Communications.

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